Images of Migration

Photographies of "guest workers" from the collection of the German Youth Photography Award

Special issue about guest workers in the Federal Republic of Germany (around 1966) by Hermann Boventer (editor), Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung and Bonifacius-DruckereiGerman Historical Museum

In 1961 the Federal Republic of Germany signed a recruitment agreement with Turkey. It was the second such agreement; a similar one had been made with Italy 6 years earlier. During the economic upswing of the 1950s, the demand for industrial workers grew. The recruitment agreements were intended to counter the labor shortage in the booming West German economy.

Information sheet with the conditions of participation for the German Youth Photo Award 1983 (1983) by Kinder- und Jugendfilmzentrum in Deutschland (KJF)German Historical Museum

In the same year—1961—the German Youth Photo Prize was founded. The competition, sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Youth, was intended to encourage talented young people in the field of photography and is still awarded today. In 1979 the Children’s and Youth Film Centre in Germany (KFJ) took over the organization of the event.

Laughing couple (Jürgen Klauke and Hannelore Wiese) on a motorcycle (1968) by Jürgen HebestreitGerman Historical Museum

The Deutsches Historische Museum (German Historical Museum) has been preserving the collection of approximately 10,000 photographs that are on permanent loan since 2009. It gives a broad impression of social and cultural developments in German history—always from a youthful perspective.

Group portrait of four children (1979) by Huseyin BeközGerman Historical Museum

A recurring theme in the images of young people is migration. The collection contains numerous pictures from the 1970s to the 1990s that deal with people who were then called "guest workers."

"Guest worker" at the window of a railway compartment (1974) by Peter SteinhorstGerman Historical Museum


The theme of work plays an important role in these photos. The fact that people came from abroad to work in Germany was not a new phenomenon. However, the major labor shortage of the late 1950s and 1960s led to targeted political agreements. Until the recruitment freeze in 1973, a total of 14 million foreign workers came to Germany. 11 million of them returned to their home countries at a later date.

"Guest workers" in a factory (1973) by Gerhard DrogiGerman Historical Museum

Many of the guest workers from Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Spain worked in industrial occupations. Fixed-term contracts aimed to prevent people settling permanently in Germany. As a result, some of the workers lived in separate dormitories that belonged to the companies.

"Guest worker" in his room (1973) by Rainer MeißleGerman Historical Museum

The photos from the competition during this period frequently offer personal insights into people's lives. They illustrate their everyday lives and concerns, including racism at work and problems finding accommodation.

Portrait of a young woman with headscarf (1982) by Elke MühlmeyerGerman Historical Museum

It wasn't only men who came as part of the recruitment agreements; women made up 30% of guest workers in 1973.

Turkish workers in their accommodation (1975) by Michael HennesGerman Historical Museum

In addition to the open competition of the German Youth Photo Prize, additional contests around annual themes were soon announced. The theme in 1975 was the situation of foreign workers in the Federal Republic of Germany.

"Guest worker" with letter (1975) by Axel BergerGerman Historical Museum

Young people were called upon to approach this topic from their own perspective. Their photographs show the living situation of migrants. The subject of these pictures is often isolation.

Turkish man with packed suitcases (1992) by Yavuz ArslanGerman Historical Museum

Since the 1990s an increasing number of young people whose parents came to Germany as guest workers have taken part in the German Youth Photo Prize.

Children playing in a street (1971) by Heinz WichmannGerman Historical Museum

Family & Children

Portrait of a Turkish family (1974) by Thomas MeyerGerman Historical Museum

It wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that society realized that many of the supposed guest workers saw a future in the Federal Republic of Germany.

"Guest worker family" in their kitchen (1971) by Heinz WichmannGerman Historical Museum

Many of the 4.7 million people who fell into the category of "foreigners" in 1982 started families in Germany. Their children formed what is known as the "second generation."

Girl with headscarf looking through the glass window of an empty display panel (1997) by Sengül DagliogluGerman Historical Museum

The increased presence of migrant families was also reflected in the photos; in them, young people captured West German society as shaped by immigration. Migration was part of everyday life, especially for young people.

Father and son (1981) by Hubertus MertensGerman Historical Museum

The photos from the German Youth Photo Award show family life close up, and in part from an individual perspective.

Children playing in a street (1971) by Heinz WichmannGerman Historical Museum

In some cases, reference to the topic of migration is seen in the titles of the photographs. The original title of this picture is "Gastarbeiter-Straße" ("Guest Worker Street")

Teenage male next to a decorated Christmas tree (1979) by Ertan TopGerman Historical Museum

Children born in Germany to immigrant parents often felt conflict between their parents' background and everyday life in their country of birth.

Self-presentation of a boy from an immigrant family (1986) by Mehmet AlkanGerman Historical Museum

Many young people dealt with this situation in a playful way.

Portrait of a girl from an immigrant family in a leather jacket (1991) by Nuran SoydanGerman Historical Museum

The photographer of these pictures, Nuran Soyclan, writes: "I am Turkish. I live with my family here in Germany just like my friends."

Portrait of a girl from an immigrant family with headscarf and veil (1991) by Nuran SoydanGerman Historical Museum

She continues: "When I'm with my grandparents in Turkey, I live in the old Turkish tradition. These pictures illustrate the different lifestyles."

"Guest worker" with photographs of his work situation (1972) by Holger EcksteinGerman Historical Museum

Country of Immigration

Men waiting on benches in a corridor, reading newspapers and magazines (1977) by Johannes SieterGerman Historical Museum

During this period, no political consequences resulted from the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany was a country of immigration. Until the 1990s policy aimed to reduce the number of "guests" who remained after the recruitment ban—who were in fact immigrants.

Celebrating Turkish men (1975) by Fritz KopelzkyGerman Historical Museum

Photos from the German Youth Photo Prize show that a multicultural society was a reality by the 1970s. This picture of a Turkish celebration was taken in 1975 for the themed competition exploring the situation of foreign workers in the Federal Republic of Germany.

"Guest worker" with photographs of his work situation (1972) by Holger EcksteinGerman Historical Museum

Migrants who came to Germany as guest workers contributed to the "economic miracle" and prosperity of the 1960s. However, xenophobia became more widespread from the 1980s onward.

Bench with xenophobic lettering (1982) by Klaus BehrlaGerman Historical Museum

It was a topic that caught the eyes of young photographers as early as the 1980s, as this picture from 1982 shows. After German reunification in 1990, racially motivated attacks occurred, some of which resulted in fatalities.

Men sitting on a bench (1981) by Hubertus MertensGerman Historical Museum

Photos from the German Youth Photo Prize in the 1970s and 1980s document an important period in Germany's long history as a country of immigration and show how young people of different ages perceived migration.

Credits: Story

Concept & editorial work: Björn Schmidt/DHM.


Rosmarie Beier-de Haan im Auftrag des Deutschen Historischen Museums (Hg.): Zuwanderungsland Deutschland. Migrationen 1500-2005, Berlin/Wolfrathshausen 2005. Katalog zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung.

Christin Pschichholz und Dieter Vorsteher-Seiler im Auftrag der Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum und des Kinder- und Jugendfilmzentrums in Deutschland (Hg.): Für immer jung. 50 Jahre Deutscher Jugendfotopreis, Berlin/Bönen 2011. Katalog zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung.

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