A month in Gelsenkirchen, and the complicated story of integration in Germany

In August and September, I spent four weeks living in Gelsenkirchen, a city of about 260,000 in the populous Ruhr region. I came because it’s the far-right Alternative for Germany’s stronghold in western Germany, and I wanted to understand why this former coal and manufacturing city supported the AfD at a disproportional rate.

For ICWA, I wrote a portrait of the city: From a tiny village in the mid-19th century to a booming coal town to a place today known for its high unemployment and low incomes, Gelsenkirchen is a complicated place. It also has a great deal of promise, and many residents devoted to making life better in big and small ways.

For Foreign Policy, I focused specifically on the challenges and opportunities of integration in Gelsenkirchen, a complicated city with a complex mix of nationalities and communities. At the heart of this debate over whether Germany has succeeded in integrating newcomers is an even more fundamental question: What does it mean to be fully integrated, and who is responsible for aiding that process?