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Mustafa and how He Becomes German in One Day


Chapter 1: The mind is Set

The annoying sound of the alarm wakes him up early in the morning. Usually, he goes directly to the bathroom; but today is not a usual day. Not that it matters a lot, but today he will pick up his brand new German passport. Looking into the mirror, seeing his face, he asks himself: “Was ist deutsch? Does a German look like that? Tall – yes! Strong – yes! Clean haircut – yes! Black hair, brown eyes and dark skin – I guess it doesn’t really matter…”

Another annoying sound marks that the coffee is prepared. He steps into the kitchen and recognizes with surprise that his father is already there. On Fridays, he usually does not start working before 2 p.m. and sleeps in. With earnestness in his voice, his father asks him to sit down. “So Mustafa, today you turn your back on the country where you belong!” Exactly knowing where this discussion will lead to, he replies: “What…what are you talking about?” 

“You know exactly what I mean. Today you become one of them. You cut off your Turkish roots.” 

Here it was again. The old story his father has raised for six years now, since the day Mustafa applied for German citizenship. Even though he understands his parents’ feelings, he does not share them. His father immigrated to Germany as a guest worker in the late sixties to work for Mercedes-Benz. Literally coming only with two suitcases, his parents left their house, their land, as well as all their relatives, behind in Anatolia. Leaving all material things in their home country, their attention is much more focused on immaterial values and religion.  

“Dad, I know that it is very hard for you to understand, but just as you grew up in Turkey, I did so in Germany. Many of my friends are German, I speak better German than Turkish, I live here and I want to stay here.” 

“Don’t you think we should keep a link to the country where our fathers are burried?” 

“Of course I do. But the citizenship does not change anything. It is just a paper – a useful one.” At this moment, the dialogue is no longer possible and therefore Mustafa decides to leave. 

Right in front of his house, along the `Maybachufer’ beside the `Landwehrkanal’ the market is already busy. Most of the people Mustafa sees on a daily basis in `Neukölln’ would like to have a German passport. Why cannot his father understand that? He wants to participate in the society he lives in and enjoy all the rights that are guaranteed with this piece of paper. Herein he agrees with Özcan Mutlu a Green party politician who says that “citizenship means equality, full rights, and the access to the political decision making.” 

Chapter 2: The Papers Are Taken

Getting off the U7 at `Meringdamm’, approaching the city hall of `Kreuzberg/ Friedrichshain’ a cold shiver runs down Mustafa’s back. It took him six years to get to that point. He does not even remember how often he had to come here in order to supply the naturalization office with all the necessary information. Six years of walking through these dark, never ending corridors, yet he did not give up when many of his friends did. They were simply exhausted with and discouraged by all the bureaucratic procedures. Every door he passes now in the building reminds him of one false piece of information he got here. Just a couple of weeks ago, one official told him that he could not become German if he received `Bafög´ , but this is simply not true as the lawyer of Mira, a Jewish Russian friend of Mustafa, explained.  And there was even more of such an “informative” supply. 

Finally, he reaches his destination and knocks on the office door. Mr. Kowalski, one of the rather competent and friendly officials calls him in. Two young people are already sitting in the office. “I am finishing the interview with these two HiA fellows on the topic of naturalization. It might be of interest for you. Please join us if you want.” Turning his head to the students, Mr. Kowalski continues: “Persons to whom the citizenship of a state is not ascribed at birth may be able to acquire it later in life through naturalization (Brubaker 2002). In recent years, in Germany there were two major changes making naturalization easier. First, in 1990 the right to be naturalized was created – if the necessary conditions are fulfilled one gets the citizenship. Before that date the decision to naturalize was at the state’s discretion. Then, in 2000 the conditions themselves were modified – instead of 15 years of residence for adults, only 8 years are now required. This latter change was part of a more important reform - the Nationality Act - which made access to citizenship easier in general as the “ius sanguinis” principle was modified. Now children born in Germany from a foreign parent who have stayed legally for 8 years in Germany get citizenship at birth. Between the age of 18 to 23 those of them who have dual citizenship have to choose one of the countries. Until that point, one has temporary dual citizenship. Does that answer your question?” The students nod their heads, thank him, and leave the office but not without receiving a brochure from Mr. Kowalski who says, “here are some figures by the `Statistisches Bundesamt´ that might be useful for the paper you have to write.” Mustafa asked for a copy and was thrilled to get one. 

