Alternative für Deutschland, the right-wing extremist party founded in 2013, which has exploited and reinforced sentiment against migrants, took up the narrative and stigmatized immigrants as a dangerous drain for the country’s resources. The party never stops beating the drum. In 2018, for example, Alice Weidel, a co-chair of the party, named the immigrants “headscarf girls” and “knife men” – headscarf girls and knife men – from parliament. The political debate, not least because of the success of the party, is often focused on the problems allegedly linked to immigration: religious zeal, crime, poverty.
With this in mind, the success of Mr Sahin and Ms Türeci was a welcome opportunity to celebrate the benefits of immigration and see how migrants enrich and deepen our society. Their stories – Mr Sahin, the son of a Turkish worker, came to Germany as a child, while Mrs Türeci, the daughter of a Turkish doctor who had moved from Istanbul, was born in Germany – the often hidden story of the post-war period brought to light immigration afterwards Germany.
From the 1950s, Germany began recruiting workers, mainly from Italy and Turkey, to fuel the post-war industrial boom. Called “guest workers”, they shouldn’t stay. But many have, and today their children and grandchildren are an integral part of the country’s society. Yet they are often overlooked. Especially for the success of Dr. Entering Sahin, the son of a Ford factory worker, seemed a necessary correction to such condescension.
However, singling out works in both directions: it can offer much-needed recognition, but it can also make the success of immigrants appear exceptional and mark migrants as “not one of us,” as a colleague of mine emphasized. When I called some Germans of Turkish descent, many expressed a similar ambivalence.
“Finally we missed something: Appreciation,” said Hatice Akyün, a friend and columnist for the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. As a fellow child of “guest workers”, she felt a connection to the couple – “a biographical pride, if you will.” But she also found it uncomfortable to concentrate on their biographies. “For a long time I myself played the role of a figurehead for successful integration,” she said. “But it can be exhausting and frustrating to be seen through that lens all the time.”