Shaping integration – yesterday and today

With his photographs, Ergun Çağatay puts a face on immigration: they show the working world as well as the community and family lives of the people who came to Germany from Turkey in the 1960s to work in the coal mining industry. By supporting the special exhibition titled ‘Wir sind von hier’ (‘We are from here’) at the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site, the RAG-Stiftung is building an important bridge to the present: to the children and grandchildren of those who migrated to the Ruhr area as part of the recruitment agreement between Germany and Turkey.

Picture above: A tradition of integration

After the arrival of the Turkish migrant workers at the beginning of the 1960s, one particular focus was on training and educating them as well as promoting the language skills of the new arrivals. © RAG-Archiv

The topic of integration is inextricably linked with coal mining, because miners from many different countries have always worked together. Over decades, the solidarity required to survive down in the mine also contributed to successful integration of the migrants above ground as well. The Ruhr area thus developed into a cultural melting pot with its five million inhabitants. And the miners’ values are no less relevant today – quite the contrary, in fact: solidarity, reliability, cohesiveness, tolerance and mutual trust are more important than ever as essential pillars of getting along and thriving in society.

‘Wir sind von hier’ special exhibition

Ergun Çağatay’s photographs put on display the working world as well as the community lives of the people who came to Germany from Turkey. © Ruhr Museum/Andrea Kiesendahl

Recruitment agreement with Turkey

Against the backdrop of the history of coal mining, the German–Turkish recruitment agreement from 1961 plays an important role: it was the final yet most important agreement in a series of international contracts that helped secure the necessary workforce for the flourishing post-war economy of the Federal Republic of Germany beginning in the 1950s. More than one million so-called guest workers made their way to Germany as part of the recruitment agreement with Turkey alone. At first, they came solely for work, but ended up staying and finding a new home in the miners’ villages in particular. In the 1980s, miners with Turkish roots made up a majority of the guest workers in the mining industry in the Ruhr region. Thousands more came from Italy, Spain, Poland and the former Yugoslavia, among other countries.

REVAG did pioneering work

At this time, the successful integration was supported by REVAG, a district working group for the cultural support for miners. This specialised organisation did pioneering work, helping guest workers out of linguistic and cultural isolation, creating trust between immigrants and the local population and opening up opportunities for equal inclusion of migrants in social, political, cultural and societal life. Training and education of the guest workers and their families played a critical role in this regard – especially in the context of promoting language acquisition.

While the support programmes were initially aimed at the men’s dormitories, special offers for women and children soon followed. The RAG-Stiftung is keeping with this tradition, as Board of Executives Member Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia explains: ‘To this day, RAG-Stiftung support promotes the successful integration of immigrants. In this context, mothers and children are a particular focus of our support work, because working women are important role models for their children and therefore a part of the society of the future in this region.’

From guest worker to immigrant
The recruitment agreement of 1961 ensured a regulated influx of workers from Turkey. © RAG-Archiv
Conveying values
Promoting the cultural heritage of those working in the mines was also an integral component of the integration efforts. © RAG-Archiv

Encounters, exchange and professional integration

The inclusion of women and children was at one time a major component of the migration efforts. Today, this understanding of values is making its impact through the nouranour creative and educational workshop. © nouranour

Integration through education and language

The nouranour project in Witten is an example of how the RAG-Stiftung conveys cultural values that arose in the mining region through its support of educational programmes. This creative and educational workshop is a source of professional opportunities and training, in particular for mothers with a migrant background. The aim is to create a space and opportunities for encounters, exchange, professional integration and societal and economic inclusion. The programme also includes offers for children of the women who participate.

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Language learning is no doubt a significant building block of successful integration. The earlier this learning begins, the greater the positive impact it has on the educational paths of the children. By supporting the ‘Zukunft früh sichern’ (‘Securing the future early on’; ZUSi) programme, the RAG-Stiftung initiated a project together with the city of Gelsenkirchen with the goal of training kindergarten teachers – and thus at the very beginning of the educational chain – in poverty-sensitive methods. Targeted language learning is an important element in this.

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Photo exhibition shows German–Turkish worlds

By supporting the ‘Wir sind von hier. Türkisch-deutsches Leben 1990. Fotografien von Ergun Çağatay’ photo exhibition, the RAG-Stiftung promoted a cultural project 2021 that visually conveyed the historical developments in the region described here as well as how Turks lived in Germany at that time. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the German–Turkish recruitment agreement, the Ruhr Museum displayed a comprehensive exhibition of works at the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site from June to October 2021. The exhibition featured the 120 most impressive photos taken by renowned Turkish photographer Ergun Çağatay (1937–2018) on a trip through Germany in the spring of 1990. Çağatay took some 3500 photos in total, thereby creating the most extensive photographic documentation of Turkish immigration to Germany in existence today.

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German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also visited the exhibition in September 2021. After his tour, he emphasised: ‘We should no longer say that we have people with a migratory background. Instead, we should talk about how we are a country which, over decades, has become a country with a migratory background: more diverse, more open – but some of the prosperity in our country also could not be explained without these people. An exhibition such as this one serves as a reminder of this.’

The people behind the exhibition

Front row (right to left): Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia (Member of the Board of Executives of the RAG-Stiftung), Michelle Müntefering (Minister of State from the German Federal Foreign Office and executive sponsor of the exhibition) and Professor Heinrich Theodor Grütter (Director of the Ruhr Museum and member of the board of Stiftung Zollverein). © Ruhr Museum/Peter Wieler

Delegation at Zollverein

For the 60th anniversary of the recruitment agreement, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife Elke Büdenbender (middle) visited the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site. © Ruhr Museum/Christoph Sebastian

A look at the ‘Wir sind von hier’ exhibition

This section shows photographs of Turkish–German life in Duisburg. © Ruhr Museum/Andrea Kiesendahl

Bridge to the present

In addition to the photographs, the exhibition at the former coal preparation plant also featured eight video interviews with people who lived through the developments, along with a media installation. Moreover, there was a diverse accompanying programme with cultural events and lectures that created a living connection to German–Turkish life of today in the region, for example through cooking, dance and graffiti workshops. Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia also underscores the importance of the cultural project: ‘By supporting this project, the RAG-Stiftung is building an important bridge to the present: to the children and grandchildren of those people who came to Germany in 1961. They not only helped rebuild the economy in Germany, but were also a cultural enrichment for society.’

  • SPECIAL EXHIBITION: ‘Wir sind von hier. Türkisch-deutsches Leben 1990. Fotografien von Ergun Çağatay’ with accompanying monograph and an extensive cultural programme
  • Project Partner: Ruhr Museum
  • OCCASION: 60th anniversary of the signing of the German–Turkish recruitment agreement
  • LOCATION: Former coal preparation plant, 12-metre level, at the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • EXHIBITION PERIOD: 21 June 2021 to 31 October 2021
  • EVENT LOCATIONS: Essen, Hamburg, Berlin, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir
Video tour of the exhibition ‘Wir sind von hier. Türkisch-deutsches Leben 1990. Fotografien von Ergun Çağatay’. © Ruhr Museum/Marie Heiliger
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