Meet Erika Mustermann, aged 44.6 years. Erika is 1.66 metres tall and weighs 67 kilograms. She is a qualified office clerk and lives with her husband, Bernd, and their son, Alexander, in a 90-square-metre apartment in Berlin. Erika and Bernd read the newspaper for 23 minutes a day; their favourite meal is spaghetti bolognese; and they like to spend their holidays in Spain, on the Baltic Coast, or in the Black Forest.
In other words, Erika Mustermann and her family are fictitious people, invented by statisticians to describe average Germans. Figures like these offer an initial impression of life in Germany. Yet they only tell half the story. In reality, Germany is much more than a set of statistics – it is a diverse, open, and caring society.
For many visitors to Germany, their lasting impression is of a cosmopolitan, culturally diverse, and attractive country. This is especially true during major events, such as 2006 FIFA World Cup. The official motto back then was “A time to make friends”. Many of those who visited during the World Cup were genuinely surprised at just how friendly, interested, and outgoing the people are in Germany, the European Union’s most populous country. They saw that the Germans are focused on more than just economic success; that they also place a high priority on family, friends, and time way from work. What’s more, they realized that by far the majority of German people, both young and old, continue to reflect upon Germany’s National-Socialist past and the country’s division until reunification in 1990; and that that this process of coming to terms with the past has given rise to a living culture of remembrance and to deep-rooted values such as social solidarity and respect for diversity.
Little wonder, then, that Germany has long been a country of immigration. Some may find it surprising, but the demographics paint a picture of a vibrantly diverse society. Almost 82.2 million people live in Germany. Nearly 9.11 million of them hold a foreign passport – more than in any other of the 28 member states of the European Union. Including those who have subsequently acquired German citizenship, although born abroad or to immigrant parents here in Germany, over 17 million people in Germany have a migrant background. In other words, practically one-fifth of the people living in Germany have foreign roots.
The richest mix of all is to be found in Berlin, the German capital, and Frankfurt am Main. Of the good 3.5 million people living in Berlin, about 1 million are originally not from Germany but rather from one of 184 countries. Similarly, as many as 47 percent of Frankfurt’s population have a migrant background, and one in seven companies there has foreign roots.
Although this growing cultural diversity poses certain social and political challenges for Germany, it also provides an opportunity to forge a new and auspicious form of coexistence in the very heart of Europe.
Why does Germany attract such a large number of immigrants? Evidently, word has spread of the diverse opportunities, good prospects, and interesting jobs on offer here.
In a survey of 24 countries conducted by the BBC World Service in 2014, Germany was once again voted the world’s most popular place. According to the polling company Globescan, as reported in UK daily newspaper The Daily Telegraph, this is because “in terms of lifestyle and its high-quality products, Germany has a successful image”.
Practically all of the larger German cities feature a rich and vibrant mix of nationalities – a veritable melting pot of different cultures, languages, and religions. Immigrants to Germany play a major part in the country’s achievements and its improved image. Many people with a migrant background have become highly successful in Germany, pursuing careers as managers, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, or doctors. Others are employed as skilled labour in industry or in the restaurant trade. Others have gone into film, like Fatih Akin, a famous director of Turkish descent, or have entered politics, like Cem Özdemir from the Greens. In the world of football, too, a multicultural generation has now come to the fore. Rather than being of exclusively German origin, the players in today’s national team have Polish, Swedish, Turkish, Bosnian, Brazilian, Ghanaian, Nigerian, or Tunisian roots. And in the women’s national football team, it is the midfield player Celia Sasic, daughter of a Cameroonian father and a French mother, who is currently stealing the limelight.
One of the reasons why Germany has become pluralistic in so many areas of life is that opportunities for migrants to participate in society are better than ever before. This is also a reflection of Germany’s rigorous implementation of equal rights and participatory rights, and the high respect that they enjoy here. These rights, which apply to all social groups, are expressly stated in Article 3 of the Basic Law.
Germany is a good place to live and work. Yet there are other reasons why so many nationalities feel at home here. Germany can lay claim to a host of social achievements, and these are prized by many people, irrespective of gender, age, or origin.
Such achievements include the country’s political and economic stability, its caring society with a range of social safety nets, its respect for freedom of opinion and religion, its system of comprehensive and affordable healthcare, its maintenance of the rule of law, the powerful role played by nongovernmental organizations and trade unions, and the great importance attached to education. At the same time, Germany is one of the most peaceful countries worldwide. The country has seen no social or political unrest for many decades now.
In a list of the “world’s top 10 most liveable cities”, compiled by the consulting company Mercer, there are three German entries: Düsseldorf, Munich, and Frankfurt. The ranking is based on the criteria of political stability, criminality, economic conditions, individual freedom, press freedom, healthcare, the schooling system, housing, pollution, and leisure facilities.
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