It all started with collecting testimonies from Turkish migrant workers in a garage in Essen. That was 30 years ago, when migrants who, due to the political situation in Turkey in the late 1970s, had their home in Germany, began to pursue a vision: to preserve the legacy of Turkish immigrants.
They founded the non-profit association DOMiT, the documentation center and museum about migration from Turkey. A pioneering achievement, according to historian Mathilde Jamin, whose focus is the history of migration.
At the same time, the initiators laid the foundation for a project that is unique in Germany. Since 2007, after the merger with the “Migration Museum in Germany”, the association has been called DOMiD and, in addition to migration from Turkey, generally includes migration in Germany. Its message is that migration is normal, something that has always existed.
The Cologne-based center stands for a “multi-perspective view of history” and “inclusive politics of remembrance”, as it says on its website. By invalidating prejudices and dismantling myths, in short: de-dramatizing migration, it contributes to political education and sets an example against racism and exclusion.
It will soon be given its rightful place: in the house of the immigration society (HdE), which is scheduled to open in 2027 in a former industrial hall in Cologne-Kalk, Hall 70. The 10,000 square meter area will then offer space for an exhibition, the archive and conferences . The HdE will also be a cultural center with concerts, theatre, readings and workshops.
The term immigration society is so important for the naming of the museum because it is a concept for society as a whole. The focus is on the migrants – not as outsiders, but as an active part of society. “We are not the suppliers for any projects of a German institution,” says DOMiD co-founder Ahmed Sezer. “We’re collaborating with everyone, but we want this story to be told from both perspectives.”
According to Aytac Eryilmaz, also a co-founder, they want to “tell the story of this country together with others”.
Hortensia Völckers, artistic director of the Federal Cultural Foundation of the Federal Republic, calls the HdE a “new type of cultural institution”. And she points out that there are hardly any institutions in Germany that give migrants an equal say. And that despite the fact that, according to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a good one in four people in Germany has migrant roots. DOMiD managing director Robert Fuchs therefore wants to make the HdE a symbol of the immigration society. It should practice “collective culture of remembrance”.
The central building block is the collection of everyday evidence of migrants: photos, documents and tape recordings. Scientifically processed and made usable for exhibitions, they give an insight into the diversity of migrant living environments. It is often about things that people have grown fond of and that people found difficult to part with.
They offer the opportunity to start a conversation. A blue drinking vessel decorated with flowers bears witness to the hardships of a 50-hour journey by Turkish workers to Germany in the 1960s, in local trains without headrests. The historical original objects are able to initiate memory work.
When the House of Immigration Society opens in five years, it will have come a long way itself. In 2011, the DOMiD was included in the exhibition “Geteilte Heimat. 50 years of migration from Turkey” in the German Historical Museum, but not in the regular showroom, but outside in the Schlueterhof.
Seven years later, the council in Cologne decided to locate the museum in Kalk. The negotiation processes that have been ongoing since then between DOMiD actors on the one hand and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, the federal government and various foundations and associations on the other hand demonstrate the struggle for visibility of the issue of migration.
The importance of a project like the HdE was never actually up for debate. In view of the rampant discrimination against people with a migration background in Germany, racially motivated murders and a right-wing extremist party in the Bundestag, the only question that remains is how it was possible that the members had to fight for their vision for 30 years.