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Thread: After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn

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    After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn

    March 25, 2007
    After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn
    By MARK LANDLER

    DUISBURG, Germany, March 20 — The last cups of Turkish black tea had been drained, the platters of olives and goat cheese cleared, but the snowy-haired Turks lingered at the table.

    “Of course I always think about going back,” said Yusuf Mermer, 69, who left Ankara in 1969 for the Ruhr, where he operated a forklift. He now lives in a nursing home here. “I have nieces and nephews in Turkey, but I would just be a burden on them.”

    His voice cracked and tears trickled down his creased face. “Looking back, I don’t even know why I came to Germany,” he said. “Things were going fine for me in Turkey.”

    Four decades after the first Turks arrived as guest workers, they are reaching retirement in a land that still feels foreign. For Mr. Mermer and many others, it is a bleak time with the recognition that they will live out their days in a place where they had planned to stay only a few years.

    Germany never planned on them staying, either, and now faces a looming social and financial burden. Of its 2.7 million people of Turkish origin, 320,000 are of retirement age. That is expected to double by 2020.

    Many of these immigrants, particularly older women, do not have the savings or pension and health benefits to afford a nursing home with round-the-clock care. The government has to pick up the shortfall — an unexpected payback for the long years of service of these guest workers, or gastarbeiter.

    Socially isolated after decades of living in Turkish enclaves, these accidental Germans often speak little or no German. And having toiled in low-paying, physically taxing jobs, they are in poor health relative to native Germans of comparable age.

    “For the first time in our history, we have to deal with considerable numbers of immigrants who are elderly,” said Reiner Klingholz, the director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. “They age differently from Germans. They have different medical problems.”

    But they do share one thing with Western Europeans: they cannot rely on their busy children to take care of them. Three cities are trying different approaches to help them.

    In Berlin, the country’s first private nursing home exclusively for Turkish people opened last year. Called Turk Huzur Evi, or the Turkish House of Well-Being, it will eventually offer beds for 155 people. It has a Muslim prayer room, with a visiting imam who preaches regularly, and serves Turkish food and meat prepared according to Islamic rules.

    In Frankfurt, the state of Hesse finances a retirement home with a section for Muslims. Its 11 beds are filled, the majority with Turks, though there have been Afghans.

    Here in Duisburg, the nursing home, known as Haus am Sandberg and run by the German Red Cross, has 15 Turkish residents — 8 women and 7 men — and nearly 80 Germans. They share airy quarters around a two-story atrium. Ralf Krause, the director, said it made little sense to segregate the Turkish residents, since they were already a diverse group: Sunnis and Kurds, Anatolians and people from Istanbul, devout Muslims and acolytes of Ataturk, Turkey’s great nationalist leader.

    There is plenty of room for friction. “It’s not even as if they all eat olives and goat cheese,” he said, referring to the traditional Turkish breakfast served each Tuesday.

    On a recent morning, however, there was quiet harmony in the breakfast room. Young women, some in head scarves, served food to their parents. A little girl scampered about, chattering in German.

    Children and grandchildren are the main reason these Turkish immigrants stay. With the passage of time, many of them have few friends or family members left back home.

    “They always say they want to go back, but their families are in Germany, so they are torn,” said Bengi Azcan, 40, a German-born social worker who is the daughter of Turkish immigrants. “It is especially sad because they know they will never achieve their dream.”

    Dilber Cevik, 67, moved to Germany three decades ago from Amasya, in central Anatolia. She worked in a fishery in Hamburg before moving to Duisburg, a forest of smokestacks and steel mills on the Rhine with one of the Germany’s highest concentrations of Turkish immigrants.

    “When you’re young, of course, you never think about being retired,” Mrs. Cevik said, sitting in a wheelchair. “I never imagined I would end up in a retirement home in Germany. But it is God’s will.”

    Two of her daughters live nearby and visit twice a week. Mrs. Cevik has other children in Turkey, but frets that the medical care would not be as good there.

    Like most immigrants here, Mrs. Cevik speaks only Turkish. Some have forgotten their German — common among the aging, particularly those with Alzheimer’s — while others never learned more than a few words. “We never needed German; we were always surrounded by Turkish people,” said Mr. Mermer, who went back to Turkey once, but returned to Germany for good in 1972, the year before Germany stopped inviting workers from abroad.

