Thursday, 1 October 2009

Tate Britain Symposia - 28th Sate: European Borders in an Age of Anxiety

I will be taking part in the forthcoming symposium at the Tate Britain.

28th State: European Borders in an Age of Anxiety
Tate Britain, Saturday 24 October 2009, 10.00–18.00

This symposium questions how artists and curators in Europe are currently engaging with ideas around borders, nationhood, social organisation and collaboration. What is role of art within this context, particularly in relation to the current state of European politics and increasing social unease within many rapidly changing populations? Invited international speakers include Shaheen Merali, Elvira Dyangani, and Margareta Kern.
Part of Borderline project, curated by Sonya Dyer.
Supported by Chelsea Programme, Chelsea College of Art and Design and City Inn Westminster

image: Guestworkers at AEG Telefunken, c 1973.
From the personal album of the 'guestworker' who wished to remain anonymous, 2009

Margareta Kern: On being a guest (or when histories become stories and stories histories)

As part of my recent art residency in Berlin, I researched an organised mass labour migration from the socialist Yugoslavia to the capitalist West Germany, which took place in the late 1960s. The labour migrants were called ‘Gastarbeiter’ or ‘guest workers’, alluding to their temporary stay. Many of these temporary workers never returned home. Through personal interviews with those who stayed in Berlin, and research into the specific historical and political contexts of the time, a narrative began to emerge, filled with tension between a yearning for home, an aspiration for material and social wellbeing and precarious immigration laws and policies, all connected by the ever-changing needs of the labour market. As well as drawing out this tension through images and narration, I also intend to explore the position of artist in re-creating and re-covering (hi)stories and memories (and in turn the relationship of those to contemporary collective historical and political narratives and myths).

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Gastarbajteri nazaj doma - Migrant workers back home

The documentary film “Gastarbajteri nazaj doma” (Migrant workers back home) is a poetic portrait of three former migrant workers who left Yugoslavia in the seventies to try their luck in Germany. The economic boom of post-war Europe produced an increased demand of labour. Hence so called ‘Gastarbeiter’ (guest workers), mostly from Yugoslavia and Turkey, were invited to work in the car industry and custodial services. Whereas Germany became a new home for some of them, the protagonists of the film decided to return to their home country. However, being back home they had to realise that a lot of things had changed: not only people have changed, but also the political system – a new state was born. During insightful interviews, Malika, Jože and Marija speak about their experiences of leaving their families, living in a foreign country and returning home. A film by Stefan Kreuzer, Nino Leitner and Natasa Siencnik Produced by luksuz produkcija / Krsko, Slovenia (Youth in Action Workshop 2007).
Text from the website

The film was made during the 10 day workshop, organised by Luksuz production,who has been working on an international youth exchange programme involving film workshops at Trška gora in the vicinity of Krško since 2002. The films created at the workshop usually deal with current social themes (youth participation, cultural diversity, European identity, etc) and are available on DVD for festival distribution and also on the Internet. Some of these films have received international awards. In 2007 a 10-day workshop hosted 40 participants working on documentary films. Researches on cultural diversity were made in various countries and presented in the form of short films. Discussions and screenings were followed by work on documentaries under the tutorship of well-known film maker Želimir Žilnik.

ZELIMIR ZILNIK himself made a very powerful short film in 1975 called “Inventur – Metzstraße 11” where using a very simple setting of a tenement – mostly foreigners – come in as though walking down an outdoor staircase and introduce themselves and their life situations to the viewers.
"With this minimal setting, Z¡ilnik strips the administrative term "inventory," taking stock or a census, of its numerical and bureaucratic meaning. Although the position of the camera is fixed, as in a police situation, and each person identifies themselves by name, it is not the number of people that counts; indeed the line of people seems to be endless. This camera situation guarantees their individuality, because each person takes stock of their own situation in the Federal Republic of Germany. They decide for themselves how long they want to speak or what they want to say in front of the camera, also exhibiting embarrassment or pleasure in posing before the camera. All of them are performers of their own role. Z¡ilnik provides them with the framework they need for it.
Zilnik shot this short film in 1975 in Munich, which is only relevant to the extent that Metzstraße is in Germany. He lived in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1973–76, worked as a director and pursued the same goal with his films here as in Yugoslavia, (which he left after being banned from working) tracking abuses and becoming actively involved in discussions as a filmmaker. One of his films was then censored in the FRG as well. “Inventur – Metzstraße 11” is a film that, together with “Unter Denkmalschutz” (1975) paradigmatically shows property speculation in many large German cities. Formerly upper middle class residential areas are systematically turned into slums by being over-populated with guest worker families that usually pay highly inflated rents. Once the objects have been run down in this way, they can be sold – once the tenants have been given notice – as profitable office and condominium palaces."
Text from the website of a very interesting project PROJEKT MIGRATION

Sunday, 24 May 2009

A seventh woman?

