Sunday, December 7, 2014

Next Stop, Germany: An Account of Immigrating to Germany

By: Andrew Davis
Produced & Edited By: Megan Laird          
         As a western European country, Germany has seen a rise in immigrants over the past few decades.  But this has not always been the case, even for the location that was recently named the "world’s favorite country." Germany has struggled with its xenophobia, but lately it has become easier to become a German citizen. 
Troubled Past
         Following the atrocities of World War II, Germany was left with a decimated work force. To increase the size of available workers, the German government offered incentives for foreigners, mainly Turkish workers, to come and live in Germany.
         While this was supposed to be a temporary program, many Turks and other immigrants had already built up a life in Germany, and made permanent residence in the newly reformed country.
Baumholder, Germany
© Courtesy of:
         Today, 20 percent of Germany’s citizens have a heritage that is not strictly German. Immigration plays an important role for Germany’s economy, mostly due to the declining birth rate slowing population growth.   
         And while the German government is now promoting a “pro-immigration” platform, becoming a full German citizen still has its hurdles. 
Becoming German
         Heidi Seebohm was born and raised in America. Moving to Germany did not even cross her mind until after she got married. She and her new husband traveled across Europe for their honeymoon, with Germany being one of the stops.
         It was not until a couple months later that Seebohm found out she and her husband would be moving to Germany for his job. A transition she was nervous about.
I was a little afraid I wouldn't make any good friends since I live off post and I thought it would be hard to get to know people speaking broken Germenglish back and forth. It's proving kind of true, but at the same time not so much because other wives and girlfriends of players on my husband's fußball team in the next town over are really cool and it's working out well enough.
View from Seebohm's Residence
© Courtesy of: Heidi Seebohm
The couple ended up in Baumholder, Germany. It is a small town in western Germany that boasts a population of just over four thousand.
The people in Germany walk on any road they please at any time of day or night, usually in dark clothing. I'm talking elderly men toting oxygen tanks on windy, hilly roads in dense fog. They are a bunch of honey badgers. They have an incredible sense of humor and they're mostly outgoing. I feel like in the states we have a "mind your own business" attitude that just doesn't exist here.”
         Seebohm quickly got a job working at a local bar, the “Tavern on the Rock,” a quaint tapas bar located in the small town. Seebohm said that getting a job was not the tricky part, it was getting used to the language barrier.
We use a lot of hand gestures and it typically goes smoothly enough. The Germans are so easygoing and we would only have a problem if we didn't know how to laugh at ourselves.
National Pride
         Seebohm is the perfect example of how Germany is trying to leave its historically xenophobic past. In 2000, the German government passed new immigration laws that made it easier for foreigners to gain full citizenship.
         However, for a country that has always struggled with showing its national pride, getting used to non-western European or American immigrants has actually been a fairly easy adjustment. A regular to Seebohm’s bar, a young man from Somoa named Salima said that he has not experienced any negative reactions from native Germans despite being from the Pacific Islands.
         “Most people don’t even realize I’m not full German until I speak. My accent gives it away.”
         Germans are quickly becoming known as open and are excited to share their culture with new citizens.
Every single one has been friendly....some are guarded at first but when I try my German speaking they usually smile and we fake it till we make it (example: ordering food in a town where there are hardly ever soldiers passing through and no one speaks any English. Hilarious for all parties),” said Seebohm. 
Obtaining Citizenship
Scenic Trails Near Seebohm's Home
© Courtesy of: Heidi Seebohm
Even though Germans are open with the idea with immigration, actually becoming a German citizen still requires a bit of work.  In order to become a naturalized citizen, they have to live in Germany for at least 8 years. And just like in America, there is a written test that needs to be passed.
         However, unlike in America, German citizens cannot hold dual citizenships unless it is with another European Union country or Switzerland. This means that becoming a full German citizen takes a long-term commitment.
         Germany is one of the more progressive European countries when it comes to opinions on immigrants, but they still have their share of anti-foreigner thinking, especially in the eastern part of the country where unemployment is still high. 
Brighter Future
         Seebohm is excited to start the next phase of her life in Germany with her new husband. As of right now she does not have any plans on returning to the United States, but she said that nothing should be ruled out.
“We are planning on staying in Europe but all my family is still in the US. If anything I’ll plan to visit as often as I can.”
         Many Eastern Europeans are flocking to Western European countries, like Germany, for the better opportunities they offer. And while Germany may not have the most accepting past, the new Germany is an exciting place to start a new life.

We have a small community with a ton of neighbors who know us and we can walk everywhere,” said Seebohm, “I love it, I’m so happy where we ended up.”

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