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Germany mints new citizens

Heiner Kiesel / ccDecember 1, 2015

Berlin has been celebrating migrants who have decided to become German citizens. They're now expected to participate actively in society, and not "hide themselves."

Berlin Einbürgerungsfeier
Image: DW/H. Kiesel

The picture of Germany and its migrants is full of contradictions. Given the increasingly xenophobic speech and violence, it must take a great deal of trust on the part of migrants to want to belong to this country. The people sitting in the splendid ceremonial hall of the Berlin House of Representatives have this trust. All of them are new citizens, having only recently become German nationals. About 100 have come to the capital for this year's ceremony in celebration of naturalization.

"This makes us proud!" Andreas Gram, the vice president of the Berlin parliament, said, greeting his guests and thanking them for their "trust in our democratic values." The Christian Democrat expressed pleasure that so many people from all over the world wanted to come to Berlin and take German citizenship.

For most people in the audience, their motive was predominantly personal. Markau Kabothe from Kenya wore a traditional costume from her country of origin. Her motive for becoming a naturalized German citizen was to stay close to her husband: "He's buried here, so I'm not leaving!"

Berlin Einbürgerungsfeier
Anna and Nathaniel ConradImage: DW/H. Kiesel

Anna Conrad from Poland went to the ceremony with her son Nathaniel. "It's nice that they invited us," she said. She married a German, and because she could already speak German they decided to live together in Berlin. That was eight years ago: "I somehow had the feeling that I ought to do the German citizenship thing now." So now everyone in the family has a German passport.

Conrad found the formalities of naturalization rather complicated. Beside her, Douglas Grant nodded in agreement. He came here from Jamaica 14 years ago and has two German children. "They really could be more open about that," he says. He hopes that his new official status as a German will bring him more respect and recognition from his fellow citizens.

Work together, help to shape society

That's something migrants should actively work for, Yu Zhang said. Originally from China, the professor - who gave the official speech to the new citizens at the ceremony - chairs the Society for German-Chinese Cultural Exchange. "Stimulate curiosity in those around you about your countries of origin," she advised them. She sees integration as an "interactive process" between migrants and German citizens. Yu Zhang believes that it's especially important for migrants to participate in social and political life. "The inconspicuous 'coexistence' of new citizens is not at all the same as integration," she warned her audience.

She said she had been following with skepticism a tendency in the Chinese community to live "under the radar" of official perception. She herself came to Germany 23 years ago, and still gets quite emotional when she recalls her first experiences after her arrival. "I think I had a very positive attitude, and that was then reflected by those around me," she said. A few years ago, she became a German: "I had taken the country to heart years ago, as my second home."

This is now the third time that Berlin has held the naturalization celebration. It aims to add an element of pathos and solemnity to becoming a naturalized German citizen, after all the arid bureaucracy: entry into a community of shared values, with rights and responsibilities. However, this participation is not as sought-after as the ceremony would have us believe. The naturalization quota in Germany falls well short of the possible.

The government estimates that about three quarters of the foreigners in Germany would meet the requirements for naturalization. These include, for example, professional and educational qualifications combined with residency of several years. But only slightly more than 2 percent decide to apply for a German passport. In 2014, 108,420 people were naturalized, most of whom had Turkish roots. In Berlin, too, the number of naturalizations remains stagnant at around 6,500 per year. The obstacles to dual citizenship are seen as one of the core problems.