Back to wonderful John Berger’s book ‘A seventh man’, its title stemming from a data that in 1973, in Germany and Britain every seventh manual worker was an immigrant. If any of you reading this can work out contemporary equivalent of women or men worker I’d be very grateful. I’ll try and gather the data too.

I've found this bit from Berger’s text inspiring:

“A friend came to see me in a dream. From far away. And I asked in the dream: ’Did you come by photograph or train’. All photographs are a form of transport and an expression of absence.”

With his words in mind I am looking at a photograph of one of the 'guest worker' women I interviewed and her friend, taken outside the dorm in Potsdamer Strasse, where they lived in the early 70’s (image above). Dorms were provided by their employers, a modest accommodation they shared with other women, sometimes up to seven women to a room (number seven again). They are leaning on the car, a beautiful Volkswagen Beatle, and I am trying to add colour in my mind to the black and white photograph. The Beatle looks white (or could it be yellow?) and new and shiny. Their dress could be green/blue/orange combination (on the left) and yellow (or white?) and dark blue on the right; the material was probably polyester or acrylic. I can imagine it making static electricity with each movement, so when they touched the car they got a small snap, a tiny bite to the top of their fingertips. I hear them laughing and then leaning on the car, hoping the owner won’t come too soon. I don’t imagine it to be their car. They would have arrived recently to West Berlin, and were saving all their money to send home. They probably felt a tinge of guilt for buying the beautiful dresses, maybe spending their second salary on it. The first one was sent home, with a message that they are fine, treated well, and that they are earning German marks now, their journey and separation from home justified.

Metaphorically, they arrived in this Beatle. Stories of wealth and new opportunities have certainly influenced and still have an impact on decisions to pack ones bag and set on a journey. They traveled in the back of the car, dreaming of a moment when they will be behind the steering wheel. And they arrived not only in 1970 but again in 2009, they came in the timeless Beatle into my own life, and into my own story of migration and travel. And now I see them looking at me, and images which are neither theirs nor mine are showing themselves to me. In this translation between their wor(l)ds and mine, a (hi)story is emerging and their absence from all these years is demanding presence. They are here, they have arrived.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A seventh man

A good friend of mine Aidan Jolly (check out his work at Virtual Migrants) told me recently about a book by John Berger called ‘A Seventh Man’ - a book of images and text about the experience of Migrant workers in Europe. It’s a great book, combining photographs with words, text being a combination of factual data, Berger’s Marxist take on it, and his poetic descriptions of the migrant worker coming from Turkey, Portugal, Yugoslavia... to the cities of Western Europe . I’m not finished with reading it, but am finding that it is opening me up in thinking of ways to talk/represent the complexity of the issue such as the ‘guest workers’ or to use a more contemporary label ‘labour migrants’. Berger says in his introduction that this book is limited to the experience of male migrant worker, and to write of the female migrant workers' experience would require a whole book in itself. In 1975 he hoped it will be done.

In 2000 in the world there were 175 million migrants, out of whom 85.1 million are women. In 2002 the overall number of women migrants in Europe was 51% , so a significant number of women are migrating, and participating in the labour market of the receiving countries (data based on selected United Nations data, statistics of the outflow and inflow states and EU statistics, from Slany, Kristina. 2008. ‘Female migration from Central-Eastern Europe: demographic and sociological aspects’ In: Migration and mobility in an enlarged Europe: a gender perspective). ‘In the migration literature, migrant women and their experiences often remain invisible and get subsumed under those of men’, write Erdem and Mattes (Erdem, Esra and Mattes, Monika. 2003. ‘Gendered Policies – Gendered Patterns: Female Labour Migration from Turkey to Germany from the 1960s to the 1990s’. In: European Encounters: Migrants, migration and European societies since 1945) and this is echoed by Morokvašić who says that ‘mobility and migration have a specific significance for women due to being historically associated with immobility and passivity, regarded as dependents rather than migrants in their own right, their migration often tied to migration of men’ (Morokvašić, Mirjana. 2007. ‘Migration, Gender, Empowerment’. In: Gender Orders Unbound. Globalisation, Restructuring and Reciprocity. Also see Morokvasic: 'Settled in mobility': engendering post-wall migration in Europe').

