In our research as we discovered more about May Ayim, we have uncovered a whole subtopic of German history and culture that we had never before been taught. Afro-German history is not something we had thought of as “separate” from German history itself, but its significance rings true as an important component of not only Berlin’s immigrant culture, but also the ideas of nationality, identity, and a sense of self and belonging. In choosing May Ayim as our focus for this project, we were inspired by the idea of a strong female leader in Germany and someone who paved the way in her own field. We also found it fascinating to have the opportunity to learn more about German history through the eyes of a minority, since much of our knowledge up until this point had been characterized by past German government regimes, especially those leading figures who were in opposition to minorities, like Adolf Hitler. We realized that although Ayim herself was born in Germany, she was treated as an outsider, as a “half-German,” because of her black heritage. Immigrants in Germany are still oftentimes treated as “less” than their counterparts born in the country, which led us to want to explore this further and speak with an immigrant firsthand.
During our stay this month at the Hotel Rotdorn, we came to know most of the staff, all of whom have been nothing but kind to us. We had the opportunity to interview one of the hotel’s employees, Fatima Yildirm, an immigrant from Turkey, to gain firsthand knowledge of one person’s experiences as an “outsider” in Germany and to expand on our knowledge of life as an immigrant in this country. She does not speak English, so Carmen Taleghani-Nikazm graciously helped us to mediate and translate the interview.
Throughout the course of the interview, it became clear that Fatima is still here in Germany only for purposes of working and earning money to send her children to college. Although she has lived here for twenty-eight years, she still described Turkey as her homeland. She shared with us her plans to return “home” to Turkey after her retirement, indicating that she feels more of a sense of belonging there. When Fatima was in high school, she moved to Germany and felt that she was treated as an outsider due foremost to the language barrier. She had to learn German and is now fluent, but felt that she did not have extensive social interaction and learned a profession to make a living, instead of focusing on superfluously fitting into society. She found that there was little motivation for her parents’ generation to fit in, due to their status as guest workers in the country, and because of this attitude, Germans treated them the same way – as temporary. Fatima also shared with us that although her daughter grew up in Germany, she has dual citizenship in Germany and Turkey, and has decided to further her education in Turkey. Her daughter always felt she was treated differently because of the negative stereotypes centered on the Turkish in Germany. This goes to show that the problems May and other foreigners have faced are still prevalent in Germany today.
Speaking with Fatima helped us to reinforce the ideas that our research regarding May Ayim had already uncovered. Immigrants in Germany are not always treated the same as “Aryan” or pure Germans. Fatima was quick to point out that it depends on the country from which you came from, as some immigrants have less trouble than others. Afro-Germans and Turkish-Germans alike, along with many other minorities, face discrimination in this country and have many difficulties that go otherwise unknown, hidden beneath the social fabric woven by modern day European society. Nationality, identity, and a sense of self and belonging played a large role in shaping May Ayim’s life, and those same sentiments echo clearly in Fatima’s recollection of her life here and what she has experienced.
Our time learning and researching, in and about Berlin and Germany as a whole, is quickly coming to a close. With it comes the opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences between where we grew up and where we have spent the last four weeks. We both have unique reactions and insights into our experiences in Berlin and our respective hometowns, and in the following paragraphs we each describe our own views and knowledge.
Cincinnati, Ohio and Berlin, Germany are both alike and different in a variety of cultural and societal aspects. I grew up in a small suburb of the city, which could be compared to the neighborhood area where we have been staying. Cincinnati is much smaller than Berlin, but it is proud of its German heritage, so I am excited to go back and explore this history further and possibly discover more similarities or differences. Growing up in the Midwest has definitely been one of the biggest influences on my life, and it is why I am attending Ohio State today. For three years, when I was in grade school, my family relocated to Denver, Colorado, which is much different than both Cincinnati and Berlin, but also provides me a context in which to compare these cities.
One of the most overlooked but important similarities between Cincinnati and Berlin is the weather. We have experienced colder weather than anticipated this month, and the forecasts are not always accurate, which made for some interesting days. However, I was not prepared for the month of May in Berlin to feel like October in Ohio. Berlin is also much more of a global city than Cincinnati. I have gotten the sense that the people who live here are from all over Europe and all over the world. While this might be true in Cincinnati as well, it is not as pronounced, and many people are multi-generational Cincinnatians who have never lived anywhere else.
The city pride in each place is evident, which made me feel at home while in Germany. People from Berlin and those who have chosen to live here seem proud of their home and happy to be here; the same goes for Cincinnati. Although many on the outside never understand why Cincinnati is such a great place to call home, Cincinnati natives know that there is something special there that makes it what it is. Berlin’s “wow” factor is much more evident, and outsiders have an easier time determining why it is such a great place, which certainly plays into its large immigrant population and tourist presence. This could be because of its rich history, which is studied around the world and has affected so many people. Cincinnati was never the site of WWII air bombings, the Olympics, or the Nazi regime, but it can still boast its history on a smaller scale. I love being from Cincinnati, and I am excited to return for a few days before I head back to OSU’s campus for the remainder of the summer. Cincinnati will always be home, but traveling only enriches my knowledge of like and unlike places around the world. Berlin and Cincinnati are by no means the same, but their slight similarities have made it easier for me to assimilate here for the month, and also to appreciate all of the nuances that are divergent from my hometown.
Throughout my childhood, my family moved around for my father’s job. There is not one particular town I grew up in, but rather it was a combination of places. Each place I have lived in is different from each other, but also shares similarities. They can be comparable to Berlin, as well. I lived in two towns in New Hampshire, and one of the most prominent similarities that I see between these towns and Berlin is the history in these areas. New England is the oldest region in America, and most of the early foundational history of our nation took place there. Due to this, many parts of the region have worked to preserve these quaint, historical towns. The physical characteristics and architecture in the towns I lived in especially remind me of Berlin. The oldest buildings and monuments in Berlin, particularly the castles and Berliner Dom, appear similarly to what they did when they were created. This is the same for the churches and town squares that are in New Hampshire. These aspects preserve the rich history, and enable onlookers to feel as if they are experiencing what residents did back in time. It provides context to the town, and gives meaning to the town’s modern day appearance.
A noticeable difference I have seen is the lack of diversity there has been in any of the towns I grew up in. Berlin is one of the most diverse cities I have ever visited. It has one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, and that can be seen through every ethnicity and multicultural aspect of the city. There is every type of food imaginable here; there are countless trends, neighborhoods, and languages spoken here. Every school I attended was comprised of families from similar socio-economic backgrounds and race. Before attending college, I had little familiarity with diversity. This is drastically different from Berlin, and it has been greatly beneficial to further my knowledge of diversity by visiting this city. Through only four weeks here, it is already evident that I will learn through people that are different from me and that the future of our world is dependent on how diversity is handled.