Stadtallendorf – a very small “global city”

Stadtallendorf – a very small “global city”: reactions to migration in a rural area in Germany 

Joachim Schroeder

Today a place with 15.000 inhabitants, in its economic development the town of Stadtallendorf has been influenced by migration processes since the eighteenth century. The various patterns of migration as depicted in migration sociology – emigration, immigration, circular migration, remigration, transmigration, forced migration – are all significant forces that have left their mark on that region. Men and women from Italy, in particular, play a major role when it comes to the development of the place in the twentieth century. Stadtallendorf, on the one hand, is very much indicative of the West German post-war period, while also displaying special characteristics not to be found in many other places in Germany. It is a small place that became an early part of the Central European history of migration and can be considered a small “global city” today.

Stadtallendorf as a place that has evolved over time

The history of the town is problematic and tends to be dealt with briefly and in a superficial manner only in official historical records. In chronicles or commemorative publications the place is described as a rural community shaped by Catholicism that enjoyed a certain degree of prosperity over the centuries. From the early nineteenth century onwards, however, emigration, to the USA in particular, was a phenomenon that already occurred. No chronicle misses the fact that seven Jewish families had lived in Stadtallendorf for centuries and that a synagogue could be found there up until 1942. Sometimes it is also highlighted that immigration, mainly from South Tyrol, was already to be observed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, albeit small in numbers. Despite its remote location, the village was anything but isolated.

The Nazi takeover was an event of great significance to the history of the place. It marked the beginning of the Nazi arms programme in 1933 and the creation of so-called military-industrial complexes for the production of arms and explosives. In 1937, the biggest explosives factory in Europe was built in Stadtallendorf. The place had been chosen for its extensive woodland allowing for easy camouflage, water resources, labour force and transport connections. The site included 430 buildings, situated underground for the most part, and 23.000 workers were employed there. In the beginning, these workers were recruited in different European countries. From 1941 onwards, displaced persons, deportees as well as concentration camp prisoners were forced to work in the arms factory. They were accommodated in ten labour camps and six isolated settlements, where the hygienic conditions were disastrous. Inadequate nutrition and diseases led to thousands of deaths.

During World War II, approximately 3.100 Italian men and about 40 Italian women worked in the explosives factory in Stadtallendorf. Some of these workers also came from Sardinia. The workers from Italy constituted the largest group of forced workers from foreign countries in the factory. In the beginning, they were recruited in Italy and mainly came to Germany of their own free will. They lived in the camps as labour migrants, got paid for their work and could go home for vacation, and many of them returned to Italy when their contract expired. While as Hitler’s allies they had previously enjoyed certain privileges in Germany, with the fall of Mussolini, however, the situation of the Italian workers turned to the worse. Those Italian soldiers who refused to continue fighting on the German side were deported to the German Reich as so-called military internees. Similarly, those Italian civilian workers who did not support fascism were treated as military internees as well. In 1943, there were 800 Italian internees imprisoned in the camp at Ziegenhain, their average age was 21.

At that time, the economic conditions of the town were strongly related to an “armament economy”, which was also the basis for any infrastructural development (development measures, the building of roads and railways). This “military history” of the place is being continued till today, because Stadtallendorf has been a garrison town since 1957 and due to the extensive construction of barracks has become one of the largest bases of the Bundeswehr in Germany. Base administration employs more than 400 civil servants and can thus be regarded as one of the largest local employers.

When talking about the economic development from 1945 onwards, it is, however, primarily a “refugee economy” that has to be highlighted as decisive here: The labour camps and settlements were then used for (German) refugees and displaced persons. In only a few years, more than 7.000 Germans from East and Southeast Europe were settled here. Until 1950, more than 40 enterprises were founded by refugees, providing more than 5.000 jobs. An industrial area that had already been developed, comparatively low wage levels as well as sufficient space for housing construction were then among the locational advantages. Furthermore, the state of Hesse founded an “Aufbaugesellschaft“ – a development company. This trust company was a body responsible for all measures related to local industrial development, settlement and administration. The extensive site of the explosives factory was divided into lots to be sold one by one. Tax benefits, the provision of guarantees, favourable investment loans and other financial incentives attracted various industrial enterprises. It was this context of promoting economic development that also brought the company Ferrero to Stadtallendorf. The recruitment of “guest workers” in the mid-1950s marked the beginning of a migration-based economy.