In 1973 in West Germany women made up 31.9 percent of the entire guest worker population with the Yugoslav women as the largest group amongst the female guest workers (Erdem and Mattes 2003; Dobrivojević, Ivana. 2007. ‘In Quest for Welfare: The Labour Migration of Yugoslav Citizens).

I will continue to expand on the relationship of gender to migration, as I am curious to unfold its complexity and to see what it means for the migrant women and men today. Even though my focus is on the migrant women, I am looking at gendered conceptions of both women and men, and also gendered policies of the receiving countries and their home countries, which often shape and affect their migrations and positions within societal and family structures. And even though I am researching the period of the late 60’s, its echoes are still present today and these echoes are growing louder with each headline speaking about the effects of globalised recession (it seems that finally word globalisation is loosing its aura of positivity) and the ‘collapse’ of capitalism.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

zagreb - berlin 1968 / berlin - london 2009

My time as a guest artist and (in a way) a guest worker in Berlin drew close too quickly. As it is often the case, things start unraveling as the time is getting tighter, perhaps this happens because of the knowledge that time is running out. And so it was that my last week of residency was filled with many meetings and interviews, which I have only now begun to process. As I listen over the recordings of interviews in my studio in London, I feel a great urge to turn these personal stories into histories and histories into stories…

I met Ana just a few days before my impending trip back to London, and she showed me a note she kept all these years: it was from the bureau of employment letting her know that she will travel (to Berlin) on the 12th July 1968, and to be in front of JAT’s building in Zagreb (Yugoslav Airline Company/Jugoslavenski Avio Transport) at 3pm.

As I process the material gathered in Berlin and further work on the project I will continue writing and posting in this transitional blogospheric space where thoughts move from the personal to the public. In this space, I hope to develop the blog as a resource, a reflection space and a form of an archive. And in the process of piecing the personal stories with the historical, political and social narratives of the time, I hope in some way to capture the place and the time, so that it can tell its stories...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

personal archive...

The photographs above are from the personal album of Gordana, who kindly lent me her album and allowed me to use her photographs. Gordana worked for Telefunken for 12 years, and lived in different Wohnheims/Dorms since arriving to Berlin in October 1968.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Piecing (hi)stories...

Time is flying by too quickly, and capturing the past moments, stories, numerous conversations already seems like trying to catch a fish with bare hands: the past is slippery, memory unreliable, and yet what I am trying to catch is the very thing of the past, and memory.
Time: 1968 – 1973. Place: Berlin.
At the same time, I am surprised by the details of some of the things I’m being told by the women who came as ‘guestworkers’ from Yugoslavia.

On the life in the dorms, to which they were assigned upon their arrival in Berlin they said: “There was a woman selling pots and pans right outside our Haim” (short for German Whonheim meaning the dorm). “The women who were more free, less restrained, they went out, and they were the ones that got married”. “The women would cut their pleated long hair, and became more city like. They would wear short skirts and dangle their legs over the window fence, while outside a group of men would gather.” “There were seven of us in a room with only a small cupboard between the bed, and a table with four chairs.” “The room cost 70 DM (Deutche Marks) and I received 500DM after the taxes, so it was quite a lot to give just for the room”. “My mother had to hide my brother as he was not allowed in the dorm, but soon after we got a flat and the whole family could live together.” “I was the youngest in the dorm, so the older women would make me drink 10 egg-liquors before I went out”.

*the only image I have so far from the guestworker dorms is this one, and the image in the below blog post, all are from the exhibition catalogue "The journey - Yugoslavian women in Berlin", 1987. Note Tito picture, and more difficult to see is the AEG Telefunken's Mister Hit gramophone.

