The „Vietnamese Berlin walk“ is supposed to give a short insight into the history of the former contract workers and their families in Berlin who make up the biggest group of Vietnamese migrants living in Berlin and then lead you to the newest group of labour migrants. Furthermore, it connects the migrants´ stories with a story of East Berlin and the district of Prenzlauer Berg. This once working-class neighbourhood was, and still is despite its rapid change into an area with high rents and chic cafes, home to those migrants who settled down with an own business, „ethnic business“ as some scholars call it. Most of the stops of the tour will be in Prenzlauer Berg, a non-compulsory part of the tour will take you the Dong Xuan Center in Lichtenberg.
According to the German adminstrative authority for statistics „Statistisches Landesamt Berlin“, the three biggest migrant groups in Berlin in 2017 were the Turkish (231.000), the Polish (80.000) and the Russian communities (52.000). Although the numbers of the Vietnamese population with about 25.000 (180.000 in all of Germany) might be smaller, the German-Vietnamese communities have had an impact on the shape and the face of the city of Berlin, also but not limited to the district of Prenzlauer Berg. The migration history of long-term residents in this area has been closely connected to the context of the Cold War and therefore with Modern German and Berlin history.
Among the many diverse migration flows from Vietnam to Germany, two have been central in terms of numbers and of diaspora organizations. Afer the fall of Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975 about 40.000 people from South Vietnam fled the Communist regime of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) to West Germany by boats, hence they refer to themselves as „boat people“. Thanks to aid programmes of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), the refugees were offered support and integration courses after their arrival. The second central group is the one of contract workers who came to East Germany (GDR) during the 1970s and 1980s. According to bilateral agreements between the GDR and the SRV, about 60.000 people arrived in the GDR to work in factories, for example. Their intgeration into the German society was not wanted and not part of the deal between the two countries, as the Vietnamese were merely brought over to work for a limited period of time. The duration of their residency was strictly limited to a period of five years. During that period, workers were forced to live at very basic residential accomodations, which were supplied by the state-run factory management. Furthermore, preganancies, marriage a well as family reunions were not allowed. After the collapse of the GDR in 1989, most of the workers were laid off by the state enterprise. As a consequence, many were forced to leave the country. However, about 25.000 have stayed and tried to find a new perspective amongst the turmoils of German reunification. Today, while the „boat people“ are mainyl scattered throughout the Western districts of Berlin, most of the former contract workers are still in the Eastern districts of the city (e.g. Lichtenberg, Marzahn-Hellersdorf, Prenzlauer Berg) where their former residential accomodations once were.
Since the new millennium till now, a third migration „flow“ from Vietnam to Germany can be observed. The newcomers are mostly from Central Vietnam and seek a better life looking for employment opportunities. They usually enter Germany via a third, East-European, state (Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc.). So far, research and other publications in this field have been limited and data is difficult to obtain as the labour migrants are illegalized. A central point for communication but also for different agents to meet up is is Dong Xuan Center in Berlin Lichtenberg.