Stadtallendorf as a multicultural area

This place is, by German standards, an early example of a rural or small-town area that has been heavily influenced by migration processes. Today, this small town has – with a figure of 25% – the third largest number of foreigners of all municipalities in the state of Hesse. The significance of labour migrants in rural areas, however, has been widely neglected as a topic in migration research so far. How the integration process worked for labour migrants in Germany, where these migrants worked, how they managed to establish a livelihood and how they changed in their respective residential areas and locations – all these are aspects that in German social and historical science have been almost exclusively analysed in the context of large cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt or Stuttgart. This leads to the impression that labour migration was a phenomenon typical of West German cities. It also explains why there are only very few studies on the younger migration history of Stadtallendorf.

Many German cities are faced with serious problems of integration. Issues such as segregation, ghettoisation and the development of parallel societies and problem areas are to be observed here. While the media, but also politics and science, tend to highlight these problems, drawing a rather biased picture, there are also many examples of successful integration – of relatively smooth social interaction and socially and culturally diverse environments. Nothing else is true for Stadtallendorf: There are areas where more people of Turkish origin live and others that have a higher proportion of Germans. There are people who are unemployed, children who do not perform well in school, adolescents who cannot find an apprenticeship training position.

Although the social and economic problems of the town are not to be trivialized, it should also be noted that the continuous process of immigration to be observed in Stadtallendorf for 60 years now has been relatively smooth and been achieved largely without conflict. For a long time, Stadtallendorf had the reputation as “the town having problems with foreigners”. In Stadtallendorf, however, there is hardly any violence, nor are there many conflicts initiated by foreigners. The question if the integration of an unusually large number of immigrants in a rural small town context has also been successful in other social areas would be an interesting topic for analysis.

Following the Turkish immigrants, Italians constitute the largest group in the town. The Italians lead a rather inconspicuous life in Stadtallendorf. Many have stayed in the area and sometimes got married to a German. Others have moved to another part of Germany. From time to time, a number of Italian shops opened up here, but were often not able to make it in the long run. There may currently be a Sardinian dancing group, this group, however, is run by German women and one Croatian girl, with only few Italians contributing to it. The Italians have shown little interest in organizing any kind of ethnic association anyway. Thus, unlike in many other parts of Germany, nothing like “Little Italy” has developed in Stadtallendorf.

In contrast, the group of Turkish origin is relatively well organized, mainly in religious associations. There are various Turkish shops, which have been in existence for decades. For immigrants from Turkey, in particular, special residential areas with apartments for rent had been set up in the beginning. These are currently being transformed into owner-occupied apartments and taken over by many Turkish people. In some cases, families even buy a complete multi-family house, enabling them to live together. This clearly shows the intention of the Turkish group to stay in that area. Those young migrants, though, who have finished school and go to college or university, do usually not return to Stadtallendorf. In other words, it is rather the less educated older migrants or those threatened by unemployment who intend to stay here.

Even though the second generation of guest workers has already reached old age, the relation between age and migration is only slowly being discovered as a research topic. It also goes for Stadtallendorf that this is a topic of significance to the future. Integration efforts have long focused on the support of families as well as on children and adolescents in order to facilitate their access to education and professional qualification. The apartments previously built in Stadtallendorf are usually small, have no lift and are neither barrier-free nor adapted to the needs of the disabled. Germans tend to spend their retirement in one of the local homes for the elderly. After years of intensively supporting the youth, urban development should now turn to supporting the elderly.

Stadtallendorf and Ferrero

Under the name of Assia GmbH, on 21 November 1956, a company was founded to produce and sell food and confectionery items in Germany – based on a licence agreement with the company Ferrero & Co. (at that time still known under the name of Cremalba). On 15 March 1957, test production started, with 50 employees at first. About one million marks had been invested without any financial aid by the state of Hesse. Within a short period of time, 200 new jobs were created. By 1958, sales figures of 1.5 million marks per month were reached, and the number of employees was increased to 500.

