IMAGO/Klaus Rose

The Guest Workers that transformed Germany forever.

Over 60 years ago, Germany was in need of Guest workers (Gastarbeiter) to fill the demand for labor of a post-war economy. Many of them never left, creating communities that changed the demographics of Germany forever.

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With the inception of the “Wirtschaftswunder” era during the mid-1950’s, Germany sought to fulfil labour demands across its booming post-war factories and mines with foreign skilled workers. What initially started out as temporary working contracts and treaties in sole regard to labour between Germany and its European counterparts, soon led to micro-societies that had trouble integrating into the larger West German society. Guest workers in West Germany played a vital role in the country’s post-war economy and the boom that came after World War II and without their commitment to work in Germany, the country’s landscape would have been significantly different. With many industrial workers spending much, or all, of their productive years in Germany, the cultures and communities often never left and forged a path for themselves in a foreign nation – making Germany home for generations to come. 

In 1955, Germany and Italy entered into a treaty, closely followed by Spain in 1960. The largest group by far became the Turkish workers after a treaty agreement was confirmed on October 30, 1961. Bringing foreign workers to the country on a temporary basis, and with support from the Turkish government, Germany was able to set up a liaison office in Istanbul through which German companies could fulfil their demand for workers. As with Greek workers, the employment of Turkish workers was meant to be limited to two years but in 1964 the recruitment treaty was amended to allow Turkish workers to stay for longer periods and later, it was changed to allow for their families to accompany them also.

Having far out-lived the factories and mines they originally came to work in, cultures and communities continue to shape the landscape of German at a national and local level.

IMAGO / Rust
IMAGO / Rust | Wolfsburg train station. Italian VW guest workers return from the Christmas vacation in Italy, 1972.

IMAGO / Rust
IMAGO / Rust | Wolfsburg train station. VW guest workers from Italy return home for their Christmas vacation, 1970.

IMAGO / WEREK | Inside community housing for guest workers in Munich, 1969.

IMAGO / Sommer
IMAGO / Sommer | Guest workers from Turkey wash their laundry in the dormitory in Rüsselsheim, 1984.

IMAGO / Sommer
IMAGO / Sommer | A Turkish family – guest workers – in front of the Opel plant in Ruesselsheim, 1984.

IMAGO / Matthias Rietschel
IMAGO / Matthias Rietschel | Birthday in the dormitory – contract workers from Vietnam in housing in a district of Dresden, 1988.

IMAGO / Günter Schneider
IMAGO / Günter Schneider | Turkish men bowing towards Mecca during a prayer at a mosque in Berlin-Kreuzberg, 1989.

IMAGO / Werner Schulze
IMAGO / Werner Schulze | Vietnamese contract worker in the personnel office of a factory of the Volkseigene Betriebe in East Berlin, 1990.

IMAGO / Ulli Winkler
IMAGO / Ulli Winkler | Thousands of deported Vietnamese guest workers wait for their departure at Schönefeld airport, Berlin, 1990.

IMAGO / Rust
IMAGO / Rust | Bahnhof Wolfsburg. VW guest workers from Italy leaving for their Christmas holidays, 1970.

IMAGO / UIG | Foreign workers in West Germany predominantly began immigrating in the 1960s and 1970s, seeking work as part of a formal guest worker program.

IMAGO / | Vietnamese and Mongolian foreign workers arrive in Germany to a welcome ceremony at the station, 1952.

IMAGO / Klaus Rose
IMAGO / Klaus Rose | Hoesch Workers on strike occupy the office of the Head of Hoesch AG, 1969.

IMAGO / serienlicht
IMAGO / serienlicht | Street photography from Kreuzberg, Berlin, 1969.

IMAGO / WEREK | The arrival of Ismail Bahadir, the one millionth guest worker from South East Europe in Munich, Germany, 1969.

IMAGO / Klaus Rose
IMAGO / Klaus Rose | Spanish guest workers and German students demonstrate in Bonn against the oppression inflicted by the Franco dictatorship, 1970.

IMAGO / WEREK | Arrival of guest workers on the Istbanbul Express at Munich Central Station, Germany, 1970.

IMAGO / Sommer
IMAGO / Sommer |Turkish family walking along the Berlin Wall, 1981.

IMAGO / Ulrich Hässler
IMAGO / Ulrich Hässler | Mozambican guest workers are trained in the VEB Textile factory, in Neugersdorf, Germany, 1979.

IMAGO / Ulrich Hässler
IMAGO / Ulrich Hässler | Training in the GDR – Mozambican guest workers are trained in the VEB Textile factory, in Neugersdorf, Germany, 1979.
As part of our Diasporas & Dichotomy series. Check out the full series.