Here is a comedy that strikes a cord for us “foreigners.” Almanya is about Turkish guest workers in the 1960s, who, confronted with cultural differences, must adjust to a new life in Germany. Two very creative sisters, Yasemin (director) and Nesrin (script writer) Samdereli sifted pictures, super 8 films, and post cards, collected stories from their parents’ immigration, began writing a script, and finally created a very funny and warm-hearted film. The story begins on September 10, 1964, when the one-millionth guest worker is welcomed to Germany and thanked for the work he is about to commence. But, in their humorous way, the Samderelis describe the one-million-and-one guest worker, Hüseyin Yilmaz (Fahri Yardim), and his family, a story which spans the next 45 years.
The film plays around with cultural identity. What does it mean to be Turkish or German? What if you are in the middle and can’t decide where you belong? The third generation grandson has this dilemma on the soccer field where he must chose a team and, being of Turkish descent but born in Germany, can’t decide.
A press conference question was: How did they work with this idea of being born here but not having the feeling of being from here.
Nesrin Samdereli: In the film we artistically process the subject. The issues in the film are the issues important to us. We were made in Germany but the construction plan was a Turkish one. It reflects experiences we have had and we tried to express it in an artistic way. Each one of us has slightly different feelings or experiences.
Fahri Yardim: I have difficulties with these categories and there are variations in these categories. I don’t feel I belong to either one. I am a multicultural product in every sense, a bit hippie, a bit conservative, etc. It is such a broad issue that it is hard to define.
Andreas Richter: I think the answer to the question is cliché but, at the same time very valuable. I am assuming that everyone in Berlin speaks Turkish or … we have an immigration problem. As an actor, as a Turk, as a foreigner, do you feel Turkish, or German? Germany, the country, has changed; the people living in it, including Turks wearing head scarves, are not the Turks from Turkey. I came here twenty years ago and I can not tell you if I am German or Turkish. I am a Neo-European. The next generation is not German or Turkish. We are no longer these nationalities anymore; we are Neo-Europeans. We all make mistakes. The multicultural hasn’t failed and is still emerging and it will get much better.
The filmmakers wanted to show this generational change that happens when taking on a new country. There are scenes we all can relate to such as going into a shop, having the confidence that we speak fluent German and the person on the other side of the counter should be able to understand us. Huseyin’s wife goes into a shop to buy bread. In the film she speaks perfect German, which we all can understand, but this is where the film takes a brilliant moment to play with language. The German shop keeper replies in something that sounds like German but is an artificial and unrecognizable language.
A press conference question: Were there rules for this language or does it have any meaning or is it a Dadaist-like construction?
Nesrin Samdereli: We wanted a language that sounds like German, but funny. So we took a German abstracted version of the phonetics and turned them into gobbleyguck.
The Samdereli sisters wanted to recognize these first-generation guest workers. Also, they wanted to make a light comedy about ordinary life, not one which emphasizes extreme cases. They wanted to capture the feeling that they had growing up. This first generation receives more respect in Germany than in Turkey despite the fact that they contributed to the economics of both countries simultaneously. As of 2011 a Turk no longer needs a visa to travel to Germany. Germany is working on integration and giving them recognition.
Nesrin Samdereli: As storytellers we noticed there was always a negative side. Our parents faced the challenges, were up to the challenges, but it was important to us that people develop, as do their children, and we wished to change this image where only the negative side comes up. Turks living in Germany are foreigners but in Turkey we are also called foreigners. We wanted to tell a story from our own experiences; people laughed when we described our childhood. We realized that this humorous side had not been seen before.
Due to their close ties to the stories, the sister could show various angles, including the idea that that life can also be good as a guest worker. The film includes strange and funny aspects which they heard from their grandparents. So it is a mix between an imaginary story from a child’s point of view and oral history. This film is on the best path towards supporting integration and the progression of change in culture identity.