Ferrero was the first “foreign” enterprise in Stadtallendorf. In contrast to standard practice, in this case no guest workers were recruited from German businesses, but Ferrero brought with it its own workforce alongside the necessary financial means and machines. In 1954, the first hotel in Stadtallendorf was built for the service technicians employed there. The management of the company was in Italian hands: It all started in 1956 with a delegation of five people (incl. old Ferrero, the businessman) coming to Stadtallendorf, supported by a German secretary. Likewise, Ferrero’s self-image is that of an “Italian family business”. As I was told by the (German) HR manager, the secret to the success of the company lies in the “combination of Italian creativity and German engineering competence”.

The company site is a relatively closed area at the outskirts of the town. The houses at Ferrero-Ring were built in the 1960s for staff in middle management positions. In the meantime some of them have changed owners. Company sports activities are offered at Ferrero, and the annual dragon boat race in Marburg Ferrero joins with its own company dragon boat. There is also a company football team, and every year the “Ferrero World Cup” is held, bringing together all company football teams from around the globe. A new programme for retired Italians, in particular, is “Opera Sociale”, which offers cultural and sports-related events as well as support services on pension or social insurance issues. As opposed to that, in the town itself Ferrero does usually not act as a sponsor or patron. “In Stadtallendorf we like to stay in the background,” the HR manager said to me.

Apart from Sardinian, other Italian and German women, there are women from Poland, Ukraine or from Africa who work at Ferrero, thus making the company a “multicultural” enterprise. Among the workers who are employed on a seasonal basis, the majority is recruited locally; only few come from Sardinia. There are, however, also regular employees, with or without migration background, who live nearby. As remarked upon by those Sardinian women interviewed so far, different ethnic as well as social hierarchies are to be observed among the workforce: German women constitute the “privileged” group, as they are employed in the highest-paid jobs and more frequently allowed to work late shift, which is financially more attractive. The Sardinian women, by contrast, had to take over the less well-paid morning and exhausting night shifts, but were employed in relatively well-paid assembly line jobs. All other (migrant) women would operate in badly-paid cleaning and packing activities. This company-internal socio-economic hierarchy obviously leads to tensions and conflicts among the different groups.

The company’s lingua franca in Stadtallendorf is German. The ability to understand at least some German is a prerequisite for employment. At the different production lines, no particular language groups have evolved among the workforce, though there may be informal groupings. Production requires flexibility. That is why not a single employee works on only one project (e.g. Mon Chéri) or is employed at only one workplace. It is also for that reason that at least rudimentary German language skills are required. These could be acquired in German language courses offered by the company. For certain positions in marketing or management, good English language skills are necessary, knowledge of Italian is desirable. The HR manager told me – surprisingly openly – that a good number of illiterates are employed here as well. Many female employees have only a relatively low level of school education and/or no professional qualifications. Occasionally, the company offers programmes to obtain additional education or training certificates.

For adolescents, Ferrero also provides apprenticeships in mechatronics, electrical engineering, industrial mechanics, warehousing/logistics and confectionery technology. These programmes are primarily in-company courses; only some of them are held externally. The confectionery courses, though, are given in the form of block sessions in Solingen, where Germany’s only vocational school in that area can be found. All apprentices are offered a permanent position in the company upon completion of their vocational training as long as they have proven reliable regarding performance and behaviour (timeliness). While the company had previously been obliged – based on a collective labour agreement – to continue to employ journeymen for an additional period of six months after their apprenticeship, this is no longer regulated by law, but still common practice at Ferrero today.

The thriving industrial town has a high rate of unemployment among young people, even though Stadtallendorf is – in terms of numbers at least – a municipality which has more apprenticeship training positions than adolescents. In this respect, the urban developer consulted here criticised Ferrero, in particular. The company would recruit apprentices from the whole of Germany, openly preferring adolescents from Thuringia to those from Stadtallendorf for training positions. For local adolescents, Ferrero has only some internship positions to offer. The secondary school, however, is also not active enough when it comes to approaching the company. Thus, many adolescents apply for apprenticeship vacancies way too late, when these positions are already filled. Nothing like a culture of cooperation has developed between the company and the school.

