O. Sparschuh: Fremde Heimat, fremde Ferne

Fremde Heimat, fremde Ferne. Italienische Arbeitsmigration in Turin und München 1950–1975

Sparschuh, Olga
Göttingen 2021: Wallstein Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
718 S.
€ 74,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Brian Shaev, Institute for History, Leiden University

Olga Sparschuh’s sweeping new book comparing Southern Italian migration to postwar Turin and Munich confirms that comparative history has fully arrived in post-Second World War urban migration history. Reliant on archival research, and dedicated to deep contextualization, comparative urban histories of modern migratory movements and their reception in Europe have understandably been rather sparse to date. The challenge of researching two cities, though, is well compensated by its rewards. Comparing urban migration allows historians to escape the confines of local history. Fascinating though they often are, single-city histories struggle to identify whether a city’s uniqueness causes it to deviate from broader migratory trends at national and international levels.

Comparisons have the further advantage of allowing urban history to engage with postwar European historiography as a whole, as well as with social science research on contemporary migration, where comparison has long been a key methodology. Bettina Severin-Barboutie enormously advanced this field with her recent comparative history of migrant experiences in postwar Stuttgart and Lyon.1 In her new book, Olga Sparschuh pushes the field a step further by comparing how a single migrant group, Southern Italians, were received in Turin and Munich. A stand-out innovation of her book is its challenge to national frames of migration history by comparing an internal Italian migratory movement to Turin with a foreign one taking place in the same period (1950/55–1975) to Munich. The study emerged from a dissertation written at the Free University of Berlin.

At first it may seem odd to compare an internal migratory history with a foreign one. Social and geographic divisions within postwar Italy, though, explain the strength of this choice. Sparschuh shows how Southern Italian migrants, known locally as “immigrati” or “meridionali”, were considered to be as foreign in Turin as they were in Munich. Southern Italians, she writes, saw Northern Italy and Western Germany as largely interchangeable when they contemplated where to migrate for work. Though the Northern Italian dialect was far closer to their own spoken language than German, it still posed considerable challenges for comprehension, and Southern migrants were further encumbered by high levels of illiteracy. Southern Italians were already migrating to Turin in large numbers in the early 1950s and, after the signing of the German-Italian bilateral guest-worker treaty in 1955, to Munich as well.

Sparschuh divides her comparison into three periods. Local migrant reception was characterized first by city efforts to regulate migration (1950–1961), then by liberalization (1961–1968), followed finally by the problematization of migrants (1968–1975). Her chapters offer a penetrating view into the main areas of migrant experiences, focusing first on national and European developments that facilitated or hindered their migration, second on identities and perceptions in city encounters with migrants, and third on work life, leisure, and, crucially, housing. The three chapters of this third area, each of them consisting of more than 100 pages, form the core of the book.

On the first two topics, Sparschuh’s comparison yields immediate surprises: despite national citizenship, Southern Italians had stronger legal status in Munich than they did in Turin, where, due to a fascist-era law, they were legally barred from settling unless they possessed a job offer. German employers favored longer-term contracts while migrants to Turin fell into more precarious employment, and there was more stigmatization of Southern Italians in Turin, where Northern stereotypes of Southerners as backward, criminal and lazy predominated. As free movement of workers within the European Economic Community (EEC) was set to begin in 1961, Italy finally jettisoned its fascist-era law to bring Italian standards up to the new European ones. By the end of the 1960s, Italians in Munich were progressively supplanted by new migrant workers from Turkey and Yugoslavia. Local “nostalgia” then valorized Italian migrants by placing them at the top of a hierarchy of migrant labor groups, while negative perceptions of Southerners in Turin remained in place. Nonetheless, Sparschuh concludes that both cities reacted “surprisingly similarly” (p. 169) by adjusting their policies to labor market needs and developing their own initiatives regarding migrants in the early 1960s, long before their national governments actively stepped into the fields of migrant reception and integration.

Southern Italians experienced a comparable mix of integration and segregation in their work and leisure lives in Turin and Munich, with the balance tending towards segregation. Turin and Munich had similar local economies, dominated by automobile (FIAT; BMW, MAN) and heavy industries. They developed two-tier local labor markets as they moved from underemployment to full employment during the 1950s economic boom. Employers used migrants as labor buffers in both cities during the 1966/67 recession, though FIAT was less likely to lay off workers, and their work in menial jobs facilitated upward social mobility among natives in Turin and Munich alike. Trade unions faced their “classical dilemma” (p. 301) between solidarity and protecting native workers. Labor conflicts led to contrasting reactions, with migrants in Turin generally staying to fight while migrants in Munich chose flight by finding new jobs or returning to Southern Italy.

