BERLIN (Reuters)—Turkish, Arabic and Vietnamese fill the air in the playground outside the Eberhard Klein school in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, where German is a foreign language.
The last four German pupils left the secondary school in the district filled with immigrants just south of the government quarter, giving it the distinction of being the only state school in the country without any German children.
Reflecting Germany’s at-times awkward relationship with its large immigrant communities, the absence of any Germans in the now-famous school has become a thorny political issue ahead of an election expected in September.
While Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s center-left government is proud of how it says it has modernized immigration laws, conservatives criticize the lack of integration and spread of “ghettos” in large cities such as Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg.
“You can live around here and never have to utter a word of German—there are Turkish shops, Turkish lawyers and Turkish doctors,” said Bernd Boettig, principal of the Eberhard Klein school in the down-market Kreuzberg district.
Boettig said he tries to dissuade German parents who want to register their children at his school and said the last four German children left in 2004.
Studies show that German language skills decline once the percentage of those who do not have a command of the language rises above 20 percent in the classroom, Boettig explained.
He says integration hasn’t worked.
“For a long time people figured migrant workers and their children would eventually mix with Germans,” he said. “But let’s face it, integration has failed. We could have steered it 20 or 25 years ago but now I really don’t know what can be done.”
The language of Goethe and Schiller is rarely heard outside his classrooms. About 80 percent of the pupils are from Turkish families. The remaining 20 percent come from Arab-speaking countries, former Yugoslavia, Vietnam or Africa.
Boettig said it was a fact of life that Kreuzberg has its ethnic diversity, adding it had enriched the city.
The bustling district is famous for its variety of foreign restaurants and night clubs. Its trendy low-cost ethnic neighborhoods are especially popular among German students.
“But once people start having children, they begin to move away,” Aliya Dirican said. The Turkish educator offers women German classes at the school.
And Boettig admits he quickly loses patience when parents of pupils come to see him and expect to have a Turkish-language translator provided by the school.
“If the parents don’t go through the trouble to learn German, how should the children know any better?” Boettig said.