Each company which employed ‘guestworkers’ would recruit them in their country of origin, so for example they would advertise on the local radio stations, or a word would simply spread around, that ‘the Germans were looking for workers’ and people would register. They then had to go through the medical check up and several woman said that they took the healthy and the young ones. Majority of the women I spoke to so far, had come when they were 18, 19 years old. “They checked if the palms were sweaty”, one woman said, “and we kept washing our hands so they don’t look sweaty, because this company was making watches so your hands had to be dry.” They checked information about the family, and speaking a bit of German was desirable. After the check up, the travel was arranged and the new workers traveled together, in one case one bus of men and one bus of women left the place (and these are small towns or villages, which makes me wonder what the ongoing effect of this mass migration might have been and still is…) And pretty much everybody told me that they thought they will go for one year, nobody thought they would stay very long. One year was the length of the contract and after that period they could change their jobs, or go back. If they decided to change jobs before one year expired, they had to return the travel expenses, as the companies paid for their journey to Germany. Also, the companies hired the dorms, and took the money for them from the wages. For many, living in the dorm, was a bearable solution, as they wanted to spend as little as possible, in order to save money, send money home, and as the time went by, to build a house, buy a car, and so on…the list grew, and so did the time…it flew by too fast…

*image released by AEG celebrating 75 years of the Ausbildungswesen 'on the job training', in September 1988. (Kreuzberg Museum archive)

*front cover of the publication "Heimat in der Fremde" - "Home in Exile" (my translation), October 1980, also image below from the same catalogue.(Kreuzberg Museum archive)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

days in the archive...

Leben und Sterben in Berlin...

I've been to several archive places so far, excavating as much as I can about the guestworker women from Yugoslavia, about Flottenstr., about forced labour...I have to admit getting addictied to this detective process, where one document or image opens a whole new area of enquiry. Will post my findings, and stories I've been piecing together here very soon...I've also been on the search for the women who came to Berlin in 1968 onwards, and have been weaving a whole web of connections, people who know people, and last night I struck lucky with finding a woman who came in 1969, and worked for AEG Telefunken for 22 years, and lived in Flotten strasse. more, more soon...

Friday, 13 March 2009

how did I arrive in the Flotten strasse

I interviewed a very interesting and inspiring woman, who came to Germany in 1968 from Croatia (at the time Yugoslavia) to work for the AEG Telefunken company, a radio and television company. She planned to stay and work for only a year in order to save money for the university, but as with so many ‘guestworkers’ her year has lasted a lot longer then intended. Bosiljka worked together with other women from Yugoslavia, producing Mister Hit gramophones. In the factory she was responsible for checking the gramophone needles, which were made of the diamonds and safire. She would spend all day intently looking and checking that there are no blemishes or faults with the diamonds. She told me of a reoccurring dream she kept having at the time, which was of a huge black hill, and everything was black, except the one dot, which was the diamond.

*image above - Mister Hit, AEG Telefunken, 1971

Having learnt German rather quickly, Bosiljka went to the University to study German language and literature in Berlin, but continued working closely with the guestworkers, assisting them with translations and advice.

Bosiljka told me that when she arrived in 1968, she and many other guestworker women lived in a dorm for women, which in the Second World War was used as a forced labour camp. This building, or rather a whole complex of buildings was in the Flotten Strasse, in the area of Berlin called Reinickendorf, in the northwest Berlin. She was showing me a photograph in the catalogue of the exhibition she organised in 1987 about the ‘guestworker’ women, titled ‘Der Weg – Jugoslawische Frauen in Berlin/The Journey - Yugoslavian women in Berlin’. In the photograph taken inside the dorm (which is shown below, a scan of the image from the catalogue) a woman is lying on a bed, with the metallic rim, and she is dressed in a shiny dress. Next to her are other beds, and it looks like it could be a hospital, but it is her festive clothing that suggest it is a different place (why is she holding a book, did she just come back from a dance, or going to the dance, or meeting someone special, or maybe she took the dress from the cupboard just for the photo...?). Bosiljka tells me that the beds they slept on, were the same beds, as from the hospital, which was there right after the war, when the labour camps were closed. (Were they the same beds as in the forced labour camp?)