This is the moment when the orchestra should start playing and the big naturalization ceremony should begin... but of course nothing like that happens in Germany. Mr. Kowalski hands him his new papers and the certificate. After a short handshake, Mustafa, now a full-scale German citizen, leaves the office.

Chapter 3: Realising some Facts

On his U6 subway ride to the University, Mustafa reads the brochure that he received at the naturalization office: 

Naturalization in Germany

There are 6.7 million foreigners living in Germany today, which is 8.2 percent of the total population and 600,000 people fewer than two years ago. A reason for this lower number is the increase in naturalizations that goes along with a decrease in immigration. Additionally, almost four million naturalized `Aussiedler’ (ethnic German immigrants) from Eastern Europe and Central Asia live in Germany. 4.5 million of the foreigners are eligible for German citizenship (almost 70 percent).  Out of the group which is eligible, 85 percent are actually willing to naturalize.  1.8 million former foreigners in Germany are already naturalized.  Therefore almost 7 percent of the total population (82.5 million) received the German citizenship through naturalization. All in all 14 million – more than one sixth of the population in Germany - have a migration background (Fücks 2005).

The major group of those who became naturalized were from the territory of the former Soviet Union. The all time high in the middle of the 1990 can be explained by the high number of ethnic German immigrants. Ethnic German immigrants or `Spätaussiedler´ can claim immediate German citizenship as constitutional right, once they are approved of `Aussiedler´ status.  

With the decreasing number of naturalizations of people from the former Soviet Union, another group became numerically the most important: people with Turkish origin. In 2003, 140,731 people naturalized in Germany, 8.9 percent fewer than the year before. 40 percent of the naturalized people in that year were Turks. This number is much higher than the share of Turkish citizens among the population with foreign citizenship (26 percent). 

Mustafa realizes that the Nationality Act mentioned by Mr. Kowalski was of real importance since it changed the definition of what it means to be German. One does not necessarily have to have German parents in order to be considered German. Actually, one of his professors recently remarked concerning the cultural boundaries of Germanness, which has become “increasingly distant from the main traditional criterion of German nationhood, the blood principle” (Darieva 2005).

Another aspect of the figures in the brochure that Mustafa found interesting is the steady growth of naturalizations within the Turkish community. This finding might be the result of the change in strategy of the Turkish communities during the early 1990s. After a fruitless fight for the voting right on a local level and a defeat in the constitutional court, the Turkish Community in Berlin encouraged their members to naturalize in order to get political rights.  

Chapter 4: Doubts Emerge

Reaching the campus, Mustafa approaches a group of his colleagues gathered in the courtyard at Humboldt University. This circle of friends does not reflect the statistical fact that every sixth German citizen has an immigrant background - all of them do. Halina who got her passport last year is of Polish origin and married to a German. She wanted to have the German passport as soon as possible just to be a part of what she considered her new community. She had no patriotic or nostalgic feelings about Poland. For her, the Polish identity was more like a burden she wanted to get rid of.  The mixed history and the geographic closeness of the two countries might explain her attitude towards the issue. 

Mira is a Russian Jew and tries to get citizenship, but has a lot of problems with the naturalization procedure, which she judges as highly bureaucratic. She came as `Kontingentflüchtling’ – a special status awarded to Jews from the former Soviet Union. Even though it was easy for her family to immigrate because of an entrance privilege, once in Germany they were treated as refugees.  Her father, for example, a doctor could exercise his profession only on a basis of two year contracts.  However, for him it was never a question of taking on German citizenship. He does not speak fluent German and he does not identify with Germany. In fact, for many older people among the immigrant community, language is a barrier in applying for citizenship. And even if they get citizenship, the other people of the community make fun of them since they speak German with a terrible Russian accent and everyone perceives them as Russians.  

The third person standing outside is Mehmet, a second generation Turk who kept his passport and now shouts to Mustafa, “Hey, buddy. How is it going?” Halina adds, “Hey German, where is your `Schäferhund?’” With some suspicion in his voice Mehmet asks, “What do you mean, ‘German?’ Are you a ‘Kartoffel’  now?” Annoyed with this sarcastic remark, Mustafa replies, “Do you want to go through the visa procedure every time you leave the country? Don´t you want to vote?”

