Asian migrants are often cited as perfect examples of how integration should work in Germany, but not much is known about their daily lives. In his second book, the German-Korean writer Martin Hyun reveals all.
Martin Hyun has been obsessed with his Asian roots for some time now. He wrote about them in his first book "Lautlos: Ja, Sprachlos: Nein" (Silent – Yes Speechless – No), which was published in 2008, and they also provide the material for his second book "Ohne Fleiß kein Reis – wie ich ein guter Deutscher wurde," which comes out this month.
It is clear from the title, which combines a play on words with the German expression for "No Pain, No Gain" and the phrase ‘How I became a Good German,’ that humor is very important to the young writer.
He talks about escaping the clutches of his strict father, whom he names the "Great Wall of China," and about his "freedom" in Berlin, whose multicultural nature he loves. However, he also writers about discrimination and outlines his views on the political debate about integration.
"It's almost like a drug," the 33-year-old political scientist says with a smile. "Since I sought out my Korean roots a few years ago, I can’t stop thinking about them."
All aspects of his life are shaped by his story and that of his parents who arrived in Germany's Ruhr Valley in the 1970s.
Modest and quiet
They were among roughly 18,000 South Koreans who heeded Germany’s call for foreign nurses and miners.
"They lived modestly and quietly," he says. "They were relatively isolated from German society right from the start. They were part of a big Korean community and had all the infrastructure their hearts desired."
There were Korean supermarkets, hairdressing salons, churches, taekwondo schools and even newspapers. "Home was Korea, Germany was outside."
In "Lautlos…," Hyun talks about his first trip alone to his parents homeland, as well as the strict upbringing he was subjected to. The cane was used as a threat and there was hardly any leisure time. He had to get up early and do his homework - even during vacations.
However, looking back, he is not bitter. "My parents were no different from other Korean parents in this respect," he says. "They put each mark aside and invested in our education. The idea was that we would have a better life than theirs."
Within one generation, many Koreans in Germany went from being guest-workers to highly-qualified professionals. Today, they are, alongside Vietnamese and other Asian immigrants, often cited as perfect examples of integration.
Yong-Min Cho from Berlin's Korean Culture Center, which is part of the Korean Embassy, says it is the attitude to education which makes all the difference. "Excellent linguistic skills and necessary social competence are the key to positive integration," he adds.
Ambitious and successful
Hyun likes to cite himself as proof that children of immigrants can make it in Germany. After studying politics and international politics in the US and Belgium, he was awarded a PhD in Berlin at the beginning of this year. His academic path followed an equally successful ice hockey career. He played in the German league for 10 years and was even part of the national junior team for a while.
Today, he works for a German association that supports young business people and managers.
However, he is not blind to the difficulties others face. He says that Asian professionals continue to struggle when trying to get a foot in the German job market. He complains that they are not well represented in politics, in society and the business sector and says that many face daily discrimination.
He says he wants to change attitudes in German society and make the problems and desires of Korean immigrants more visible. He will continue to use his sense of humor to put the spotlight on issues that are close to his heart.
Author: Dina Musharbash / act
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan