No gap between foreigners and Germans

1 August 2012

It is no longer possible to clearly differentiate between foreigners and immigrants on the one hand and Germans on the other. These are the preliminary findings of the "Survey of Migration in Mainz" undertaken by the Institute of Geography and the Center for Intercultural Studies (ZIS) at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), in which hundreds of students participated.

As Professor Dr. Anton Escher admits: "We were surprised. Katharina Alt came to me and said: 'Dammit – we're just not registering any major differences!'" Migrants, foreigners, Germans – it would seem that such distinguishing designations are now out of date. "Our shared dynamic common experience in contemporary society means that these labels are simply no longer valid. We need to find other categories on which to base our analyses. We also need to find a different approach and look more closely at people themselves."

With the aid of the "Survey of Migration in Mainz", the Institute of Geography and the Center for Intercultural Studies at JGU, working in collaboration with the City of Mainz, had merely hoped to obtain a representative overview of the current migration situation in Mainz. But the outcome was more than anyone had expected. Escher, the project manager, now thinks that even the title is inappropriate. "We should cease calling it a migration survey. People from immigrant backgrounds are really getting sick of being labeled as people with immigrant backgrounds."

Lifestyle and migration in Mainz

The survey was initiated in 2010; this year Escher and his colleagues presented an interim report in Mainz city hall entitled "Lifestyle and Migration in Mainz". The survey should be completed in 2013. In addition to project co-workers Katharina Alt, Nicole Merbitz, and Eva Riempp, hundreds of students got involved in seminars at the University or acted as interviewers in Mainz itself.

A total of 364 Germans and 375 foreigners answered a list of 55 questions. "It was a very extensive questionnaire," says Escher, "a single interview lasted at least an hour but, even so, hardly anyone broke off before completing the questionnaire."

Mainz is home to people from over 160 countries, making it a colorful and cosmopolitan city. "Of Mainz's population, 14.8 percent do not have German citizenship, while 8.5 percent have an immigrant background," explains Alt. Foreigners tend to agglomerate near where industry is based. They make up more than 20 percent of the residents in the Mombach and Mainz Neustadt districts, while in the more peripheral areas of Ebersheim, Laubenheim, and Drais they constitute less than 10 percent of the population. The largest groups among the foreigners are Turks (some 20 percent of the immigrant population) followed by Italians, Croats, Poles, Portuguese, and Moroccans.

Mainz citizens, Germans, and citizens of the world

However, these differences with regard to country of origin left next to no trace in the responses given by those surveyed. Germans and foreigners were asked whether they saw themselves primarily as citizens of Mainz, as Germans, Europeans, or citizens of the world. Those who claimed to be first and foremost citizens of Mainz were 27 percent of both foreigners and Germans. Another 26.9 percent of foreigners and 26 percent of Germans saw themselves as Europeans. Citizen of the world was the preferred title of 23 percent and 25 percent respectively, while 22 percent of both groups claimed that they were German.

And so on – the survey covered various areas of life. Active religious practice is important for Catholics and Muslims, Protestants are somewhat more lax. Foreigners have a bit more confidence in the German legislative system than the Germans, but generally speaking, most accept the status quo.

However, 2 percent of Germans do not feel at home in Mainz; this was the case for 8 percent of the foreigners. By way of comparison, 14 percent of those of foreign origin in Germany as a whole feel out of place. Mainz came out of the survey extremely well – its attraction as a place to live is further demonstrated by the fact that 200 of the foreigners surveyed had already been resident here for more than ten years.

Putting the spotlight on extremes

Escher and the others could go on discussing the statistics for ever. But as far as Alt is concerned, they prove one thing; "The idea that Germans and foreigners are different needs to be eliminated." Escher adds: "When you have a million cereal grains in front of you, the first thing you see is the handful of red grains among the pile. If a foreigner commits an honor killing, then a thousand articles will appear about it in the newspapers." The majority of people, including foreigners, who don't do anything to attract attention, are ignored by the media. "Only people at the extremes attract the spotlight." This is completely different in the case of the survey: "We're taking up the cudgels on behalf of the vast majority."

This differentiated examination of the mass of those living in Mainz makes it clear that there are more dissimilarities between people from different professions, age groups, and income classes than there are between people who come from different countries.

The documented statistics represent one aspect of the study. Going beyond this, students decided to take a more in-depth look at individual groups. Adem Özgen and Simon Harer, for example, turned their attention to the immigrants from Turkey. What they found was that these in no way represented a homogeneous group, either in terms of religion or other aspects. It would be absurd to put Alewis, Sunnis, and Kurds all in the same pot.

Differentiated picture of Mainz's inhabitants

When it concludes in a year, the survey will provide a very differentiated overview of the people of Mainz. However, neither Escher nor Alt deny that their project has its deficiencies. A small group of immigrants refused to participate in the survey. Nevertheless, even if the researchers were to assign them an extreme position, this would have only a minor effect on the survey outcome. The basic conclusion would still be that there is no significant gap between the Germans and foreigners living in Mainz.

Only very few cities have produced surveys of this type. "And of this small number, most were produced under the aegis of the Sinus Institute," explains Alt. "Unfortunately, they fail to explain how they came to their findings about the various social milieus and the people that were covered in their surveys."

"We, however, are completely open about our methods," emphasizes Escher. "We are happy to point out our failures here and there."

But those who attended the presentation of the study in Mainz's city hall quickly noticed that these weaknesses are not particularly problematic when compared to the one great strength of the survey: it focuses on people rather than on Germans, migrants, and foreigners.