Integration of Russian Germans: The Main Problem
is the Language and the Education
Integration der Rußlanddeutschen: Hauptproblem ist die Sprache
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
Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for translation of this article.
Reprinted with permission of Süddeutsche Zeitung.