The institutions of "highbrow culture" in Germany have hitherto hardly recognised the fact that the composition of society has changed, writes Mark Terkessidis in his commentary
In Germany there is a clear tendency to instrumentalise the country's "migrant cultures": culture should serve the cause of guaranteeing societal peace, i.e. it should ameliorate the effects of dramatic unemployment and, furthermore, also prevent fundamentalism and terror attacks.
Concepts such as these are meanwhile quite inconsistent with reality. There are many writers, directors, musicians and artists of non-German descent, who regard themselves quite naturally as part of German culture. Nevertheless, it happens again and again that these persons are described as "Turkish" or "Iranian" artists. They are, moreover, individuals who have struggled to achieve their position in the face of much adversity.
Yet the institutions of "highbrow culture" in Germany have hitherto hardly recognised the fact that the composition of society has changed. In the highly-subsidised theatres or museums one rarely encounters people with a migration background. The inclusion of the population in all its diversity is, however, for these institutions the task of the future – not least from a demographic standpoint.
Intercultural opening required
In the schools of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most densely populated federal state, thirty percent of the pupils now have a migration background, a trend that is increasing. Interculture is thus by no means the playground of the migrants, but a sector of seminal importance for the future.
Interculture should be understood as the unequivocal recognition of diverse origins and entries as a resource for cultural development in the Federal Republic: yet this requires in the first instance an intercultural opening.
This is a process which though painful at times is also highly creative, a process in which the institutions have to ask themselves in accordance with mainstreaming to what extent they have taken into consideration the diversity in society, i.e. the various backgrounds, preconditions, approaches etc. in their regular activity.
Following the example set by "gender mainstreaming", all activities will then have to be scrutinised to see whether they really do give persons, no matter what their origin, the same chances of participation.
Let's make cultural life accessible to migrants
Let's take the example of the theatre. Here the first question would be: how many persons with a migration background are actually in the ensemble? Since experience shows that there are very few, the recruiting techniques would have to be checked in order to guarantee a composition reflecting societal conditions. The second question concerns the audience.
The fact is that persons with a migration background make little use of what the theatre offers. Indeed many of them know nothing of the cultural infrastructure. First of all, for the simple reason that not so many of them are to be found in the well-educated middle classes of society. And then many are intimidated by the idea of going to the city theatre, fearing that they may be unacquainted with the etiquette, the airs and graces of the often snobbish audience.
This means that the room should be opened, made accessible – possibly by means of a concert with a well-known pop musician. Only when the room appears in the cognitive map of certain groups, do they begin to actually take notice of what is being offered there.
The starchy audience in Germany
Finally there is a further question regarding the orientation of content: is the diversity also included in the topics? Whose preferences, perspectives and problems are dealt with in the theatre? Here, too, a glance at many repertoires reveals that the concerns of large parts of the population are hardly ever catered for.
When my father came to Germany 50 years ago and was finally able to understand enough German, he went to the theatre. Theatre in Athens at that time was a popular form of entertainment: people went there after work, they ate there, they laughed and made merry. One can easily imagine how my father must have felt among the starchy audience in Germany where each cough met with a frown of disapproval.
He never went to the theatre again. Some things have changed – but not enough. 50 years later the cultural institutions are called upon to invite the children and children's children of the absent first generation to raise their voices in their rooms, to laugh and to cough.
© Goethe Institute 2007
Mark Terkessidis has a doctorate in psychology and works as a journalist and author focussing on topics concerning pop culture, migration and racism. He is co-founder of the "Institute for Studies in Visual Culture" in Cologne, Germany.