Neither city prepared for migrants’ leisure, but each gradually developed recreational opportunities beginning in the early 1960s. Businesses, churches and charities took the initial lead in both cities, but Munich’s city government intervened earlier as local concerns grew about migrants’ habit of spending off-time at the train station. Migrants felt unwelcome in bars and restaurants frequented by locals in both cities; their “exotic” status (p. 453) in Munich made them prized dance partners, but courtships tended to end there. Though migrants did not feel at home, their presence contributed strongly to Italianizing eating habits, with pizza restaurants (rare outside of Southern Italy) sprouting in both cities from the late 1960s.

Housing throughout postwar Europe was expensive and hard to find. Conditions were at first better in Munich because the bilateral treaty required that recruiting companies guarantee suitable housing (spartan as “suitable” might be) for migrants while no similar guarantee existed in Turin. Migrant influxes to Turin resulted in the building of a new shantytown. Southern Italians had more children to house, and were discriminated against on the local housing market. German businesses housed national migrant groups together, impeding their social integration. When Italians in Munich began entering local housing markets in the early 1960s, they encountered similar discrimination. City efforts to address migrant housing difficulties had unwelcome results: new housing complexes on the city margins, intended in theory to promote integration, instead developed into migrant ghettos with poor reputations in both cities. Italians, though, were more spread out in Munich whereas Southern Italians condensed themselves into “colonies” in Turin. Sparschuh argues that the creation of permanent Southern Italian colonies facilitated permanent settlement in Turin, as most did stay, whereas the lack of a sense of community in Munich encouraged migrants to return to Italy in the 1970s.

Sparschuh’s thorough international comparison allows her to shed new light on national migration historiography. Poor migrant living conditions in postwar Germany, especially barrack housing, have long evoked comparisons to forced migrants’ conditions under National Socialism. That such conditions were worse in Turin, despite migrants being nationals, could relativize the focus on historical continuities in German historiography. Further, as historians have recently found for other cities, postwar municipalities often took initiatives to address migrant reception and integration before national governments did2, a finding of considerable importance for writing the migration history of Europe’s twentieth century.

The true gem of this work, though, is that its multilevel analysis extends beyond local and national levels to the European one. As Sparschuh notes, historians have long struggled to write social histories of European integration, an area in which Severin-Barboutie has made an important recent contribution.3 This book offers a history of “Europeanization from below” by showing how the European context of free movement of workers affected postwar migration in the 1960s, as well as the ground-level contributions made by the EEC’s European Social Fund. This legal-political context is combined with a socioeconomic approach to Europeanization. Postwar Turin and Munich were part of “a common European migratory movement” characterized above all by migration from Europe’s South to North and from rural to urban areas (pp. 14–15, pp. 651). Here Olga Sparschuh is plowing fertile ground. Using an encompassing comparative approach4, her splendid book shows how urban migration fostered a Europeanization of lifestyles and of social inequalities in postwar Europe.

1 Bettina Severin-Barboutie, Migration als Bewegung am Beispiel von Stuttgart und Lyon nach 1945, Tübingen 2019.
2 E.g. Emile Chabal, Managing the Postcolony: Minority Politics in Montpellier, c. 1960 – c. 2010, in: Contemporary European History 23 (2014), pp. 237–258; Mark E. Spicka, Guest Workers, Social Order, and West German Municipalities, 1960–7, in: Journal of Contemporary History 54 (2019), pp. 619–639; Brian Shaev et al., Refugees, Expellees and Immigrants: Comparing Migrant Reception Policies and Practices in Post-War Bristol, Dortmund and Malmö, in: Urban History, First View, 13 January 2022, pp. 1–20, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963926821001048 (27.09.2022).
3 Bettina Severin-Barboutie, Attempts to Build Postwar Europe from Below in Stuttgart: Failure or Forerunner?, in: Journal of Migration History 7 (2021), pp. 357–380.
4 Christopher G. Pickvance, Four Varieties of Comparative Analysis, in: Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 16 (2001), pp. 7–28, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011533211521 (27.09.2022).