“Musti, you are Turk, you will be never perceived as German here! Anyway, who are you going to cheer for when Turkey plays against Germany in the World Cup?" said Mehmet. Mustafa was confused. 

Chapter 5: Anger is Rising

Without further comment on what Mehmet just said, Mustafa excuses himself and goes to the panel discussion on integration issues he organized as leader of the Turkish student association at the University. The speakers, Mustafa Cakmakoglu and Soris Nahawandi,  are the two Commissioners for foreigners and migration affairs, aids to the mayors of `Berlin-Mitte’ and `Kreuzberg/ Friedrichshain’. The main argument both speakers make is that the discourse on immigration and integration in Germany has and always had a negative undertone. In their eyes, even though there were major changes in the law, the perception of the people did not change and the public discourse remains hostile towards immigrants. Instead of considering the society as whole, often the dividing categories of “us” and “them” are stressed.

Mustafa’s earlier enthusiasm concerning the changes in citizenship law cools down with what he hears. No wonder many Turks feel marginalized and as second class citizens if the discussion is only problem-oriented. For Mustafa, it seems that the law itself cannot change what people think or say. Therefore, the argument often brought to the surface by politicians and academia is that the new Nationality Act, which redefined the meaning of being German, is only half true. It changed the formal conception of Germanness, but not the peoples’ perception. The expression “passport German” shows that in the minds of many Germans, a German with, for instance, Turkish origin is still perceived and treated as a Turk along the simple logic of “once a foreigner, always a foreigner” (Fücks 2005).

Therefore, Mustafa concludes that the Nationality Act might be a big step for Germany, but not for the immigrants themselves.  Paradoxically, this positive change in law might even have negative effects on the public discourse since it eventually hinders every discussion as further changes are not perceived as necessary (Geiger, Ruf 2001). As long as the political class in Germany views the society as divided, with one detached from the other, no inclusive society is possible. What is perceived as an ethnical or cultural conflict (“us” versus “them”) is predominantly a social problem and should be treated as such by the whole society. It has to be acknowledged that Germany is a country that is heavily shaped by the successive waves of immigration. Although some politicians deny this fact, Germany is already an immigration country and its society is already a hybrid one.  

Deep in thought, Mustafa begins to question his decision to take the German passport. The fact that he always has to hear Turkish people being called this or that results somehow in a stronger identification with his kin.  This is probably what scholars call “reactive ethnicity”  or “negative identity.” Was he, therefore, naive to think that he could ever become a real German? Does he even want to be German if it means that he has to be part of one group and not the other? 

Chapter 6: Nostalgic Confusion

With these mixed feelings in his heart, Mustafa leaves the discussion to go to the movies to see the latest piece of Fatih Akin: “Crossing the Bridge – The Sound of Istanbul”. This documentary on the music scene of the pulsating Bosporus metropolis portrays the city in its cultural diversity and versatility.  Watching the movie and recognizing many of the artists as well as the sites, he experiences the emotional link to what he thought was only his parents’ home. These ambivalent feelings provoked earlier by his disappointment regarding his place within German society are now taken a step further by his bewilderment and admiration for the beauty of Turkey. He begins to understand the sentiment of his fathers’ generation, which does not seem to be that distant anymore. 

How would it be to go back to Turkey? Can he even talk about “going back” to a country which he just knows from short trips and some nostalgic stories of his parents? Take Mehmet for example. He does not stop talking about going to Istanbul. For him, everything is better in Turkey. The climate is much nicer, people are more laid back – not as stiff, cold, and unfriendly as in Germany – and the economy is developing really fast. Mehmet does not see any advantage in staying in Germany, but what he does not acknowledge is the fact that in Turkey he will be always an alien – an “Almanci.” Even though an increasing number of peers emigrate from Germany to Turkey, Mustafa doubts whether moving is the solution to their problems. Would it not be better to improve the situation here? 

Chapter 7: Getting Active

With the strong feeling that something has to be done, Mustafa comes to Cum Laude, a restaurant near the University where he meets his fellows from the Turkish Student Association. Right away, he raises the naturalization issue and puts it on the agenda for discussion. By the end of the evening, they come up with some ideas for a position paper on naturalization policy that they are going to hand over to all political parties with regard to their campaigns for the upcoming federal election in September.

