Scores of young Turkish men in sober suits move towards the train that will take them to Germany, while their wives and mothers cry on the platform. A few days earlier, these hopefuls had been bare-chested as their teeth and bodies were checked by German doctors to ensure they were strong enough for the physical work awaiting them. Those that pass the test feel immense pride: “I am Yılmaz Atalay from Çorum!” announces one, gazing wide-eyed into the camera in footage originally shot by Turkish state television.
Atalay was among the first Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, to leave a poor part of Turkey for West Germany’s booming post-war economy and a better life. The deal signed in 1961 by Ankara and Bonn sparked an enormous migration between two countries that shared little in terms of culture, religion or prosperity. It changed not only the workers’ lives, but also…
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