Celebrating 20 years of Oberursel’s Ausländerbeirat

The Ausländerbeirat (Foreigners’ Advisory Council) in Oberursel first saw the light of day 20 years ago.  It was a difficult beginning for the committee, as their former chairman Hansjörg Schlegel pointed out recently at their anniversary celebrations.  “The town did not want such a committee, they were forced to have one by law” be remembered.  There was also some uncertainty as to who was responsible for them in the town hall and what rights they should have.

The invited guests – including former members of the committee – had gathered in the Georg-Hieronymi hall on Saturday, 13th December, 2014 to celebrate the committee’s anniversary – a committee which is elected every five years to represent the foreigners in the town.  And they were determined to celebrate with about 60% of their annual budget being spent on the evening.

But whether their situation had got better with time was something that Herr Schlegel did not go into.  However the role that the committee should be playing was something that their current chairman Dr. Franz Zenker talked about in his speech.  He talked of a “democratic deficit” and how important it is, that the foreigners have voting rights in the towns in which they live.  After all, other areas of normal life do not differentiate between between foreigners and German nationals.  “The tax office does not ask which nationality you are” he commented.

Hansjörg Schlegel and Dr.Franz Zenker

Hansjörg Schlegel (1994-2012) and Dr. Franz Zenker (2012-present) have both chaired the Ausländerbeirat

Without the right to vote, he said, the foreigners had little trust in the political system and their interests went largely ignored, he continued.  If foreigners do see any advantage to being naturalised, but instead the disadvantages of giving up their other passport, then one shouldn’t wonder about their lack of political involvement.

Dr. Zenker sees the Ausländerbeirat as the interim solution for this problem, giving foreigners a political voice.

Whether or not they take advantage of this is something that he should perhaps have asked.  With the turnout for the last election in 2010 being just 3.43% one might almost see this as an example of the lack of political interest.

All the same Mayor Hans-Georg Brum was keen in his speech to point out that the Ausländerbeirat does an important job.  “Oberursel is an international town” he commented, and explained that not only do 15% of the residents have a foreign passport, a further 15% also have some form of foreign background.

What none of them mentioned is that of the seven largest groups of foreign nationalities living in the town (Koreans, Italians, Turks, Poles, Americans, Brits and Croatians), none of them are currently elected members of the committee, even though these seven groups make up two thirds of the foreigners living in the town.

“Foreigners who are affected by things often see them a different way”, Brum continued, but “the word of the Ausländerbeirat carries a lot of weight in our town”.

And since the committee was awarded “right of suggestion” by the town council, effectively giving them the right to put motions direction to the council, their word could well carry a lot of weight in future, when they put one forward.  Achieving this right was certainly something that all of the speakers thought was an important milestone for the committee.

Other highlights of the past 20 years – with the exception of the recently held information evenings – were not presented.  The speakers kept their speeches short and it was soon time to head of the buffet.

But after all, it was a birthday party of sorts, and the Mayor had brought a present with him: €500 from the town to support the committee’s work.  That is quite a lot of money for them, considering that they normally only have €2,500 per annum to work with.  But they are normally so frugal with their budget that in recent years they have ended up having a debate at their last sitting of the year to decide how to spend it.  2014 was no exception, with them deciding to splash out €1,500 on their party, plus a spare amount of €250, and spending the remaining €250 on Christmas presents for the children at the asylum seekers’ home at the Drei Hasen.

2015 premises to be an interesting year for the foreigners in Oberursel.  Will the asylum seekers get new buildings?  How will the Ausländerbeirat spend their birthday present?  What motions will they bring in front of the town council?  And in particular, will they reach a turnout of more than 3.6% for the first time since 1997?

Many in Oberursel are already turning their thoughts to 21st June and the Mayoral Election.  But for 15% of people here the 29th November will also be election day.  On that day the elections for the next five years of the Ausländerbeirat will be held.

This article appeared in German in the Oberurseler Woche on Thursday, 8th January, 2015.


About Graham Tappenden

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Oberursel in 1993 and returned with his family to live there in 2003. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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