As part of a campaign to get more young migrants on the path to citizenship, the Berlin Senate has issued flyers in the form of a German passport. Inside are photos of 15 youths who say why they want to be German.
A German passport can open doors for foreign youths
Student Nasr El-Nasr knows exactly why he needs a German passport -- after all, it's unlikely he'll reach his goal of being elected German chancellor in 2030 without one. His photo is just one of 15 printed inside a new flyer, part of a push by the Berlin Senate to get more of its young foreign residents on the path to citizenship.
In Germany, it's the federal states that decide on the granting of German citizenship, and they can choose how strictly or how loosely to interpret the regulations. The city-state of Berlin, for example, is pretty rigorous. Each applicant has to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of German, and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution conducts a background check. However, the German capital tends not to think much of the citizenship tests and questionnaires being proposed by states such as Baden-Württemberg and Hesse.
Some German states want potential citizens to sit a test
"My impression is that much of the discussion (about citizenship) is not really helping us to come to any pragmatic results," said Berlin's integration officer, Günther Piening. "Rather it seems to be about serving certain ideological camps. Berlin, on the other hand, is about real life examples."
Relaxed rules for young people
Using 15 real life examples of immigrant men and women the Senate hopes to inspire more of its foreign residents -- especially young people -- to apply for citizenship. A relaxed process for young people has been introduced to make things easier. Starting at age 16, teens can apply for citizenship without their parents' permission. And until age 23, applicants don't need to prove that they are financially independent.
The reasons for promoting citizenship are plain, said Irma Noack, who came to Berlin in the 1990s as a Bosnian refugee.
"I feel that I'm a part of this society and I think that with the integration process, it's important that if people say they want to be part of this society, they have all the rights and responsibilities that go with it, and that includes German citizenship," Noack said.
Funda Gemüsdag, a 23-year-old student with plans of becoming a teacher, agreed. She doesn't have the same kind of identity problems that her grandparents had -- they came to Germany from Turkey in the 1960s. Gemüsdag, on the other hand was born in Germany and grew up here. German is her mother tongue. But she doesn't just want to fit in, she wants to be able to shape her environment.
"I'm first and foremost a Berliner," she said. "I want to have the same rights and responsibilities as my German friends, whether it's about the right to vote, or being able to get involved politically in something."
For 18-year-old Isaac Obeng-Asamoah, whose family fled to Berlin 16 years ago from Ghana, having a German passport would be the equivalent to uttering the magic words "Open, sesame!"
"With a German passport, you can travel to any country you want," he said. "You don't have any problems getting onto a job training scheme. A German passport gives you the opportunity to solve all your problems."
As many as 30 percent of people in German cities are migrants who could gain citizenship
Even if he doesn't quite manage to solve all of his problems with a German passport, Obeng-Asamoah and others like him would be transformed from residents into citizens. And that's the goal of the Berlin Senate's campaign -- getting people away from the fringes of society and into the center, where they can participate in democracy.
It's not just a small minority of people to whom this applies. In large German cities, the number of those eligible for citizenship can be as high as 30 percent of the population.