She said: “We were the proud daughters of the partisans who fought against the Germans in the 2nd world war, and here we were, in Germany 23 years after the war. We all felt a sense of guilt that we were going to Germany and we saw so many traces of the World War II all around us, there was not a single building which didn’t have bullet holes from the bombardment, there were many older man without parts of their body, hands, eyes, legs; there were many older woman walking on their own, with their dogs on the leash. All of this has made us a lot more grounded, and made us realise that this is not what we saw in the partisan movies (films made in the socialistic Yugoslavia after the WW2) and that there are no SS soldiers. But, in our people there still stayed a need to prove themselves, to be better then the Germans, to serve as an honor to our partisans who have died in the battle. This led to that the Yugoslav guestworkers were the most recognised, but also that they have exhausted themselves through the hard work of proving they are better then the Germans and of course better then the Turks, as they were oppressing us for 400 years" (referring to the ottoman Empire, which occupied large parts of what was Yugoslavia from the 14th – early 20th century).

*images above: scan of the photograph from the catalogue, guestworker outside the Flotten strasse dorm, 1968; image below: Flotten strasse now (I tried to piece the images to work out where in the Flotten strasse was the dorm)

In an essay by Karolina Novinscak, titled ‘From ‘Yugoslav Gastarbeiter’ to ‘Diaspora-Croats’: Policies and Attitudes toward Emigration in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia’ Novinscak gives the historical and the political context within which the policies of the Yugoslav government were shaped towards the labour migration from Yugoslavia at the time. She writes that “until 1962, the ruling Communist party under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito condemned labor migration as illegal. It was a point of honour for socialist policymakers to provide work in a society self-managed by the workers. In socialism, work was seen as a moral duty and being unemployed not only as a ‘moral scandal and personal shame’ but a criminal act. In the first decade after World war II, people who left SFR Yugoslavia for economic reasons were treated like enemies of the state.” (from the book Postwar Mediterranean Migration to Western Europe. Edited by Clelia Caruso, Jenny Pleinen, Lutz Raphael, 2008, p. 125-143.– with thanks to Monika Mattes for sending me the essay)
“A reassessment of the restrictive emigration policy actually occurred after several political and economic reforms in the 1950s that got Yugoslav nonalignment, the economic self-management and industrialization off the ground.”, writes Novinscak, “In socialist Yugoslavia this was the time of big changes. At the beginning of the 1960s, SFR Yugoslavia surprised the whole world again by opening its borders to unemployed citizens and legalizing migration to western industrial capitalist countries. It was the only socialist country to join the workers’ transfer from Southern to Western Europe and until the 1973 recruitment ban, Yugoslav manpower was highly requested in the West, especially by German employers.
In 2005 people from the former Yugoslavia formed the second largest foreign population in Germany, with 963 000 persons, most of them former labour migrants from the 1950s and 1960s."

“Labor migration from the former Yugoslavia to Germany wasn’t just based on adventurous individual decisions of young and unemployed people, but mostly consisted of an organised labor-force export, which was created in order to accomplish the economic interests of both the sending and the receiving state.” (p.130)

In our interview Bosiljka spoke of the guilt that many ‘guestworkers’ felt, a sense of a betrayal of the socialist dream, a sense of duty to be exemplary workers, to be the ambassadors of their country, the representatives. The guestworkers may have left their country but were only temporarily working abroad. The official title for the ‘guestworker’ was exactly that: ‘worker who is temporarily working abroad – radnik na privremenom radu u inostranstvu’, this official word was changed in the everyday speech into ‘gastarbajter’ taken from German ‘gastarbeiter’. Novinscak quotes a speech of an official to the crowd of labour migrants, taken from the documentary film “Special Trains” by Krsto Papic, which confirms the rhetoric at the time:
“I would like to greet you on the behalf of the Institute for Employment before you leave to work abroad. We are convinced that you all know that you are leaving for a foreign country and that, over there, each of you represents our country and that, by the behaviour of each of you, people will judge our country and nation.” (p.137)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

the (hi)story of the Flotten strasse (so far...)

This is what I have discovered about Flotten Strasse so far (special Thanks to Marcus Kern who helped with a very late night Internet excavations and translations):
There were a whole series of forced labour camps built in the area around Flotten str, started 1939 and was significanty expanded in 1941 and 1942. FlottenStr 28 was specifically a forced labour for foreign prisoners as opposed to national prisoners. Because the factory produced aircraft gear, the Germans tried to protect it, which is probably why some buildings have survived the allied bombing.

