- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

BERLIN (AP) - Germany’s main national history museum is exploring six decades of migration to the country - a story of often-ambivalent but evolving attitudes that goes from the arrival of the first southern European “guest workers” to today’s migrant influx from the Arab world and elsewhere.

The exhibition at Berlin’s German Historical Museum, titled “Multicultural: Germany, a country of immigration,” also looks at communist East Germany’s use of workers from Vietnam and elsewhere, and at attitudes that swung toward fear and hostility when migrant arrivals last spiked in the 1990s, after reunification.

The exhibition shows that “Germany is a country of immigration, even if political leaders for a long time didn’t say that or perhaps didn’t want to know it,” Hans Huetter, head of the Bonn-based museum of postwar German history that produced the exhibition, said Friday.

That certainly wasn’t the attitude in 1955, when West Germany started recruiting “guest workers” to help boost economic reconstruction. By 1973, when recruitment stopped amid the oil crisis, some 2.6 million immigrants were working in the country.

The exhibition shows men being subjected to health tests in Turkey and some of the rudimentary aptitude tests that were used to recruit manual workers, and depicts the welcome the newcomers received after long journeys on uncomfortable trains.

Among the exhibits is a moped that the millionth “guest worker,” Armando Rodrigues de Sa of Portugal, was presented with on arriving in 1964. But while many stayed, little effort was made to integrate the immigrants into German society: some states didn’t even put the workers’ children into classes with their German counterparts.

In East Germany, despite official talk of “solidarity” with fellow communist nations, foreign workers were largely kept apart from Germans.

Attitudes in the reunited country hardened in the early 1990s as Germany saw more ethnic Germans arrive from the former Soviet Union and large numbers of asylum-seekers from the disintegrating Yugoslavia. The exhibition documents anti-foreigner attacks, alarming headlines and far-right posters from those years.

They help show “the difference with Germany today,” despite a backlash over recent months against the current migrant influx, exhibition curator Ulrich Op de Hipt said. “People’s perception of being a country of immigration is very pronounced, and public opinion very different from 20 years ago.”

Differences over how far to encourage immigration and whether to allow dual citizenship persisted into the 2000s, but immigrants and their culture increasingly have become part of daily life.

“For some, this development is an enrichment of everyday life; it shows our country opening up,” Huetter said. “For others, the fear of being overwhelmed by foreigners prevails, and perhaps concern - justified or not - about increasing crime because of migrants.”

“If all these concerns, these problems turn into hatred and violence, then it will become highly problematic for our society,” he said.

Illustrating that concern is a crude suitcase bomb, one of two planted by a pair of Lebanese men on German trains in 2006. The bombs, apparently intended as an act of revenge after some German newspapers reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, failed to explode.

The exhibition concludes with interviews with three Syrian and Iraqi migrants from last year’s influx. Visitors can also try their hand at answering questions about Germany posed to people seeking citizenship.

The show opens to the public Saturday and runs through Oct. 16.

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Exhibition site: https://www.dhm.de/en/ausstellungen/multicultural.html

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