Stadtallendorf and the Sardinian women

The female factory workers can be divided into three main groups: There are women who were in Stadtallendorf only once and never returned to the town, Sardinians who commuted for years, and those who decided at one point to stay in Stadtallendorf. Claudia Zaccai will elaborate on that later on. The whole company management (executive board and engineers) is filled with Italian businessmen, for whom, as previously mentioned, a special residential area with single-family houses had been set up. These men usually brought their wives with them. One of these women, the author Marisa Faussone-Fenoglio, who lives in Marburg today, wrote a book with the title “Vivere Altrove” (2006) about her time in Stadtallendorf and describes herself as “elite migrant” in it. The personal experiences of women accompanying their husbands to Stadtallendorf should also be included in biographical research.

Preliminary studies suggest that Sardinian women live rather isolated in Stadtallendorf, even if they go for a walk or shopping in the town from time to time. Discussions have shown that the local population in Stadtallendorf is well aware of the Sardinian women’s temporary presence, even though only little specific is known about them. The relatively short presence of the Sardinian women in Stadtallendorf constitutes a challenge for those responsible for the development of integration concepts, since temporary seasonal work is difficult to approach in integration policy. We intend to analyse such integration issues relevant to various social settings in more detail. In the company, the Sardinian women meet other female workers, with or without migration background, who live in Stadtallendorf or nearby. Do they talk to each other in the context of work (during breaks, for instance)? Do they invite each other? Are there personal contacts established with others? All these questions cover the topic of integration within the company. In the context of local affairs (town council, integration office, urban development) and some social institutions (immigration counselling services, physicians, charity organisations), it would also be interesting to ask for the role of Ferrero in general and for that of the Sardinian women in particular. This concerns the topic of integration in the community. When it comes to cultural institutions (associations, church) and public events (town festivals etc.), it is enlightening to figure out if Sardinian women join such offers and if people know they do, relating to the topic of integration into cultural life.

So far, we assume that the Sardinian women are not of major significance for local integration policies. There are various interesting integration-related initiatives that currently shape the social relations in the town. Stadtallendorf was one of the first smaller municipalities in Germany included in the programme of “Soziale Stadt” (Social City), which financially supports urban development projects. The “office for integration” set up in 2002 provides support services on social- and migration-related issues. The focus of activity lies in the organisation of integration projects such as homework support for migrant children, outreach work in the form of parent training and in linking integration efforts to migrant organisations. Moreover, an intercultural opening of local authorities is aimed at. This may be achieved by offering awareness and further training for staff of the youth welfare department and the employment office, for instance. Both programmes are to create possibilities for cultural exchange. In football clubs this has been successful, with Germans and foreigners now playing side by side. “Eintracht Stadtallendorf” even has a mother-child group, bringing female migrants and ethnic German resettlers (Aussiedlerinnen) together to play football. Each year, a “week of intercultural dialogue” is organised, and every other year a “European street festival” is held.

From what we have learnt so far, the Sardinian women do not play a major role either when it comes to topics of educational policy. As seasonal workers they are basically ignored in the field of education. For the formal system of general and vocational education in Germany there is simply no reason to ask for their educational requirements, as they are no longer subject to compulsory schooling and have no children – not in Germany at least. This means that these women have no relevance as mothers in the German school system. Similarly, they do not constitute a relevant group for (German) adult education and social work either, since these areas are under management of the Italian company itself. For the German system of employment, likewise, these women are “negligible”, as they cannot become potential employees settling in Germany. Nor is there any kind of “returnee programme”, leaving the question of what educational offers these women might need in order to establish a sustainable livelihood in Sardinia unanswered. As already mentioned, there is also no integration concept regarding educational offers for those women who would like to stay in Stadtallendorf.

Educational questions remain individual considerations and decisions for these women, both in Germany and Sardinia. Educational questions are not discussed on the political level, and an educational policy based on individual circumstances and educational needs does thus not exist. In her presentation, Maren Gag will elaborate on the consequences of this development for educational policy and demonstrate how customized action plans tailored to the needs of the target group and the socio-spatial context could be developed and then implemented in cooperation with Italian experts in Alba or Sardinia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>