60 Years of the Recruitment Agreement How Turkish guest workers lived in Bonn

Hardtberg · Lütfiye Tank came to Germany from Turkey as a guest worker at the end of the 1960s - all alone, with only a suitcase and the dream of a better life. 50 years later, the woman from Duisdorf remembers how things went for her.

 Photographer Georg Munker took this picture of guest workers in a Bonn accommodation in January 1971. Photo: Stadtarchiv und Stadthistorische Bibliothek Bonn/ Georg Munker

Photographer Georg Munker took this picture of guest workers in a Bonn accommodation in January 1971. Photo: Stadtarchiv und Stadthistorische Bibliothek Bonn/ Georg Munker

Foto: Stadtarchiv und Stadthistorische Bibliothek Bonn/ Georg Munker

When Lütfiye Tank got off the train in Lübeck in 1969, she had only one suitcase and the dream of a better life. The journey from Turkey took three days. Her husband and son stayed at home in Ankara. "We didn't have much money, there was no work," Tank says. "That's when I thought: I'll go to Germany." She had no idea that she would temporarily return to Turkey after only a few months.

On 30 October 1961, the Federal Republic of Germany had concluded the so-called Recruitment Agreement with Turkey, because the booming German economy urgently needed workers. Unemployment in Turkey was high and the political situation unstable. Young men in particular left the country. "They saw Germany as a revolving door to wealth," says migration researcher Hacı-Halil Uslucan from the University of Duisburg-Essen. "The assumption was: after two or three years we'll go back rich."

Usually no contact with Germans

In Lübeck, Tank lived in accommodation with the other guest workers: only Turks, there was no contact with Germans. This is how the 76-year-old remembers it, while sitting on the sofa in her flat in Duisdorf. "I was all alone, I couldn't speak German properly, it was difficult," she says. At that time, she wrote letters to her husband back home, for which she needed help from a colleague at work, because she could neither read nor write - and still cannot.

After a few weeks in Germany, she discovered that she was already pregnant when she entered the country. She worked in Lübeck for eight months, then returned to Ankara for the birth of her second son. Shortly afterwards, she went back to Germany, this time to Gummersbach. Her husband and children joined her later, and the family moved to Alfter.

In Witterschlick they rented a flat: four of them in one room with a small kitchen, bathroom in the hallway. The neighbours were German. "We had a lot of contact with them," Tank says. At first, she had a job in the kitchen of the university clinic in Bonn. "But that was far, two changes by bus," she says, "and the children were still small." So she started working at the Deutsche Steinzeug company in Witterschlick to be able to take better care of the children. The work at the tile manufacturer was hard, Tank says.

Husband wanted to go back to Turkey

Her husband also worked there; he had had an office job in Ankara. "He wanted to go back to Turkey," Tank says. "But I said: we're staying. The children should go to school here." Even in the second generation, many of the people still assumed that they would return to Turkey, says migration researcher Uslucan. "That's why there was little rooting in Germany, and at the same time the umbilical cord to Turkey was not cut." He sees an omission in the fact that at the same time there was no clear line in the Federal Republic: "It was said: we encourage the willingness to return, but at the same time people should integrate here."

Many guest workers had to realise that getting rich quickly in Germany was not going to happen. They started families, and two or three years, as they had initially thought, turned into 20 or 30 - or more.

The grandfather was the first to come to Germany

Ümit Sengül's family has lived in Germany since the early 1960s. Today he sells groceries at Ümit Market in Duisdorf, which his father opened 26 years ago. But his grandfather was the first to leave home in the early 1960s to work for Deutsche Steinzeug in Witterschlick.

Almost the entire village came with him, says Sengül. "They could earn good money in Germany. They wanted to buy farmland with it." His family comes from near Merzifon, a town on the Black Sea coast, about four hours' drive northeast of Ankara. His grandfather stayed for 15 years. Sengül's parents, who immigrated in the early 1970s, stayed longer. For the past three years, they have lived mostly in Turkey, coming back for a few weeks a year to visit the grandchildren. "Many from that generation have lived with a longing for their homeland," says Sengül.

When he was born in 1985, the family lived in Medinghoven. "My parents and my grandparents in one flat," says Sengül. "It was very close and small circumstances." He says his parents also often thought about going back to Turkey.

The parents met in the factory

Caglayan Cimen's parents met when they worked at the Ringsdorff factories (now SGL Carbon) in Bad Godesberg. Both came to Germany in the early 1970s. She came from Ankara, he from Zonguldak on the Black Sea. They married in 1973 and Cimen's brother was born in 1974. At first, Cimen's parents lived in accommodation that belonged to the company. "The guest workers all lived there," says Cimen. "There was hardly any contact with Germans, so they couldn't expand their knowledge of German.“

The immigrants had to do without many things they knew from Turkey. "Aubergines, peaches, sheep's cheese," Cimen lists. In the 1980s, his family opened a grocery shop and a video shop with Turkish films. People would sign up on lists to get the films with the stars from Turkey: Kemal Sunal, Kadir İnanır or Türkan Soray. And he was the first to see them before they were awarded. His preference: comedies.

His father also had the goal of returning to Turkey, says Cimen. "But then he started a family here and that was no longer an issue." His parents still live in Bad Godesberg, he runs a mobile phone business in Duisdorf. Cimen says that he got his independence from his parents.

They also brought him and his brother up to adapt. As far as integration is concerned, however, there is still a lot of catching up to do in Germany. "I am happy and grateful that I am here.

(Original text: Dennis Scherer; Translation: Mareike Graepel)

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