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Daily xenophobia

Karin Jäger / cd,mllMay 29, 2013

Five members of one family died when right-wing youths set fire to a house in Solingen in 1993. Despite efforts to deal with prejudice, people from immigrant families there still feel under pressure two decades later.

"Foreigners out" and a swastika painted on a wall in Solingen. Copyright: Heinz Siering/1992.
Image: Heinz Siering/1992

Twenty years ago, Secil Cakici was frightened. "It could have been me," she says now.

Maide Kulak also remembers her reaction to the arson attack. "We took shelter in the cellar, and I took my son to school myself in the first few weeks."

"You can't live in fear for long," says Cakici, who has been living in Germany for 46 years. Ayla Uzun nods in agreement. The women, all of whom live in the German city of Solingen and have Turkish family roots, are part of the Turkish Women's Association that meets regularly.

The ongoing trial of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose three members are accused of a 10-year, racially-motivated murder spree that took the lives of 10 people throughout Germany, has brought Solingen's 1993 arson attack back into the spotlight.

Schoolteacher Ayla Uzun, who helped found a kindergarten 23 years ago, was active in local Solingen politics at the time. After the arson attack on the house owned by the Turkish Genc family, in which five members of the family died, Uzun experienced her community's fear firsthand. The attack was, up to that point, the worst on foreigners in Germany since World War II.

Fearful of copycat violence, families with Turkish surnames removed their identity from their doorbells. They put their children to bed fully clothed so that - just in case - they could flee their home quickly. Other families worked on fireproofing their homes and apartments.

Fears remain

members of the association around a table Photo: Karin Jäger/ DW
Members of the Turkish Women's Association meet on a weekly basisImage: DW/K. Jäger

Today, every time there's a fire somewhere and a Turkish family is involved, Uzun hopes it's just an accident and not because of another attack. She considers it a huge disappointment that German authorities who "are also paid with my taxes" didn't uncover the racial motivations behind the NSU murders for a decade. "How safe can I feel in my own country?" she asks.

Uzun decided to become a German citizen many years ago. So, too, did Maide Kulak, who arrived in Germany at the age of 12. For five years her parents paid for a private tutor to teach her German. Now she's a pharmaceutical assistant, but she often feels like an "Islamic German."

Uzun, too, has often experienced discrimination due to her name, appearance, accent and religion. "I don't wear a headscarf personally, but I'd never judge a woman the way that German society often does. We're also against fanaticism," Uzun says. "My personality and abilities are what I carry with me. But I can't also change my name in order to be accepted in this country."

Cakici's son recently found himself the object of discrimination. "My son applied for jobs after he finished his studies. But every time he got a rejection. Then he gave a German name, and he was immediately invited for an interview."

People from 130 countries live in Solingen. Uzun points out that "40 percent of the children born in Germany come from immigrant families." The numbers of migrants are increasing, and Germany needs them for its labor market. Uzun says it's high time to think about how to improve the way in which people live together in Germany.

Dual citizenship and Muslim cemeteries

She herself would like to see the introduction of the right to dual citizenship. She felt that she had to give up a part of her identity when she had to hand in her Turkish passport in order to get German citizenship. She found that very hard.

Children's pictures on the wall of an anti-racist project in Solingen Photo: Karin Jäger/DW.
People from 130 countries live in SolingenImage: DW/K. Jäger

Another of the women, Aysun Giray, says she'd like to see more Muslim cemeteries. "My father was buried in Turkey," she says. "I can't get there. I want to be buried here, so that my children can visit my grave if they want to."

All of the women in the group would like the police to be more attentive, in addition to improved intelligence services and laws so that crimes such as those of the NSU don't go undetected for so long. But they don't expect much of the Munich trial of the group's only alleged surviving member, Beate Zschäpe.

"What's happened so far has only been embarrassing for Germany," says Uzun, and the others nod in agreement.