Can someone learn integration? Since 2005, special courses have been helping immigrants become familiar with German language and culture. But do they really work? A Berlin filmmaker takes a closer look.
Insaf Azzam furrows her brow as she stares at her exercise book. "Is the housing cleaning position still available?" she reads in broken German.
Job search role playing is part of the curriculum here. Azzam, who was born in Syria and wears a headscarf, is taking part in an integration course in Berlin, together with 20 other immigrants from Bangladesh, Argentina and Eastern Europe.
Film director Britt Beyer has been observing a course like this one for the past 10 months. The result, a documentary film called "Werden Sie Deutscher" (Become a German), offers rare insights into the practical side of Germany's immigration policy.
"I had imagined it to be a lot more difficult," she said. "But there was a great deal of openness." Her film is full of comical situations and encourages critical debate.
In many cases, the participants in such integration courses have already been living in Germany for decades. They've set down roots here without ever really feeling at home.
Just like Insaf Azzam, who came to Germany 20 years ago with her husband. But the family has never felt really welcome here and, as a homemaker, Azzam has learned very little German over the years. She goes about her daily life in her Berlin neighborhood in Arabic.
Learn German or leave
The family's residency permit has now been extended for two years, and not just for a few months like it used to be. Successful completion of the integration course was a condition for the extension.
Insaf Azzam sees it as a chance to finally learn German. She doesn't want to feel like a foreigner in the country anymore and, for her, the course is the first step. For many participants, the pressure to pass the final exams is enormous. Those who fail could have their social benefits cut or, in the worse cases, they could be deported.
The integration courses are full of good intentions and, for just one euro ($1.30) per lesson, they are remarkably cheap. It's a way for German politicians to send the message that immigrants are no longer guests, but valued members of the community. But, as Britt Beyer said, "It took 50 years for anyone to make them this offer."
Integrated on paper
However, the implementation of this long overdue measure is questionable. Orderliness, diligence and punctuality are described here in text books as desirable German traits, creating a picture of Germany that is entirely built on clichés.
For Beyer, it is "time to get rid of these stereotypes." The contents of the course are evidence of a "desperate holding onto of ideas" which are as unrealistic as they are out of date. It sometimes seems like there is a fear of losing German culture, although such courses are also an opportunity to learn about Germany cultural diversity.
At the end of the film, Insaf Assam receives her test result. Pass! But does a mere certificate make her a real part of Germany, and does she feel integrated after years of living in a parallel society? Not really. But Germany, as a self-appointed country of immigration continues to foster integration "in installments."