    The lack of connection to German society compounds the isolation that many Turkish immigrants feel after retiring, Ms. Azcan said.

    The German government, which has struggled with immigration policy in general, has yet to come to grips with aging immigrants. In the 1980s, it tried to entice people to return home by paying them cash. About 250,000 foreigners — mostly Turks — did leave by 1984, but the flow soon dwindled because there were few jobs in Turkey then.

    With only 4,000 Turks a year returning home these days, the German government and Turkish groups will have to share the burden of providing culturally aware nursing homes and caring for the growing number of retirees, said Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen. There are signs of that. In another part of Duisburg, a Turkish group that is building one of Germany’s largest mosques has included plans for a small retirement community across the street.

    The German and Turkish residents of Haus am Sandberg are experiencing genuine integration for the first time, after a lifetime in what social scientists have called “parallel societies.” Frieda Fuchs, a 90-year-old German, said her Turkish neighbors made life more interesting.

    Multicultural living is not without its crossed wires, however. A few weeks ago, the staff brought the groups together for a dinner with cuisine from both countries. Sitting across the table from the Turks, the Germans broke into a quavering chorus of “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” the former lyrics of Germany’s national anthem.

    “Maybe they were rattled because we were playing Turkish music,” Ms. Azcan said, wincing at the memory. “This is a process. We’ll see as we go along which model works best.”

    Turkish volunteers help care for the residents of Haus am Sandberg.


    Dilber Cevik, 67, lives at Haus am Sandberg in Duisberg.


    Haus am Sandberg displays Turkey’s crescent.

    Source

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    Re: After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn

    Of its 2.7 million people of Turkish origin, 320,000 are of retirement age. That is expected to double by 2020.
    Now, if they would only stop letting new ones in, we can let the ones who are already here gradually die off if they don't want to move back to Turkey. So, after some time, we will finally be rid of them - accomplished with a minimum of fuss and outcry.

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    Re: After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn

    A real problem, one that the migrants do not think about. The children do not remain true to their culture (of taking care of the elders, or marrying in their own community). I was, sort of, glad, when my son decided against going to New Zealand, though it is such a beautiful country. I would not have gone with him except for short visits. But there was our grandson to think about.

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    AW: Re: After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn

    Quote Originally Posted by Aupmanyav View Post
    A real problem, one that the migrants do not think about. The children do not remain true to their culture (of taking care of the elders, or marrying in their own community). I was, sort of, glad, when my son decided against going to New Zealand, though it is such a beautiful country. I would not have gone with him except for short visits. But there was our grandson to think about.
    I would differentiate here. I'm sure that your son, as an educated person would have adapted well enough to NZ society and through this process eventually would have become less "Indian" in a cultural sense. Perhaps his children or grandchildren would have become completely assimilated to their host country. Perhaps they would even have chosen non-Indian partners. At least that's what usually happens in Germany with "high potential" immigrants with university education.

    On the other hand, the vast majority of Turkish immigrants in Germany come from the lowest strata of Turkish society. They lack not only the necessary level of education, but also (as it becomes evident in the second and third generation) the basic potential (for whatever reasons, genetic, sociocultural, religious or otherwise) to assimilate to German society. Moreover, many young male Turks, even from the third generation, still import their brides directly from the most backward areas of Turkey, so assimilation is made completely impossible in these cases.

    However, from a nationalist point of view, I also strongly oppose attempts to assimilate ("integrate") Turks to the German society. Non-assimilation is not such a bad thing when you see it in the light of a future repatriation of this immigrant group. It will make it much easier for them to return home when they have not adapted too much to the European way of life. Since I'm confident that they will eventually have to go home, I see their own instinctive opposition to assimilation as something rather positive and - in the long run - as the more realistic option.

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    Re: AW: Re: After Lifetime in Germany, Turks Still Alone and Torn

    Quote Originally Posted by Pervitinist View Post
    I would differentiate here. I'm sure that your son, as an educated person would have adapted well enough to NZ society and through this process eventually would have become less "Indian" in a cultural sense. Perhaps his children or grandchildren would have become completely assimilated to their host country. Perhaps they would even have chosen non-Indian partners. At least that's what usually happens in Germany with "high potential" immigrants with university education.
    That is exactly what I would not desire for my children and grandchildren. I want them to remain Indian. Old man, cannot leave his moorings. My dentist son-in-law mulls relocating to U.S. (Florida). I have a grand-daughter.

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