In their view, at present, the biggest problem, but also the issue which is easiest to approach for politics, seems to be the administrative procedure of naturalization. It is highly bureaucratic now, with a high number of documents required and numerous forms that have to be filled out. This process takes a long time, needs a lot of financial resources, and requires sufficient knowledge. For many people it is simply discouraging.  Access to German citizenship should be much easier. People who fulfil the necessary conditions should be encouraged to make use of their right to naturalize and should feel welcomed, as they are in countries such as Canada (Fücks 2005). Instead of leaving the initiative of an application for naturalization to the immigrants (Wunderlich 2005), the state should ask the eligible foreigners to become a member of the citizenry.

Furthermore, Mustafa and his friends consider the ban of dual citizenship to be a problem for many immigrants. For those who regard the citizenship as a form of identification, this requirement constitutes a serious obstacle. Moreover, there are many exceptions to the rule (for Russian Jews, Iranians, and Moroccans) – 40 percent of naturalized people have dual citizenship due to various existing exceptions.  Those immigrants who have to make a choice find themselves in a very unjust situation. Therefore, the right to keep previous citizenship should be extended to all immigrants.

After all these mixed feelings about the Nationality Act on the one hand and the peoples’ perceptions on the other, Mustafa concludes that the citizenship law reform is of importance, especially for the younger generation. It should, however, be regarded only as a first step on the road to a more inclusive society. In order to achieve this goal, the public discourse must take a turn towards openness, fairness, and mutual understanding. The academic discussion has to reach the ground.

At the end of the day, tired but satisfied, Mustafa makes peace with the decision to take the passport…at least for now.




a. Literature

Brubaker, Rogers (2002): Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Darieva, Tsypylma (2005): Recruiting for the Nation: Post-Soviet Transnational Migrants in Germany and Kazakhstan, in: Kasten, Erich (ed.), Rebuilding Identities in Post-Soviet Siberia. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, pp. 153-172.

Fücks, Ralf (2005): Werdet Bürger! Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nr.248, June 29, 2005, p. 8.

Geiger, Klaus and Werner Ruf (2001): Allemagne: le concept de nation et l’acquisition de la nationalite, In: Leveau, Remy/ Mohsen-Finan, Khadija/ Wihtol de Wenden Catherine (Eds.), L’islam en France et en Allemagne, Paris, pp. 35-50.

Statistisches Bundesamt (2004): Migration. Einbürgerungen nach Staatsangehörigkeit und Altersgruppen 2003. Wiesbaden.

Statistisches Bundesamt (2005): Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit. Ausländische Bevölkerung sowie Einbürgerung 2003. Wiesbaden.

Wunderlich, Tanja (2005): Die neuen Deutschen. Subjektive Dimensionen des Einbürgerungsprozesses. Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius.

b. Internet sources







c. Interviews

Lagodinsky, Sergey: Program Director at the American-Jewish Committee (AJC), June 23, 2005

Anonymous German women of Turkish origin, naturalized at the end of 1990s, June 23, 2005

Raiser, Ulrich: Member of the staff at the Office of the Berlin Commissioner for Migration and Integration, June 24, 2005

Vicky: Bosnian Housemaid at family von Schenck, June 24, 2005

Cakmakoglu, Mustafa: Commissioner for foreigners and migration affairs to the major of Berlin-Mitte, June 27, 2005

Nahawandi, Doris: Commisioner for foreigners and migration affairs to the major of Berlin-Kreuzberg/ Friedrichshain, June 27, 2005

Yilmaz-Günay, Koray: Board member of the Migration Council in Berlin, June 27, 2005

Eyngorn, Elena: Head of Germany´s Union of Jewish students, June 27, 2005

Mutlu, Özcan: Member of the Berlin city parliament, Green party, June 27, 2005

Ohliger, Rainer: Researcher on migration and minority, European Associate Director of HiA and German program coordinator, June 28, 2005

Scheidler, Antje: researcher at the Department of Demography at Humboldt University Berlin, HiA German program coordinator, June 28, 2005 

Özcan, Veysel: Assistant of Cem Özdemir (MEP), June 28, 2005

Dr. Darieva, Tsypylma: Researcher at the Institute for European Ethnology at Humboldt University Berlin, June 28, 2005

Dr. Wunderlich, Tanja: Researcher at `Europäisches Forum für Migrationsstudien´ (EFMS), June 29, 2005

Krupka, Halina: Immigrated from Poland to Germany in 1975, 29th June 2005





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