Immigration city Erlangen. Revising the relationship between migrant and receiving societies

 

We have learned where Lampedusa is located, have discussed why in 2005 French suburbs burned and understand that climate change will increase the number of immigrants to Europe. Despite this expertise, one popular fallacy still dominates Europe's immigration discourse: understanding immigration as a modern phenomenon. Sure, the IOM is rightly describing migration – besides climate change and international terrorism – as one of the key challenges of the 21st century. However, this has been always the case. Research shows that migration mattered already in the 20th century, in the 19th century and in all centuries before, since the first people immigrated to Europe1.

 

Contrary to “traditional immigration” countries, such as the USA, Canada and Australia, where immigration is part of the national identity, Europe seems to have a hard time accepting that immigration has played a crucial role across time. Recently, we see in Europe an increasing number of museums and exhibitions opening their doors to a wider audience and to the topic of immigration. Only few of them, however, deal with the subject matter in a historic perspective. But exactly such long term approach is needed to dissolve the myth of opponent receiving and migrant societies, understanding that European societies always have been pluralistic themselves.

 

The German city of Erlangen promotes such novel historic perspective with the museum tour Zuwanderungsstadt Erlangen (Immigration city Erlangen) from spring 2013 onwards. Visitors will get the chance to rediscover Erlangen's history under the perspective of immigration and revise the relationship of migrants and receiving societies. In ten stations one can experience the impact of immigration on a city's development.

 

The tour shows how immigration was increasingly politicised in the course of European nation building processes in the 19th century and increasingly was denied its actual historic importance: being a society's motor for progress through the exchange of ideas, technologies and know how. In an inclusive, discursive approach that includes the visitors experiences and opinions, for each of the ten stations key information about immigration is provided and an array of questions is discussed, such as:

 

How did the 500 inhabitants of Erlangen react when 1500 French refugees moved into the city in the 17th century? What integration policies were put in place that turned the city into a prosperous commercial hub?

What were the arguments the Nazis used to construct the existence of a mono-cultural German society and at the same time expel Jews from economic, political, and social life? What impact have modern claims of national mono-culturalism?

What were the push and pull factors that made people from around the world come to Erlangen, when Adidas and Puma were founded and when SIEMENS was established?

In addition to the tour Zuwanderungsstadt Erlangen the museum will act in the course of open door festivities as forum and place for meeting and exchange, where immigration can be discussed, where ideas and problems can be voiced and solution advocated – by and for all inhabitants of Erlangen.

 

Zuwanderungsstadt Erlangen by Annasophia Heintze is developed in cooperation with Ine Brehm, head of education of the city museum of Erlangen and the generous support of the city museum, the department of culture, the integration office and the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

 


1 Lucassen, Jan, Leo Lucassen & Patrick Manning) (eds.), Migration History in World History. Multidisciplinary approaches (Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers 2010).