The debate on migration in Germany is more emotional than any other. One of the points that characterizes this is the question of the integration of immigrants. How this works is shown not in Berlin or Munich, but in a small town in Hesse.

About 22,000 inhabitants live in Stadtallendorf in central Hesse. These come from 84 different nations. The small town has four churches, three mosques and an Alevi community center. Multiculturalism there is nothing unusual, but rather everyday life. At Stadtallendorf a successful integration is essential; The mayor knows it too.

4.5 percent unemployment – 30 percent of residents are non-German

“Integration has been a task for us for decades,” Christian Somogyi told the business magazine “Capital.” The former director of the Frankfurt airport operating company has held a city council seat for the SPD since 2012. He himself has Austro-Hungarian ancestors on his father's side, while his mother comes from the region.

Multiculturalism already played an important role in Stadtallendorf during the war, when the Nazis built the largest munitions factory in Europe there. Around 20,000 forced laborers from 27 countries worked there. After the end of the war, displaced people moved to barracks and companies set up shop in abandoned factories.

This same industry attracted and continues to attract immigrants to this day. The city's largest employers are the Fritz Winter iron foundry, founded in 1951, the candy manufacturer Ferrero and the door handle manufacturer Hoppe. There are also numerous suppliers and other companies in Stadtallendorf. Unemployment is only 4.5 percent, with around 30 percent of residents without German citizenship.

“Integration here, as in other places, did not happen overnight”

The rise of Stadtallendorf, which before 1930 was a normal agricultural town, would have been unthinkable without foreign workers. But even there the integration was not immediately successful. “This did not happen here, nor did it happen immediately in other places,” says Dr. Jörg Probst, director of the documentation and information center there, explained it to “Capital”. “The Turks led a dark existence for a long time.”

In Stadtallendorf, as in Germany in general, people were supposed to return to their homeland after a while. Integration concepts were missing. Workers encouraged the advancement of local employees.

“The emergence of the 'bio-German' society would not have been possible in the middle and lower classes without the labor of immigrants,” says political scientist Wolfgang Schroeder of the University of Kassel. “They took over the simple, bad, dirty jobs, in short: the precarious jobs. At the same time, very little has been done to provide them with opportunities for advancement.”

The first years were “very bad”; then Selahattin Santur found happiness

But things were different back then. This is demonstrated by the example of Selahattin Santur. At the Fritz Winter iron foundry, the current retiree rose from worker to transport manager. But he is also familiar with the initial difficulties.

His early years in Germany, when he lived in a dormitory, didn't speak the language and didn't know what foods he was allowed to eat as a devout Muslim, he describes as “very bad.” But that changed in the mid-1970s. Santur got married, moved into his own apartment and started a family. His children have studied, which makes him “very, very, very proud.” His son built a house in the new urbanized area of ​​Stadtallendorf, next to houses of people of Turkish, Russian or non-migratory origin.

The crucial question regarding integration: is Santur's story a model or an isolated case? For expert Schroeder, it is rather the former. “In regions with high labor market integration, we see much less conflict,” he tells Capital. Work is the basis for successful social integration.

Furthermore, despite the tight housing market, there are still enough affordable accommodation options. Unlike mass accommodation, this avoids conflict. However, permanent isolation is almost impossible due to Stadtallendorf's small size. Despite the problems, which of course exist, the first councilor of the district, Marian Zachow of the CDU, calls the small town “a model town for integration policy compared to some large cities.”

“At school, a culture of wanting to give opportunities has developed over decades”

In terms of education, central Hesse also seems to be doing many things right. Example Valeria Shapovalova: This 18-year-old girl arrived with her family in Germany when she was six years old and lives in a high-rise housing estate called “Manhattan”. At first the girl attended an integration class. In the summer of 2023 she moved from Stadtallendorf secondary school to Marburg high school.

For her teacher Marcus Bitzhöfer, Valeria's path is a true success story, but not an isolated case. He tells “Capital” about a girl whose family fled Syria and who is currently graduating from high school, and about a former student who recently enrolled in a teaching course.

For Bitzenhöfer this is no coincidence. “At school, a culture of wanting to give people opportunities has developed over decades,” explains the teacher. For example, children who do not speak German at home will not be corrected on every word. “You can't expect kids here to talk like kids from an academic district.”

After the attack on the mosque, the community forgave the perpetrators: “We live in peace here”

Kerim Otkan also praises Stadtallendorf. “May all of Germany be like Stadtallendorf,” says the honorary president of the mosque community. “We all live in peace, there are no fights.” But he also knows the problems. In 2018, two men broke into the Fatih mosque and punched holes in its vaulted ceiling. The police subsequently arrested two men, apparently drunk, disappointed football fans and with no far-right background.

The mosque did not file a complaint. The perpetrators who received suspended sentences apologized, says Otkan. “They realized they had made a mistake. We accept that. We live in peace here and we didn't want to drag this out unnecessarily.”

However, in the last regional elections in Stadtallendorf, the AfD won 26 percent, no one knows exactly how. “There are also people who have difficulties with this diverse mix of people,” says CDU member Zachow. A suspected Reich citizen who sent Mayor Somogyi a threatening letter also caused problems.

Boxcamp creates “great integration,” says Habu, who is also an immigrant

One of the city's flagship projects shows how colorful the mix can be in Stadtallendorf: the boxing arena at the Südstadt kiosk. The youth migration service and the sports hall are located in the rooms of an old bunker. Ukrainians, Turks, Bulgarians, Syrians, Poles and people of other nationalities box there.

“With the camp we are creating a great integration,” Sebastián Habura, known as Habu, tells “Capital.” He is the director of youth work in Stadtallendorf and the man behind the camp. Habu himself is a typical Stadtallendorf resident: his parents are immigrants from Poland and found work with Fritz Winter and Ferrero.

He is also proud of his city's response to the 2015 wave of refugees. “Whether Syrians, Afghans or Eritreans, they all came,” says Habura, referring to the boxing camp, which became the first port of call for many immigrants. “In some cases, two-thirds of the people in the formation were refugees.”

Habu never lasted long anywhere else. “I love this city.”

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