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A Multicultural Home for the Elderly

Forty years ago the first "guest workers" came to Germany. This generation of immigrants has reached retirement age and one German nursing home is ready to welcome them.


Future German nursing home residents?

It is dinner time at the "Haus am Sandberg" nursing home in Duisburg. The residents are sitting at the table in an atrium flooded with light. In a moment they will be choosing their meals. Today on the menu are a Zurich veal dish with Apple sauce or chicken breasts with carrots and potatoes.

The international dish today is lamb roast with a farmer's salad and potatoes. Bernd Gergrath cooks for the home's one hundred residents every day, and everyday there is a dish without pork prepared especially for the Muslim residents at the home.

The home for seniors in Duisburg is Germany's only multicultural nursing home. Eleven Turks, a Russian, two Dutchmen and a Tunisian are currently living among the native German residents of the home.

The idea began 10 years ago and was first started as a pilot project. Director Ralf Krause says that today more and more of his colleagues are interested in the unique aspects of the home.

In recent years it has been shown that immigrants make up 10 percent of the population in Germany, making the notion of a multicultural society a reality here. Immigrants also need help and support when they age.

An understanding between nations


The disappearance of the classic extended family among Turks is a good example of the new developments, says Krause: "Family structures are changing. Their children are born in Germany.

They have jobs and move out very early. So many Turkish families are in a situation where their children are no longer at home and can no longer help them." More and more immigrants are turning to homes for the elderly, where care is available around the clock.

The most important factor in Krause's home, he says, is that the employees speak the native languages of the residents -- particularly because Alzheimers patients, for example, often quickly forget their knowledge of German and eventually revert solely to their native language. For this reason, a third of the personnel at the home are from a different culture.

The norm is not enough

Haus am Sandberg Multikulturelles Seniorenheim

The nursing home's Muslim prayer room

The nursing home in Duisburg is the only one in Germany with a Christian chapel and a Muslim mosque. For certain Muslim holidays such as the Sugar Festival, several additional Hodshas (teachers) come to the home. But otherwise, Krause admits, the mosque is not often used.

He says, however, that experience has shown in recent years that a mosque is not a necessary prerequisite for a multicultural facility. Because most of the residents are sick and weak, they pray in their rooms. This is true also for the German residents.

For a multicultural facility, it is much more important to find the right personnel, says Krause. "I have to find people who do not reject but instead are interested in other cultures. Those who are interested in discovering new things." And those who are eager to respond to the residents' different preferences.

Feta cheese and Atatürk

Ninety year old Perihan Arcak, whose room is full of photographs of Kemal Atatürk, often requests feta cheese, olives and pita bread—and so someone is sent to a Turkish supermarket. And when the Russian resident wants to speak with a Russian doctor, this is also arranged.

Krause sees to these everyday wishes because of his therapeutic prescription: Each individual resident with their special needs must be taken seriously and their needs responded to in an open and flexible manner. If this approach were to become accepted in other homes, says Krause, then they would be better able to respond to the needs of immigrants.

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