Flottenstr. 28 is refered in the book 'Des Ort, Des Terrors' as a "Women-sattelite-camp".
1944: 800 Hungarian female Jews and a few Polish women. The Hungarian Jews were transported there from Auschwitz. The number of inmates stayed constant at around 800 until Feb 1945. In March 1945 there were less, only 750 women, then just before the camp was dissolved, there were 743 women registered. Argus Motorenwerke was owned until 1938 by Dr. Moritz Straus, one of the most highly regarded airospace industrials. Moritz Straus was Jewish. In 1938, the German government disowned him and Moritz Straus fled to the US.
The money was given by the Deutsche Bank to fund the Argus Motorenwerke company and the company was run by CEO Heinrich Koppenberg until 1945.

It also describes the camp: one could see into the camp when travelling with the S-Bahn between Alt-Reinikendorf/Shoenholz and Wilhlmsruh/Schoenholz. Around the camp was a double fence with white insulators. The fence was electric.
The women were guarded by female secret service. The SS women suppressed any conversation between prisoners. The prisoner heads were shaven and they wore concentration camp clothing and thin wooden flipflops. The women had to do physical work for 12 hours a day, were visibly malnourished and were beaten on every occasion. They were not allowed to protect themselves against the cold. They only wore thin clothing.
If they were found wearing other bits of cloth against the cold they were beaten repeatedly. On more then one occasion women died as a result of this. The records show that 15 women died there. Their bodies were stored in the coal cellar. The women there were aged between 20 and 43.
This camp was dissolved on 18/19 April 1945 by Germans. 741 inmates were sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp which was then liberated by the Russian and Polish troops on 21 April 1945. Many if not all of the 741 women were freed then. The head Nazi at the Flottenstr. camp was Andreas Vollenbruch who was investigated from 1960 onwards. The case was handed to a higher instance in 1969. He died in 1972 before the case concluded.

There is no memorial for the "Women-sattelite-camp" Flottenstr. 28.

There were 24 satellite camps in Berlin of Sachcenhausen concentration camp from 1943-1945.

We then discovered something else: 28-42 Flotten strasse was a dorm/centre for the asylum seekers, which were ‘evicted’ in 1981. The German equivalent of the Refugee Council led a protest against the closure, but they were not successful. I have been in contact with them, and am hoping to make a visit soon and find out what happened to the asylum seekers, were they deported, how long were they there, why was the place closed, where are they now, is that possible to know, why should one want to know?

I feel deeply drained and upset after these excavations, and at the same time even more compelled to go on. On Thursday I will go back to the Flotten strasse, as the buildings manager said that I can come and have a look inside. I also will visit the local museum's archive to see if I can find out more about this place and its many tangled histories.

Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager
By Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, Angelika Königseder
Contributor Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, Angelika Königseder
Published by C.H.Beck, 2006

Jahrbuch Fuer Die Geschichte Mittel- Und Ostdeutschlands
By K. g. Saur
Published by Walter de Gruyter, 2007

Zwangsarbeit in Berlin 1938-1945 (Gebundene Ausgabe)

von Helmut Bräutigam, Doris Fürstenberg, Bernt Roder

the Flotten strasse fence...

These types of fences always puzzled me, as the only way to see through and piece the image, is by moving or looking sideways...

Monday, 9 March 2009 search of the FLOTTEN STRASSE

I was very struck by the place B described in our recent interview. The place was a dorm, where in 1968, together with other ‘guestworker’ women she lived in, while working for AEG Telefunken (German radio and television company) The same place had been a forced labour camp in the World War 2 (I will post an extract from my interview with B here very soon). She described the dorm, and said it was in the Flotten Strasse, and that it was still a police station, and that in the basement the beds and the linen were still there from the time it was a hospital (right after the war). So, I went the next day to the place to have a look. The street runs parallel to the overground train tracks, so one side of it is industrial and for the most part occupied by different companies. Some buildings were built after the WW2, but some were from an earlier time. There was no police station though, and so I tried to decipher from her description which was the building she lived in, 40 years ago.

