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 in the 20th century too, and in the 19th century and in all preceding centuries before, since the first people immigrated to Europe.
Recently, we have seen 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 historical perspective. But it is exactly such long term approaches that are needed to dissolve the myth of opposition between receiving and migrant societies, understanding that European societies always have been pluralistic themselves.
The German city of Erlangen has promoted such novel historic perspectives with the museum tour Zuwanderungsstadt Erlangen (Immigration city Erlangen) from spring 2013 onwards. Visitors get the chance to rediscover Erlangen's history through 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 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 has been the impact of 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 a 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 was developed by Annasophia Heintze 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.