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Multiculturalism has a lot to offer, provided we work at it

The term multiculturalism refers to different cultures living together and is used in many different contexts, whether as the name of a former German radio station (Radio Multikulti) playing music from around the world, a description of certain districts in cities or a designation for a political programme. It can have both positive and negative connotations.

In German, multiculturalism is often abbreviated to multikulti. It had long been the general consensus that people from different cultures could live side by side without needing to adapt to each other's culture. However, following the fierce debates about migration policy ignited by Thilo Sarrazin's book Deutschland schafft sich ab ('Germany is doing away with itself') in 2010, German politicians declared that multiculturalism was dead. Why? Because in Germany, as in other countries, an increasing number of parallel societies had developed, each living according to its own laws. This has led to people becoming marginalised and radicalised and resorting to violence. Home to a particularly high number of migrants, Berlin's Neukölln district is a prime example of such a situation. Many Neukölln residents do not have a proper command of German and, in a number of cases, young people there lack an adequate school education, leaving them with no job prospects. As a result, they often feel very frustrated and resort to violence as a way of dealing with conflicts.

German-Turkish solicitor Seyran Ates has experienced these problems first-hand in Berlin. She writes in her 2007 book Der Multikulti-Irrtum ('The multicultural mistake') that our concept of multicultural understanding up until now has been nothing more than apathy disguised as tolerance, as evidenced, for example, in the way that human rights violations and the oppression of Muslim women and girls are tolerated. Only when all people in Germany, regardless of their culture, observe a common set of rules for living together and learn to understand one another will we be able to live in a peaceful, multicultural society that greatly benefits all its members.

Multicultural work

A large number of associations and initiatives have been set up in Germany over the last few years with the basic aim of bringing people together to talk, get to know one another and learn to value each other. One such association is the Multicultural Forum, which is based close to Dortmund and has awarded the prestigious Multi-Kulti Prize since 2005. The 2016 prize went to the Projekt Ankommen e.V., which has been working on the integration of refugees since April 2015.

Berlin-based association Typisch deutsch ('Typically German'), established in 2011, goes one step further, considering multicultural complexity to be part and parcel of German life: 'Germany is home to a wide range of languages, religions, ethnicities and cultures, and we value the opportunities offered by this kind of plurality, something we consider to be typically German.' By engaging openly with multicultural lifestyles, the association hopes to promote understanding and acceptance on all sides. As part of this work, the association's members visit schools and discuss the significance of identity, home and German-ness with pupils.

Video: Sezen Tatlici, Founder of Typisch Deutsch e.V.

Cultural diversity

Many German cities have troubled multicultural neighbourhoods, yet in large cities in particular, we always find multicultural districts where people of different backgrounds live together peacefully, for example, with an Indian yoga centre situated beside a Mosque or a Japanese sushi restaurant located next to an African hair salon. Many people in these districts consider it completely normal to talk openly with others and take an interest in them, and, of course, they expect others to treat them in the same way.

This is why Cologne tour guide Thomas Bönig organises guided tours of the city's multicultural neighbourhoods. Aiming to reduce prejudice and raise awareness, he takes cultural tourists to Turkish concerts, a small Cuban cigar factory, a mosque, a school for Roma children, a Jewish restaurant and several other places besides.

Berlin in particular is a place where a number of multicultural communities can be found living together peacefully, something that 35-year-old Nisreen Naffa from Palestine is especially delighted about. She has come to spend some time in Berlin as part of a cultural management programme run by the Goethe-Institut: 'The Kreuzberg district has a wonderfully vibrant and diverse culture, with many people from different backgrounds living together.'

About Sezen Tatlici-Inci

Born in Berlin in 1983, Sezen Tatlici-Inci comes from a family of Alevi Muslims, a religious minority in Turkey. Her grandmother came to Germany in 1968. Sezen Tatlici studied Business Administration in Berlin and has lived in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. She has worked as an assistant to politician Otto Schily, taught at the Helmut Ziegner Stiftung, which carries out a range of activities including reintegrating young offenders into society, and also served as project manager for the DeuKische Generation e.V. association. Wishing to use her experience to promote peaceful multicultural community, she set up the Typisch deutsch association in 2011.

Discussion of multiculturalism

Does your own country have a multicultural society? What has been your experience of pluralistic German society? Have you visited the multicultural neighbourhoods of any major cities? What were they like? What does 'typically German' mean to you? Discuss these and other questions relating to multiculturalism in the comments.

Author: Kristina Wydra

Update: December 2016

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