It was Saturday, bitterly cold wind was blowing, and the whole place was quiet and felt deserted. I walked around, looking for the signs, traces, some marks which will speak of the time past…Those that catch my eyes I photograph, the defunct train tracks which suddenly emerge from the ground, as if they are coming out from some dark, internal space (were all these building connected by the train tracks), old rusty signs, ‘new’ signs (well can’t quite say new, more likely to be put there in the 70’s), the lamp posts, tall windows with dirty black grime on it, inside are the lamps on the long cords hanging, ‘Private Grundschtück’, metal gates, trees, tall and strong and black, the wire, short windows (or are they doors?) with lace neatly hung on it (does anybody live or work here?)…I enter one of those ‘Private Grundschtück’ places and half expect a security guard to come out yelling ‘verboten’, but nobody is chasing me out, so I continue…I come across an old porter cabin and speak to the man inside in my broken German. He is from the West Bank, has been working here for 20 years. The place inside looks warm and smokey, he offers me a cup of tea but there is another men inside, and I decline. I explain I am looking for the place, which was a forced labour camp, then a dorm for the guestworkers. He points to all the buildings behind him, and says I can go and have a look. I decide not to get drawn into the whole conversation about Israel and the West Bank (well, at least not yet, I will be back), but again think of all the tangled histories and how their tentacles just seem to get more and more woven in with each other, and I wonder what patterns repeat and which are undone, never to be repeated again!?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

(hi)story of my grandparents as guestworkers (part 1)

Italian Guest Workers in German Auto Factory, © Bettmann/CORBIS
Original caption: To fill the gap of labor shortage in West Germany, Italian "guest workers
" are hired by the Volkswagen Automobile Manufacturing Company in Wolfsburg. These young men working on the assembly line are among the 4,000 Italians who have arrived North of the Alps, seeking their fortunes in West Germany.

As I already wrote in my previous post my grandparents left in the late 60’s Yugoslavia, to work as ‘guestworkers’ in Germany. My grandfather had a job offer in a factory called Georg Grube, which was producing car parts for the booming car industry of the time. (image below, a photograph I took in 2007, the factory is still working, the tower is a leftover of the mining industry which operated in the same spot until 29th March 1965 ending 2500 years of mining in the area, source:wikipedia

My grandmother was 39 years old and my grandfather was 40. They contributed to the ‘economic miracle’ of the postwar Germany, and yet, they remained temporary, their lives marked with the highs of returning home during the holidays and lows upon returning to Germany. My grandmother said that every time they left home, they were subdued, quiet in the car, didn’t speak to each other for a few hours. Slowly the landscape would change and they would each have mourned and accepted the physical fact that they have now left and won’t be back until the next holiday. She said: “Kad ides kuci ides ko leptir, bez ikakvog umora. A kad idemo nazad nikako stici, nemas volje. / When you go home you go like a butterfly, but when we go back (to Germany) it seems as if we can never arrive, we have no will to arrive.”
I interviewed my grandparents over the past year about their experiences of being guest workers, here is an extract from our conversation (photograph of Marija i Vinko Kovacic, 2007):
“Teski su to dani bili, ostaviti djecu, jezika ne znas. Ja ucim iz rijecnika, a mislim sta mi djeca rade, kroz posao i kroz razgovor, moras nauciti. Mama zavrsila srednju skolu, ujko 5ti razred. Ostali sa bakom. A ja se nikad nisam od njih odvajala. Jezika ne znas, sve razumit moras, a ovamo razmisljas o njima. Zasto ih nisi povela sa sobom? Ne mogu djeca skole prekinuti.”

“Those were hard days, leaving children, and one doesn’t know the language. I was learning from a dictionary, while wondering what my children are doing at this present moment, but through work and conversation you learn the language, you have to. Your mother finished the secondary school, and your uncle was 12 years old when we left. They stayed with their grandmother. And I never was apart from them until then. You don’t know the language, but you have to understand everything, and at the same time you are thinking about your children. I asked why she didn’t take her children with her to Germany? She answered that they couldn’t stop their school.”
She added: “Svakome, ko god bude dosao u Njemacku bilo je tesko, dok se ne prekalis. Everybody who came to Germany had a difficult time, until they toughen up (prekaliti is a word referring to working on a steel or any hard material until it was melted and put into shape, but the word is also used metaphorically for life situations).”

