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Talking Germany

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Talking integration and movies with Yasemin Şamdereli

Could it happen here?

Many people here in Germany were quite shaken by the riots that engulfed London and other English cities this past August. They were, of course, also reminded of similar scenes in the banlieues – the volatile peripheries – of many French cities in recent years. As a British citizen living in Germany, I was often asked whether the same kind of outburst of anger and violence could happen here. My reply was a very cautious probably not. And my guess is that my latest guest on Talking Germany – the film-maker Yasemin Şamdereli– would agree, although it was the one question I didn’t actually get around to asking her during what was a very stimulating encounter. 

My sense is that, yes, the integration of migrant communities into German society is a process that is still, without a doubt, fraught with tensions. Nevertheless, I would argue that things are moving in the right direction. Yasemin has made a great movie that in large measure traces the history of her own family’s journey from Turkey to Germany over the last five decades. It’s a feel-good movie – a comedy – and some have criticised it for that. How, they ask, can the process of integration be portrayed as anything other than painful? But when Yasemin describes how she grew up, it’s very much a story of opportunities offered and opportunities grasped. 

“My father,” she tells me, “worked as a bus driver – travelling back and forth between Turkey and Germany. My mother worked on an assembly line. A Löterin? What’s that in English?” A solderer, I reply. So, ordinary people. But ambitious for their children: “They didn’t push me, but they did encourage me to improve myself and to take things seriously.” And Yasemin did just that, getting into a prestigious film school, working in TV, and making her excellent movie Almanya – Welcome to Germany, which has already been seen by well over a million people.  

She appears almost uncannily balanced. There’s certainly very little anger about her. But some irritation. She is, for instance, not at all happy about how the German media still tend to portray her as one of just a handful of successful Turks. As if, she says, there weren’t many, many others. Her message is: we’ve arrived, so get used to it.  By the way, Yasemin’s all-time favourite movie: Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. And her favourite female actor: “Audrey and Katherine Hepburn!” A further sign, perhaps, of her harmonious approach to life: being able to reconcile such polar opposites!

Date

October 27, 2011

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