Zu Gast bei Freunden - A story of mutuality

written on 16/11/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

Which German colleague does not know at least one Italian neighbour or friend who does not have at least one cousin working and living in Germany - in Stuttgart, Dortmund or maybe in Munich?

Who in Germany does not have their ‘Stamm Italiener’ (regular Italian restaurant). And who does not love the ice cream from the gelateria around the corner?

Italian restaurants have been shaping our cityscapes for decades. Regardless of whether it is a restaurant, a pizzeria or a gelateria, without the Italian immigrants, our culinary experiences and our way of life would be significantly poorer.

What prompted the Italians to emigrate to Germany many years ago?

At the beginning of the 1950s, due to the steady decline in exports to Germany, the Italian government asked the federal government to take on seasonal workers.

Over the course of the reconstruction after the World War II, a great interdependency developed between the two countries. 

In Italy, only the north increased its productivity, but unemployment remained a big problem in the whole country. Gasperi, Italy’s first post-war prime minister, tried to find employment opportunities for Italian workers at the OEEC.

However, Germany, under Chancellor Adenauer, had made full employment one of its aims and therefore initially refused such an agreement.

But, Italy was such an important buyer of German coal, that in 1955 Germany proposed a preventive agreement which would only take effect when the FRG reached full employment. This was signed in December 1955.

The recruitment and selection of suitable candidates took place via emigration centres in Verona and Naples, and in cooperation with the Italian ministry of labour.

In April 1956 the first 1.300 seasonal workers came to Germany from Apulia. By the end of the year, the number had almost reached 10.500 and was growing steadily. At the beginning of the 1960s, the migration movement also spread to the metal industry.

With the conclusion of the Roman treaties and the ensuing freedom of movement for workers, the Italian workers could now directly apply for work in Germany without consulting the emigration centre.

By the end of 1971, there were about 394.000 Italian workers in Germany, most of which were men.

Their intention was to save money quickly and then use it to build a future back home.

In the 1960s Conni Froboess, a famous singer in those days, was chanting the song called Zwei kleine Italiener ( Two little Italians).

The song is about 2 Italians who go to the train station every evening and sadly look on as the train leaves for Naples where their girlfriends Tina and Marina await their return home.

It is the same train that also takes German tourists to their homeland, Bella Italia. The joyful singing of this song stands in great contrast to its true core themes: home sickness and separation.

In the first years of the migration, the Italians stayed by themselves, mainly in accommodation that had quickly been created for them. Often they were also accommodated in shabby overpriced apartments.

Simple jobs were planned for them, without any further professional training or qualifications. This only changed in the '70s when the German trade union federation advocated it.

The longing of the German tourist for Italy was in clear contradiction to all the prejudice they held against the Italian guest workers at the beginning. These stereotypes defined Italians as messy, hot blooded and womanizers.

The recruitment ban in 1973 did not affect the Italian workers. So by the end of the 70s the Italians had become an important part of German society. Length of employment and family reunions increased. 

Unfortunately, the situation for the second and third generation in terms of schooling and vocational training did not improve much over the years. Since jobs for unqualified workers decreased significantly, many returned home.

The employment structure of those who stayed, changed. Many gained a foothold in the food trade and restaurant business. This was the hour of birth of ‘the Italian’ around the corner.

To date, the Italian population in Germany is the third largest in Europe.

Herzlich willkommen, ben venuto!