When is a German not a German? Identity re-emerges as a thorny issue

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By Saphora Smith and Andy Eckardt

DUISBURG, Germany — Restaurant owner Harun Kiki admits that he has to rely on his wife’s language skills to go about daily life in the country he’s called home for 18 years.

“My German neighbors try to speak to me over the garden fence but I can’t really speak to them,” the Turkish national explained. “Sometimes I feel like a little child. I can’t really express my feelings.”

Kiki, 43, could be accused of living in a parallel society. He spends most of his time enveloped by the substantial Turkish community in this industrial city.

Image: Harun Kiki
Restaurant owner Harun Kiki moved from Turkey to Germany 18 years ago, but says he still feels more Turkish than German.Hilarius Riese / for NBC News

But Kiki bristled when asked whether he could be perceived as an example of how some Turks have failed to integrate into German society. He is a self-made businessman who runs a successful upscale restaurant and contributes to the local economy.

“I admit it’s right that I should be made to learn German, but I would also say I have a business which employs 40 people and I pay my taxes here,” he said, as chefs busied themselves behind glass counters filled with freshly prepared meats and vegetables.

Almost 3 million people of Turkish origin or descent live in Germany, many the second- and third-generation relatives of guest workers who were welcomed during the economic boom of the 1950s and ’60s.

The more recent influx of 1 million migrants who arrived as Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the borders of Europe’s economic powerhouse in 2015 has reignited an uncomfortable debate about what it means to be German.

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