Alternative for Germany, the far-right party formed in 2013 that has exploited and intensified anti-migrant feeling, picked up on the narrative, stigmatizing immigrants as a dangerous drain on the nation’s resources. The party never stops pounding the drum. In 2018, for example, Alice Weidel, a co-leader of the party, called immigrants “Kopftuchmädchen” and “Messermänner” — head scarf girls and knife men — from the floor of Parliament. Political debate, in no small measure because of the party’s success, often focuses on the problems supposedly linked to immigration: religious zealotry, crime, poverty.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Sahin’s and Ms. Türeci’s success felt like a welcome opportunity to celebrate the benefits of immigration, to recognize how migrants enrich and deepen our society. Their stories — Mr. Sahin, the son of a Turkish laborer, came to Germany as a child while Ms. Türeci, the daughter of a Turkish doctor who moved from Istanbul, was born in Germany — brought to light the often hidden history of postwar immigration to Germany.
Starting in the 1950s, to fuel its postwar industrial boom, Germany recruited laborers mostly from Italy and Turkey. Called “Gastarbeiter” — “guest workers” — they were not meant to stay. But many did, and today their children and grandchildren are an integral part of the country’s society. Yet they are often overlooked. Championing in particular the success of Dr. Sahin, the son of a Ford factory worker, felt like a necessary corrective to such condescension.
But singling out works both ways: It can offer much-needed recognition, but it can also make immigrant success look like an exception and mark migrants out as “not one of us,” as a colleague of mine pointed out. When I called a few Germans of Turkish descent, many expressed a similar ambivalence.
“Finally, here was something we have missed for a long time: appreciation,” Hatice Akyün, a friend and a columnist for the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel (where I work), told me. As a fellow child of “guest workers,” she felt a connection to the couple — “a biographical pride, if you will.” But she was also uncomfortable with the focus on their biographies. “I’ve played the role of a poster child for successful integration myself for a long time,” she said. “But it can be tiring and frustrating to be seen through that lens all the time.”