Now, I don’t want to paint the picture of only suffering, surely on some level these migrations have been also a positive experiences of discovery, change, new possibilities. Zlatko Skrbis writes in ‘Transnational Families: Theorising Migration, Emotions and Belonging’ that ‘Migrant stories are linked with the experiences of adjustment, settlement, nostalgia, a shattered sense of belonging, renewal, loss, discrimination, abrupt endings, new beginnings and new opportunities - all potent sources of emotions.’
And Nenad Popovic in his essayistic book “Life in the Shadow – Zivot u Sjeni” writes that surely for some guest workers the anonymity of life in Germany was even thou a lonely experience, also a relief from certain social pressure (p. 51) but that also they “emigrated into privacy”, and one could add into invisibility.
Migration is of course an experience of a full spectrum of emotions, situated in the complex personal, cultural and political situation, and one should resist the temptation to see all guest workers as victims of higher economic goals as set by the grander political and administrative forces of their respective countries. At the same time, this particular predicament that nobody forced guest workers to migrate, carries within it a certain kind of collective guilt towards their country, even betrayal – on a specific political context and a relationship of the socialist government of Yugoslavia to the labor migrations, some of which started much earlier then the signed agreement in 1968 see Ivana Dobrivojevic essay ‘In quest of welfare – U potrazi za blagostanjem’. (I also aim to write more about the specific context of the Yugoslavian guest workers in the future post).

Monday, 2 March 2009


I started my initial research into the migration to Germany from the former Yugoslavia, because of my grandparents. They left in the late 60’s the socialist Yugoslavia to work in the Federal Republic of Germany, my grandfather continued to work within his trade as a blacksmith, working in a factory producing car parts for the booming German car industry at the time. My grandmother started working first at a factory making stock cubes (the photograph is from a staff gathering at that factory), then she changed several jobs in the catering industry until she settled in a position of a waitress/manageress in the hotel, largely catering to the trucks passing by.
My grandparents were part of an organised labor migration, the German government in 1968 signed an agreement with the Yugoslavian government whereby workers can come on a limited period of time to work in Germany, and then return to their home country. The labour migrants were called ‘gastarbeiter’ or ‘guest workers’. Initially they came from Italy (1955), Spain and Greece (1960), followed by Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Portugal (1964), Tunisia (1965) and Yugoslavia (1968). Dates refer to agreements signed between the government of the West Germany and those of the guest worker countries. (Mattes and Ardem: Gendered Policies - Gendered Patterns: Female Labour Migration from Turkey to Germany from the 1960s to the 1990s)
“Guest workers began arriving in the aftermath of World War II, before the last traces of the physical destruction had been cleared away. But the seeds of their recruitment were sown in advance of the official treaties by the demographic catastrophe (well over three million German male casualties) wrought by the conflict itself", writes Rita Chin in “The Guest Worker Question in Postwar Germany’, 2007
My grandparents, like many guest workers came to Germany with an idea to stay a couple of years, then return home. My grandmother said that they wanted to build a house back home, and after they've done that, the grandchildren came, so they needed to help out financially our parents, and so all of these reasons meant that in the end they stayed 22 years, until they were in pension. They returned in the 1990, to Slavonski Brod in Croatia (border town with Bosnia & Herzegovina), and then the civil war started.
I am pleased to write that my grandparents are alive and well, and still living in Slavonski Brod, but that through their experience I came to continue my inquiry into the nature of migration, of returns and dreams of returns, of home and belonging (in 2003 I curated an exhibition Leave to Remain which looked at migration and displacement experience in the UK
I was curious about the fact that my grandparents lived in Germany for so long, and yet there lives there were so temporary, unrooted in the society in which they played a big part (at the least in the economic success of Germany). I began to draw parallels between their migration and mine: I caught myself thinking that I won’t necessarily return to Bosnia or Croatia, but I will move on from London, from the UK, and realise that a part of me is still temporary, still in movement, still unsettled. I wonder if perhaps this part is necessary for me to not feel trapped in particular cultural expectations, or it keeps me in a certain state of flux, which thou liberating on one hand is unsettling on the other.

My aim is to understand more what the experience of my grandparents has been for other guest workers and migrants and I have spent now 4 weeks in Berlin, exploring, reading about a specific German historical, social and cultural context and relationship to migration but also speaking to many women about their experience of migrating to Germany. I am also exploring different ways of looking at migration aware of a danger that lies in the gaze being directed only on the migrants, in the process of which making them into a separate, exotic ‘other’ that needs to be studied, through a kind of colonial-anthropological gaze. The question (and the challenge) that emerges is how to represent migration without taking on the hierarchical position of the one representing?

The residency is funded by the British Council and it forms part of an exhibition curated by Peter Cross titled “Journeys With No Return” scheduled to take place in Berlin in 2010.