Berlin has a long history of immigration and is one of the most multicultural cities in Germany. Today, almost 900.000 people with foreign roots live in Berlin, making up 25,7% of the total population.

Guest workers
The first big wave of immigrants came after the Second World War, when West Berlin was facing a big shortage of workers. The ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ (the ‘economic miracle’) made that the West German post-war economy flourished. But because of the Berlin West Berlin had problems recruiting new, highly needed workers. That’s why agreements were made with countries like Italy, Greece, Morocco and Turkey to welcome guest workers to West Germany. The initial idea was that workers would stay a few years, return to their home country with the skills they learned and make place for new workers in Germany.

Especially Turkey was keen to send guest workers when they signed the agreement in 1961. At that moment, only 284 Turks lived in Berlin. Twelve years later, Turks became the biggest minority group in the city – 80.000 Turks earned their money here in 1973. Whereas some people did go back to Turkey after a few years, many Turks stayed in West Berlin later on and brought their families to their new home. Nowadays, the 180.000 people with Turkish roots represent the biggest Turkish community outside of Turkey.

East Berlin
East Berlin needed guest workers too. Due to the Soviet influence, East Germany made agreements with their communist counterparts to employ guest workers. People came all the way from Vietnam, Cuba and Angola to work in the factories of East Berlin. Working conditions were bad for the guest workers. They lived in isolated dormitories and the contact between them and Germans was kept to a minimum.

After the reunification of Berlin in 1990, many guest workers left due to discrimination in the former Eastern parts of Berlin. These areas still have low numbers of immigrants compared to the Western region.

Nowadays, Berlin’s districts Mitte, Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain and Neukölln have the highest numbers of immigrants. 44% of the residents of Mitte for example have foreign roots. After the Turkish community, the Poles are the second largest minority group in Berlin. Italians and Serves (coming from another immigration wave during the Balkan War in the ‘90s) represent number three and four.

Germany has debated their immigration policies for many years. The laws around acquiring German citizenship became less strict – a second-generation immigrant now automatically gets a German passport when his or her parents have lived in Germany for eight years. But with so many ‘people with a migration background’ – as they are called – discrimination and xenophobia were on the rise again. Politician Thilo Sarazzin added fuel to the fire when he published his book ‘Deutschland schafft sich ab’ (‘Germany abolishes itself’), in which he heavily criticised the German immigration policies.

Brain gain
Since two years, Berlin and Germany are facing a new wave of immigration. Almost one million foreigners came to Germany in 2012 – two-thirds of them came from other European Union countries. Especially young highly educated people from countries like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal came to Germany hoping to find a job.

In Germany, this news was positively received and dubbed the ‘brain gain’. As Christine Langenfeld, the chair of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration told Manager Magazin: “Germany is developing into a magnet for well-qualified, young immigrants from the EU… A true European labour market is taking shape.”

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