The Next Generation of German Multiculturalism

Five-year-old Yade and her big sister, Ela, both attend Turkish-German schools. The kindergarten, primary and secondary schools are all located on the same campus in the borough of Kreuzberg in Berlin. The girls’ mother, Maria, immigrated to Germany from Hungary 26 years ago. The girls’ father is a native of Turkey. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

At Yade’s kindergarten. All the children’s photos are pinned to the front of the classroom door. Here at the Europa Kita, each classroom has its own mascot—Yade and her fellow classmates are the eagles. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Each child is assigned a workbook once they’ve been enrolled at the school, as mandated by the Senate Administration for Education, Youth and Economy in Berlin. Instructors use the books to note a child’s daily language progress; students use them as a scrapbook for pictures of family and friends. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Yade shows a page from her workbook containing pictures of her family. She’s asked to write out the descriptions in Turkish. A language instructor helps with the translations to German. Both languages are taught on equal footing at the school; the kindergarten employs specialized instructors for each language. Yade likes learning in German and Turkish, but is quick to point out that she can also speak Hungarian. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Next stop on our tour: the dance room. Yade shows off the ballet skills she’s been learning. Dance is just one of the many group activities available for students. Yade’s favorite: the ice cream social every Thursday. Her favorite flavor is strawberry. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Leaving the kindergarten, the sisters take the lead on a short walk to Ela’s former primary school, Aziz-Nesin. Yade’s kindergarten, the primary school, and Ela’s current secondary school, Carl-von-Ossietzky, are all located within walking distance of one another; they’re all part of a campus project, located in the borough of Kreuzberg. All of the schools teach in Turkish and German. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Each year at Aziz-Nesin, students create artwork based on a theme dealing with interculturalism. This past year, Ela’s last at Aziz-Nesin before moving on to secondary school at Carl-von-Ossietzky, Ela and her classmates created this mural celebrating traditional Turkish dance and dress. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Students at Aziz-Nesin have an opportunity every year for a class trip to Turkey. When asked how Turkish culture is viewed by Germans. Ela answered, “Above all as foreign.” About one-third of students at Yade’s kindergarten are of German background. At Ela’s secondary school, however, only 10 percent of the student body is of exclusively German heritage. “I think that every friend that I have can speak at least two languages,” Ela explained. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, 12-year-old Ela says she has some big ambitions. “I want to go to university, and then I either want to become a lawyer, or an architect.” Five-year-old Yade wants to be an “ear-doctor, because my dad says it’s easy.” According to her mother, Yade changes her mind from week to week. Image by Austin Davis. Germany, 2015.

Five-year-old Yade Sönemezo is a student at the Europa Kita in Berlin, a bilingual kindergarten where children learn both Turkish and German simultaneously. Her big sister, 12-year-old Ela, goes to school just across the way at the Carl-von-Ossietzky School, where most subjects are taught primarily in Turkish, with supplementary courses in German. The girls gave me a tour of their schools one afternoon and explained what it’s like to learn in an environment where both of their native languages are of equal importance. Theirs are the faces of intercultural learning in Germany.