″I really don′t want to be racist, but things are pretty bad″ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.10.2010
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"I really don't want to be racist, but things are pretty bad"

Germans are embroiled in a debate on how well integration has functioned in the country. Children and teenagers with immigrant backgrounds live and learn side-by-side with Germans - the potential for conflict is huge.

A high-rise building in the Bonn suburb of Tannenbusch

In Tannenbusch, Germans are in the minority

A group of teenagers is playing soccer on a field in Tannenbusch, a northern suburb of the western German city of Bonn. Nina is from Kasakhstan, Nicolas's parents moved to Germany from Portugal, Yann's dad is French. Jan is the only German. The group mirrors the situation in a suburb considered a social hot spot, where only one out of four citizens is German.

"From an early age on, we grow up with different cultures, so we're used to it," says Nicolas. They all speak German - that is their common language.

The Tannenbusch tenements, far from downtown Bonn, were built about 40 years ago, when the city urgently needed housing for the many foreign embassy employees. But after unification, Bonn lost its status as Germany's capital, and in 1999, the government moved to the new capital, Berlin. The diplomatic missions followed suit, taking with them their employees, and leaving behind empty tenements.

Today, ethnic Germans from Russia live in Tannenbusch, along with asylum-seekers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who live in dismal high rises that Jan calls the "barracks."

Unemployment, violence and crime come with the turf. Yann says the situation at the local high school is not as bad because there are fewer foreigners, but even there, he has encountered violence.

"If I go out at night, then always in a large group," Yann says. "I really don't want to be racist, but things are pretty bad."

Keep out the police

A classroom picture with teacher and kids

German and immigrant children are classmates

Tall grey tenement buildings tower next to the local shopping center, which is housed is in an ugly concrete building complex, a noisy place where children and teenagers loiter during the day. Most are of Moroccan, Syrian, Albanian and Kurdish descent. Sometimes they are best friends, sometimes they fight. Zacharia was three years old when his family moved to Bonn from Morocco, he says. Bored, he and his friend Hilal do their best to annoy passersby.

The Germans are okay, they say. But they try to avoid and ignore a certain boy from Afghanistan. At school, Hilal says, he was once hit in the head by a bit of chalk: "I went ballistic and threw my school bag at his head." The teacher reprimanded both boys, and their parents grounded them. The boys agree that it's best to keep the police and one's families out of disputes.

Misery behind red brick walls

Dmitri and Wladimir live in another section of Bonn with a high percentage of foreigners, Brueser Berg. There are many red brick buildings, and few open spaces. Here, too, German government employees moved to Berlin, leaving behind their flats for ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union.

Brueser Berg teenagers usually hang out in the pedestrian zone, says Wladimir. Many are aggressive, he says, and more often than not they are Muslims who dislike Germans.

His friend Felix has made the same observation. "Many of them come from places dominated by violence, so they have poor social skills," he says.

Just the other day, Felix says, there was an incident with a black boy who insulted him, followed him and only left off when Felix's friends came to his rescue. The best approach is to avoid contact with aggressive children, Felix says, since teachers are no help at all. "They will rebuke a student, or keep him in after school, but that doesn't change a thing. If you tell on them and they are punished, the situation will get even worse. "

Author: Karin Jaeger (db)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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