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Integration of Russian Germans: The Main Problem is the Language and the Education

Integration der Rußlanddeutschen: Hauptproblem ist die Sprache und Ausbildung

Thym, Rolf. "Integration of Russian Germans: The Main Problem is the Language and the Education." Süddeutsche Zeitung, 23-24 January 1999.

Translation by Alice Morgenstern, Munich, Germany


They long to be real Germans

Regensburg - Since 1667 generations of "Aussiedlers" have found their first temporary home in Plattlinger Straße in Regensburg. Five somewhat shabby houses with 35 apartments have been serving as one of the first provisional quarters in Bavaria. The Zilin family have recently moved into one of these apartments: Grandma Rosa, her son Sergej, her dauther-in-law Nadeshda and their sons Ivan, Mihail and Ilja. On December 10, 1998 they left Pawlodar, Kasachstan, with their luggage containing clothing, chinaware, documents and a tiny amount of things of value to them, and via bus and aircraft they travelled to Germany, the "land of promise".

Grandma Rose (born 1934), nee Vogel, is a Volga German woman who was deported in 1941 from the Crimea to Kasachstan when she was a child. Now that she is old she felt that she could not stand living in Pawlodar any longer. There was a shortage of work and if you found some you had to wait for ages to get paid for it, she tells us. Buying victuals was another calamity, if you happened to get hold of some fruit or vegetables they cost you a fortune. So you could feed your family on rice, noodles and bread and once in a while with some meat. You considered yourself lucky if the heating was working. "A very poor life", says Grandma Rosa in her Volga German dialect, which at first is hard to understand.

There is at least some money

Is everything better now in Regensburg in that temporary apartment? "Gut, gut", Grandma Rosa tries to sound happy, she wants to show that she is grateful. But when you look round in that three-room flat with its old furniture and the bare walls you can't help thinking that the Zilin's had a different idea of thriving Germany. At least they get some money: DM 1374 "Sozialhilfe" (social support) for the parents and the three children, Grandma Rosa gets DM 440. There is enough to eat, their clothing is neat and proper, and the heating system is working. Besides, the Zilin's have only one aim in mind, they want to be real Germans with a nice place to live in and a car. There are, however, many obstacles to overcome. Problem number one: German language. Grandma Rosa speaks German fairly well, but even she prefers turning to Aunt Anna if there is something more complicated to explain. Years ago Aunt Anna came as an Aussiedler to Regensburg and has been living there ever since. Sergej passed the obligatory German language test in Kasachstan. But during our visit he hardly opens his mouth, and if he does, he speaks Russian. When he was a boy of 16 he had to decide whether "Russian" or "German" should be entered into his passport. In spite of his decision to be "Russian" then, he was permitted to come to Germany, because his mother is German and he passed the test. Matters are more complicated for his wife, although the grandmother says that in her passport she is registered as a German. She did not pass the test and is treated as a foreigner accordingly. The consequences lead to a great disadvantage for her. The Arbeitsamt (labor office) refuses to pay for her German language courses, whereas her husband is entitled to attend them.

Aunt Anna does the translating

Nadeshda is setting her hopes for support in the church now. The children, ages 10, 14, and 15 struggle hard with their own language difficulties in their special integration class, where the teacher only speaks German. So they hardly know what is going on in the lessons. Grandma Rosa, however, hopes that children will pick up the language more easily. At least, whenever they have to deal with German offices, they can rely on Aunt Anna who accompanies them and does the translating.

Heribert Friedrich, the caretaker of the buildings, does not see the main problem in the language difficulties of the inmates, he is more concerned with alcoholism and vandalism, mostly among the young Aussiedlers. Everyday life is boring for them, although there are youth clubs in the neighborhood to go to or an institution offering special training courses for crafts and trades. On the other hand the older generation is supported by the "Verein der Rußlanddeutschen" (German Russian Society) which gives them a feeling of belonging.

Usually the Aussiedlers remain in these quarters for a period between 6 months and 1 year, until they can stand on their own feet, that is when they have found a place where to live permanently. Julius Schmatz of the Regierung von Oberbayern (the Oberbayern part of Bavaria) says that these new citizens haven't much choice when they take up work. But often the members of a big family work hard and put their money together to buy a piece of ground and build a house. Many are skilled craftsmen who know how to go about building, says Schmatz. And sometimes they are even envied by their German neighbors. "But that is most unfair. These people are an industrious lot", says Schmatz. That is how the Zilin's wish to be. Sergej would like to work either as a mechanic or a truck driver, Nadeshda is a seamstress, but would take up work as a cleaning woman so that they could soon get a place where to live permanently.

What else is there to hope for? They don't know and shrug their shoulders.

Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for translation of this article.

Reprinted with permission of Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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