The word “Gastarbeiterliteratur” most likely means nothing to most of UR, but to students of GER 233, it has characterized an entire semester of discussions, readings and music and film screenings.
The term is a grouping of three words – guest, worker and literature – which together signifies the cultural contributions of immigrants, brought to Germany beginning in the late 1950s from other European and Asian nations, to supplement the labor shortage following World War II.
The immigrants from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Portugal and other nations were allowed to work in Germany for a period of one or two years before returning to their home countries. However, as the migrants grew accustomed to their German lifestyle and more distant from their home countries, many chose, against policy, to stay. They were later joined by their families, creating a sense of multiculturalism in Germany that had never before existed and has since set the precedent for the progressively more diverse nation.
“Issues surrounding immigration and race are becoming increasingly important for German Studies,” Professor Beverly Weber said. “However, there are not a lot of courses taught on college campuses dealing with those subjects because many professors are not trained in the areas of immigration and race.”
The course, officially called “Gastarbeiterliteratur to Hip-Hop,” meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3:25 and is conducted entirely in German.
“One of my favorite parts of class is actually being forced to speak German again,” Kira Thurman, a graduate student studying German history, said. “Although sometimes conversations can be awkward, because everyone’s proficiency in German is different.”
Weber also attests to the difficulty in teaching a course in a foreign language.
“We have additional issues in this class that come up because it is taught in German,” Weber said. “I try to structure the discussion differently than the courses I teach in English, where it is easier to just let the discussion go in the direction the students choose and not have to worry that everyone is understanding what is being said.”
Discussions of the primary texts often lead to conversations about identity, racism, and “die Heimat,” (the homeland).
“It’s really interesting to discuss these themes with regards to a country that professes to be purely homogeneous and to be able to see what lies outside of traditionally ‘German’ culture,” Thurman said.
Weber is careful, however, not to limit discussions to issues of race, as she also likes to analyze the texts stylistically, looking at things like narrative structure and motifs.
“We study the artistic productions of immigrants and people of color in Germany,” said Weber.
“The problem is we cannot limit our analysis of these mediums to simply race or immigration as many people of color often feel that that type of analysis is limiting to their work.”
The students had the opportunity to speak about these class themes with author Ika Huegel-Marshall on March 1. Huegel-Marshall is the daughter of a German woman and an African-American soldier who was stationed in Germany during World War II. Her autobiographical novel, titled in English “Invisible Woman,” describes her experience growing up as an Afro-German and the racism she encountered. The class read portions of the novel and were able to get first-hand answers to their questions.
One of the greatest difficulties students face in this course, aside from the language barrier, is comprehending the sometimes unbelievable experiences of racism retold in the class readings and films.
“It’s difficult to balance one’s own views on racism and nationalism with what’s actually in the articles we’re studying,” said Thurman. “I’ve learned that many assumptions and stereotypes about Germans are quite simply false. The idea of a homogeneous Germany is slowly eroding away.”
Fischer is a member of the class of 2008.