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Immigrants Have Doubts About Citizenship Test

Sonila Sand (jp)
March 26, 2006

The Hesse state government plans to introduce citizenship tests for foreigners, including a list of 100 questions designed to evaluate familiarity with Germany. So how do young immigrants feel about the test?

Many argue the citizenship test sets the bar too highImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

It's abundantly clear that many of the immigrants who've gained German citizenship would never have done so had they sat a test like the one planned in Hesse. What's even more obvious is that a good deal of Germans would fail it too.

Nine years ago, 25-year-old Sisi and her father fled Angola for Germany. Even though she went to school here and is now a trained retail saleswoman, she's floored by questions on the planned citizenship test such as "What did German scientist Otto Hahn do in 1938?" or "In which German elections are EU citizens allowed to vote?"

Feeling "more German"

And she's far from convinced that gaining German citizenship should depend on being able to answer such obscure questions.

"It doesn't necessarily mean you're a proper German," said Sisi. "It's not bad to have that kind of general knowledge, whether you're German or not. But knowing the answers wouldn't make me feel more German."

Weimar - Goethe und Schiller vor Nationaltheater p178
Goethe and Schiller -- part of Germany's cultural heritageImage: dpa

But that's exactly what the Hesse questionnaire wants to achieve. The state wants its would-be new citizens to possess an in-depth knowledge of German history, culture, politics and values -- and be familiar not only with the works of Goethe and Schiller, but also with governmental structures and systems.

The underlying principle is that the process of becoming German should be more than a mere formality. But many of the country's freshly-minted citizens say that identifying with their new home has little if not nothing to do with reading up on its philosophers or learning the national anthem by heart.

Wrong priorities?

Gloria, who hails from Albania but has lived here for 14 years, observes that feeling German is harder for some than it is for others.

Niederlande: Freundschaftskette von Muslimen und Niederländern an der Schule in Eindhoven
The younger generation has more chance of integratingImage: AP

"Some of the questions make sense, and after all, other countries require immigrants applying for citizenship to sit a test," she said. "It's reasonable to expect people to know about the country they want to live in. But those people who don't get the opportunity to go to school in Germany, like many of the guest workers who came here, stayed and started a family, obviously aren't going to know anything about the Reformation or which convention took place in 1848."

In 1991, Gloria's parents sought political asylum with the German embassy in the Albanian capital of Tirana. They joined hundreds of others huddled in the office corridors before they were taken to Germany. Gloria eventually gained German citizenship and now studies English and German at Cologne university. She agrees on the need for a test, but thinks the priorities need to be different.

"The questions tend to concentrate very much on history," she pointed out. "Of course a lot of those questions are very important especially when it comes to legal matters, but there's no mention at all of contemporary German culture. Why aren't there any questions about modern pop music or hip hop?"

An opportunity

Germany's young immigrants agree that anyone who decides to live in Germany should also do their best to integrate -- not just learning to read and write language, but also getting to grips with German culture.

Afrikaner in Deutschland Interkulturelle Woche Cottbus
Moving to Germany can be a culture shockImage: dpa Zentralbild

"I learnt all about Germany when I came here," said Sisi. "It's not like Africa. Germans eat at specific times, they visit each other at specific times. Sunday is a day of rest, which is a custom we don't have in Africa. I've become very German in that respect -- if I want to visit someone I call them first. Africans just drop by," she said.

"I didn't just assimilate German culture because I had to -- but also because I wanted to, and I felt it was expected of me. Germany gives you the opportunity to belong, and I think you should use it."