Neukölln: Has integration failed?

Neukölln: Has integration failed?

Via The Local:

Thilo Sarrazin’s controversial book has sparked a heated debate about immigration. But what’s it really like on the streets of Germany’s integration flash points? David Wroe and Ruth Michaelson report from Berlin’s Neukölln district.

Ersun Karaduman’s life just doesn’t jibe with the statistics so often cited by Thilo Sarrazin.

The outgoing Bundesbank board member Sarrazin claims in his inflammatory new book that unintelligent Muslim immigrants are largely incompatible with German society, but Karaduman says with some pride that his German is better than his Turkish.

Born in Berlin, the 20-year-old still helps out at his father’s store on Neukölln’s Donaustrasse while finishing his degree in international marketing. And though he does not yet have German citizenship, he plans to apply for it soon.

His father may fit the stereotype of the small retailer which the now disgraced Sarrazin used to dismiss many Arabs and Turks as being good only for selling fruit and vegetables, but Karaduman is happy to have inherited his father’s aspirational drive.

“My father is my hero … He had nothing when he came from Turkey. Eight years later he was married to my mother, he worked every day, we had food and clothing and a home,” he says. “He’s shown my brothers and me what is possible, and my mother reminds us all the time that we can’t risk everything he’s done for us.”

Of Sarrazin, Karaduman says: “He doesn’t know Neukölln; he doesn’t know us.”

Neukölln, the heavily Turkish and Arabic district in southern Berlin, is the area that Sarrazin and other integration critics most often point to when the subject of Germany’s immigration problems arise. Roughly one in five Neukölln residents is unemployed and that figure rises to 30 percent when restricted to the immigrant population.

Social problems are reportedly twice as high as in Berlin on whole, and some 40 percent of youths there have no post-high school education, even vocational training.

The district’s mayor, Heinz Buschkowsky, is blunt in admitting the challenges he faces.

“Our society is hurtling towards a massive problem and we can no longer afford to rely on powers of persuasion,” he told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel recently. “We are sleepwalking into a crisis.”

Nobody denies there are problems in Neukölln, but people who spoke to The Local on the streets, in the shops and on the housing estates of the district this week were adamant that there is as much cause for optimism as despair. Sarrazin and his numerous supporters among ordinary Germans are wrong to claim that immigrant communities are not interested in integrating with mainstream society, these people say.