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What I Learned – ‘I Will Never Be German’: Mixed-Race Families in Germany on the Struggle to Belong

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Three decades since the Berlin Wall fell, Germans remain deeply divided over the question of what it means to be German.

In an article marking the anniversary of Germany’s unification, Katrin Bennhold, The Times’s Berlin bureau chief, examines the renewed debate over German identity. The most vocal participants have been members of Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant party, who draw a sharp line between “bio Germans,” with German blood, and “passport Germans.”

We asked Germans and immigrants to Germany how they think about their identity — and how they navigate the simmering tensions in their country.

Nearly 500 people responded, including many whose lives straddle two national identities: Germans married to immigrants, and vice versa, and the children of intermarried couples.

They told us about the subtle and overt racism that they or their family members have experienced, their struggles to integrate fully and their fears for the future.

Here is a selection of their responses, which have been condensed and edited.

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Credit…Esther Görnemann

My husband has Afghan roots and has experienced racism so frequently that it has become normal for him — being followed in the supermarket by security, not getting an apartment because of his name, not being admitted to a nightclub because of his black hair. I see it happening more and more, not only in the countryside, but also in the city.

I used to work in a bar, and a neo-Nazi came in one day. After he made a string of racist statements, I kicked him out. He became angry and, as he was leaving, yelled: “We will march again soon! We are well organized! You will see!” That was 2009. And now, it feels like he was right.

Esther Görnemann, Düsseldorf, Germany

So while I will never be German, I feel more at home here in many ways than I do in the United States. When you live in a culture that fits your values, you can feel at home. At least that is my experience as a professional American woman.

Cleo Godsey, Munich

I was born in the Dominican Republic to a white German mom and a Dominican dad and have dual citizenship. For me being German means being Afro-German, black German.

German identity is complex. It is a construct that is discussed a lot, but becomes less and less clear when you try to find shared roots, culture and traditions (compare north and south — Bavaria vs. Eastfrisan, for example). The more you research, the clearer it becomes: Germanness is about whiteness, as it’s the racist assumption of a shared white experience and supremacy.

It’s not about episodes of violence here, but rather daily violence. In 1990 my black father was almost killed by fascists. My school years in the 2000s were marked by the N-word, racism and black friends who were suicidal because of the German school system. Today, we are surviving while the left in the United States thinks that Germany is a paradise for migrants.

SchwarzRund, Berlin

I am a native of Chemnitz and lived abroad for 22 years. I returned to Germany in 2017 to live in the Saxon city of Leipzig with my husband, who was born in India and raised in Dubai.

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