Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 11:28 UK

German citizenship is put to test


Would-be citizens attend classes to help them pass the new test

By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Berlin

Germany has introduced a new multiple-choice citizenship test that every immigrant has to pass to gain a German passport.

German citizenship classes
Immigrants must study politics, history and culture to pass the test
Across the country, schools and adult education centres have already started offering citizenship classes.

As well as taking the test - introduced on 1 September - migrants must fulfil other conditions such as having sufficient command of the German language, no criminal record and an income independent of social welfare

At a school in Berlin's Reinickendorf district, a few immigrants have gathered in a large classroom.

A German flag hangs on the wall, and a teacher has written some of the questions on the blackboard: Who was the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? What is the German constitution called? What is the emblem of Germany? What kind of a state is Germany? When were the Nazis and Hitler in power? When did the Second World War end?

The immigrants - who have come to Germany from Chechnya, Pakistan and Turkey - would all like to get a German passport, but first they have to do their homework and learn as much as they can about German politics, history and culture.

Citizenship test questions
What is the German constitution called?
What is the emblem of Germany?
When were the Nazis and Hitler in power?
How many federal states does Germany have?
What does Stasi stand for?
Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

In all, there are 33 questions which will be chosen from a catalogue of 310. Ten questions are related specifically to the region where the applicant is currently living. Would-be citizens have to answer 17 questions correctly.

"I think the test is difficult for many immigrants, especially those who have a poor education," says Sengul Dogan, who grew up in Turkey.

"The questions are tough. As an immigrant, it's hard enough qualifying for citizenship, getting a job and learning the language. Now there is this test, it's even harder. I think it's also unfair for many women who often have to stay at home and they don't have the chance to go to school," she added.

Some questions are fairly straightforward, testing an applicant's knowledge of German history and government.

For example, what is Germany's population, or how many federal states does Germany have? But other questions are tricky, like who pays social insurance, and why did the former Chancellor Willy Brandt kneel down in the former Warsaw Ghetto in 1970?

Or, here's another challenging question - who is entitled to become a lay judge?

"I have to do a lot of work and study hard," said Adlan, who is from Chechnya. "I want to get a German passport so I have to do the test. I have seen the 300 questions and there's no way I can answer them yet, they are really difficult."

'Too hard'

Some politicians have described the test as "shoddy" and "flawed" and they have urged the government to go back to the drawing board.

Within Germany's 2.4 million-strong Turkish community there are many who say the new exam is too hard, even for most born-and-bred Germans. The citizenship test is seen as another barrier for legal permanent residents hoping to become Germans.

Eren Uensal, Turkish community leader
Eren Uensal says Germany should make citizenship easier

"I'm against the citizenship test," said Eren Uensal, a Turkish community leader.

"A lot of the questions are obscure and badly formulated. I think the authorities should make it easier for immigrants to become German citizens and we should encourage migrants to acquire German nationality, instead of creating more hurdles and barriers for them."

German Green MP Volker Beck has also criticised the test, claiming "this exam would make gaining citizenship much more difficult".

However, despite the political uproar, the government has refused to back down and ministers have rejected calls to overhaul the test. The German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a newspaper interview that "the new citizenship test is not as taxing as the driving test".

No 'closed shop'

"If you want to become a German citizen then I think you need to know something about this country," Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin's interior senator told the BBC.

"You are not a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of Germany. For example, if you're living in Berlin, and you see a bear on a flag, it's not a movie or a sign for the zoo, it's the symbol of Berlin.

"If you want to live here forever, you should know something about the country, about democracy, how MPs are elected," he added.

Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin Interior Senator
Ehrhart Koerting says the exam is not too difficult

"You don't need to be a professor, you should just have the general knowledge of the man on the street. Some of the questions are a little too complex, but most of them are easy.

"There are 33 questions and it's a multiple-choice test after all. You only have to answer 17 correctly. You can get all the questions and answers before the test so you can prepare and study.

"In the past, many immigrants have come to Germany and we found a way to integrate them. We are not creating "a closed shop" for new migrants," Dr Koerting insisted.

Over the past few years, there has been a steady drop in the number of immigrants granted German citizenship.

According to the latest figures, in 2006, a total of 124,566 foreign residents became German nationals, compared to 186,688 given a German passport back in 2000.

Most people who become German citizens are from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia.

Immigrants' rights groups are concerned that the new test will simply deter many people from applying for German citizenship in the future.

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