Kebab oder Schnitzel? It’s Up to You

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In every tourist shop in Vienna, you can buy these shirts that say “No Kangaroos in Austria.” The first several times I saw these, they made no sense to me. The only purpose I could imagine was irony, and the only way they could be construed as ironic was if there were kangaroos in Austria, but as far as I could tell all they have here is polar bears.

Last week, though, one of my fellow students received a care package from her parents in Michigan which had come to Austria through a rather circuitous route, as it was wrapped in yellow tape “INSPECTED BY THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT.” The pamphlet inside explained that the inspectors were on the lookout for explosives and/or kangaroo products, as sending such goods through the mail was strictly verboten and punishable by jail.

At least now we know how they keep the kangaroos out of Austria–by checking the mail, first off, and then by wearing these shirts around, letting kangaroos know they aren’t welcome in these here parts. I for one am glad of it–they really disturb the fabric of our society, with all the hopping around (a clear threat to Austrian culture to border security) and hiding their little Joeys away in their pouches (and thereby flouting tax collectors! and truancy officers! and the Census! and what kind of kid is named Joey and not Johannes anyway?). Damned kangaroos.

It’s a good thing I feel differently about Turks. Here in Vienna I live in Bezirk X, also known as Favoriten, which, were I not highly sensitive to the historical meaning of the word, and trust me, around the people who invented it, I damn well am, I would call the Viennese ghetto.

How do I know Favoriten is the ghetto?

1. I live two blocks away from the place where all the trams sit at night, aka the end of the line, aka the end of anywhere public transportation takes you, aka the end of civilization as I know it.
2. My dorm looks like this.

3. Inside my prison/dorm there are rats in the elevator. An elevator which I cannot call because the button on my floor (the fourth, which means in American the fifth) has been torn out.
4. Although only 10% of Vienna’s population lives here, 40% of the violent crime happens here. (Which is probably still less than 12-year-olds committed at Penn last year, but you see my point.)
5. We’ve got a lot of Turks.

This last part is good for me because it means people rarely speak in English and there’s lot of cheap and delicious food. There is the slight awkwardness of having to walk past the two-floor “Love and Fun” emporium every morning along with a kindergarten class and its headscarf-wearing teacher, but, you know, I think I would also find it awkward if she weren’t wearing a headscarf, because there’s really nothing more awkward than five-year-olds and naked women wearing diamond butt plugs.

(OK, let’s be honest: I would feel awkward walking in front of “Love and Fun” every morning even if I were the only one. I’m glad I always run into the kindergarten class because it gives me someone to feel sorry for, namely their poor teacher. I don’t know whether the kindergarten or the sex emporium had the lease on this block first, but I blame the kangaroos for the current state of affairs.)

But back to the point, which is that I more or less like Turks. They’re friendly, they make good food, they’re patient with my German, they’re not going to let a sex shop stand in the way of their children’s education, and their teenage boys are usually too busy doing their macho-metro posturing in front of each other to hit on me. Nobody who has been a jerk to me on this trip has been Turkish.

“Why are there so many Turks here?” you ask. “I thought Turkey was a delicious bird!” You would be wrong: just as Austria is not Australia, turkey is not Turkey, and Turks are not, well, giblets.

The story is that in the 50s and 60s West Germany had the Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, which consequently led to a labor shortage for a bunch of jobs, which caused them to sign an agreement with the Turkish government in 1961 to let Turks come over and take the jobs they didn’t want. Despite not having a Wirtschaftswunder, Austria signed a similar agreement in 1964.

German law said for a long time that being born in Germany to foreign parents was not enough to make you a citizen, which meant that you could be a fourth-generation German Turk and still not a citizen. They relaxed the laws recently, but I’m still pretty sure there’s a lot of German Turks who aren’t citizens, because you’re still not allowed to have dual citizenship and also because you have to take hundreds of hours of classes of German and German law.

Long story short, a bunch of Turks stayed through it all (sad aside: a bunch of Turks lost their jobs in the early 1990s to East Germans despite being better qualified, just because, you know, people felt really sorry for the East Germans, and also preferred their German-ness, and this time also witnessed a lot of xenophobic attacks on Turks by neo-Nazis, which just goes to show that German unification had its victims too) and today Germany has over 2.5 million people who are either Turkish citizens or German citizens with Turkish origins, which is something like 3 percent of the population and a whopping two-thirds of all Turkish people in the European Union. In Austria there are something like 200,000 people with Turkish backgrounds, which is also something like 3 percent of the population.

Which is the shit, because, as I’ve said, Turks are the shit. But some Austrians don’t seem to feel this way, and same with some Germans. Maybe you’ve taken a sociology class and you can guess how that works out. Turks tend to be stuck in low-paying jobs and low-rent neighborhoods and then their kids are stuck in vocational tracks (which is even worse than it is sounds, because Germany has a crazy high school system where they decide at 13 what you will do with the rest of your life) and then police are a little nastier to them and then people in Cologne don’t want them to build mosques and then political parties are formed that are radically nationalist and anti-Turk and which run political ads talking about how we need to get them out of our country.

In Vienna, these ads might be a picture of a mosque with the slogan: “Rational fear. Wir sind wir,” or a smiling politician saying “Wien darf nicht Istanbul werden,” with the tagline “He says what Vienna thinks,” where by “Vienna” they can’t possibly be including Favoriten.

(There’s a political cartoon outside my door here parodying one of these political ads. It says “Kebab oder Schnitz’l? DU HAST DIE WAHL!” and depicts a swarthy masculine Kebab holding a knife and chasing after a handbag-carrying Schnitz’l with feminine eyelashes.)

So there you go. A short history of the Turks in the German-speaking countries excluding Switzerland. Right now, I would say the Germans are doing a better job with the whole melting pot thing. When I read about Turks in Germany these days, it’s usually something about how they’re offering Koran classes in German now, or the growing number of Turkish entrepreneurs, or more Germans taking Turkish, or the Turks getting to build their mosque after all. Not always–sometimes it’s depressing as all hell–but there appears to be a lot of awareness and a lot of work for the better.

(Also, there’s this sweet TV show in Germany called Türkisch für Anfänger, which is about the wacky cultural misunderstandings that ensue when a German woman with two kids and a Turkish man with two kids move in together. It’s like the Brady Bunch but educational. And in German.)

The Austrians, on the other hand, are sort of being nasty about it. Not only are a whopping 80 percent of Austrians dead set against Turkey joining the EU, which I think is the highest of any current EU country, but also as far as I can tell their anti-Turk political parties are a lot scarier and more popular than the German versions. I don’t know how to explain this, or even if I’m right about it.

Maybe the Austrians are still stuck on the fact that the Turks tried (and failed) to conquer them in 1683, or that the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires dueled it out in Eastern Europe for centuries. Unlike a lot of other countries in Europe, the Turks and the Austrians were actually mortal enemies for a really long time. And if there’s one thing you can say about Vienna, it’s that old habits die hard here.

The one sign of progress I saw last week was a story in the free morning tabloid announcing that “Turkish man owns a kebab stand and two pizza parlors!” which, you know, is some sort of progress, showing the Austrians that kebab can exist in harmony with other foods.

Still, I bet if a Turkish man owned a schnitzel stand it would be front-page news. “TURK SELLS SPICY SCHNITZEL, TWO VIENNESE MATRONS DIE OF SHOCK.”

But hey, as long as they’re not using kangaroo meat? I say go ahead.

Überlebende Favoriten bis nächstes mal,

Lauren Stokes