Opera, an integration tool for Turks in Germany?

Opera, an integration tool for Turks in Germany?

Last week on Monday night, as I was in New York and as my hotel was near Times Square, I came across New York Metropolitan Opera's first piece of the season, Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess,” which was broadcasted live from two giant screens in the square. As two black singers were performing, “It seems Met has become colorblind in its casting,” I said to myself. But in the next scene, which was performed at least by two dozen singers, there was not one single white person. I realized this was an opera performed solely by blacks.

By the end of the week, I was in Como, near the Italian city Milan listening to Tamer Ergün Yıkıcı, the general director of Metropol FM, on the cooperation between the bilingual radio station and the German Komishe Oper Berlin. He explained how German cultural institutions got in touch with them in order to reach the Turkish audience of the radio.

“When you get the feeling that the institutions belong to you, then the feeling of being in your homeland becomes stronger,” said Yıkıcı.

The radio station that broadcasts in a dozen of German cities, which mainly airs popular music, as well as arabesque, has not yet come to the point of broadcasting opera, but thanks to the intercultural project called “selam opera,” between the radio and the Komishe Oper Berlin, work was done to include Turkish children in the choir.

“By principle, our doors were open to everyone. But only German parents were informed about the children chorus,” said the project manager, in an interview I found in Goethe Institute’s website. The project was actually triggered by an idea to have a German-Turkish children’s opera. “But we realized during our work that there were no migrant origin children in our choir.”

Drawing comparisons doesn’t always get you to the right analysis, and it might not be so easy to draw parallelisms between American blacks and Turks living in Germany.

I later found out that the Met had hired an all-black outside chorus for the presentation of “Porgy and Bess,” as the Gershwin family, which has the license, required an all-black cast.

Met’s choice for this season seems to have provided the occasion to underline the difficulties black opera singers had to face in building their careers in the industry.

That was an issue that came up during the Turkish – German media dialogue meeting that was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation at its premise at the shore of the lake Como. Currently one in five Germans has an immigrant background and at nearly 4 million, Turks make up the largest community. Yet they are not sufficiently represented in the media, for instance. Neither in front of the camera, like anchorman or woman, nor behind the camera, in decision-making positions. Yet Turks pay as much tax as Germans and the German public television and radio is also financed by their taxes.

Glass ceilings for minorities are not that surprising as it is a rather common phenomenon. What surprised me in the German case was how successive governments neglected to address the needs of the migrant communities. Metropol FM does not only give news on both languages it also provides information on crucial issues as preschool education, or education outside of school. Executives at the radio realized that Turkish communities lacked a proper outlet to look for advice.

It is now common knowledge that the first three years are the most important period in the development of a child. But if this information is not made known to parents and if they are not provided with the necessary means to act according to that critical information, then it is unfair to solely blame the Turks for the integration problems.

Here comes the dilemma of the Germans. They tend to say “If Turks were to learn German, they would have known and made better use of the opportunities provided to them,” and resist to use Turkish to address them, fearing they would never learn German. But not using Turkish does not improve, but further deteriorates, the situation.

Germans are right to react against a Turk saying, “I have been living in Germany for 20 years, and I have not learned 20 words in German.” That’s a wrong attitude, but there are fewer who think like that. Turks are becoming more open to learning. At least that was the experience at the Metropol FM as they saw huge interest from families on issues such as education.

It’s been more than 60 years since the first Turkish migrants went to Germany and the Germans are still struggling on how to address the issue.

While the Turkish government is making plans to send back Syrians, it has stopped to turn a blind eye to the notion that some will not go back and already started work on a bilingual fashion to facilitate harmonization
especially in regions with high refugee density.