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Irish in Germany: How many are there and where do they live?

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Irish in Germany: How many are there and where do they live?
People celebrating St Patrick's Day in Berlin. Photo: DPA
16:43 CET+01:00
From thriving businesses and pubs to dance schools, opera singers and education facilities, the Irish community in Germany is wide and far-reaching. But who are they and where do they live?

"Germans love the Irish," says Pauline Ní Ceitinn, a 34-year-old Berlin based media researcher, who's mulling over what the two countries think about each other.

Perhaps Germany's soft spot for the Irish is down to renowned German author Heinrich Böll, who spent many of his summers in an Irish cottage, and waxed lyrical about Ireland.

Or it could be Kerrygold, a brand of Irish butter that's very popular among German households.

"They think we’re a really green country that produces lovely butter,” says Ní Ceitinn.

Jokes aside, there is truth in this: some 680,000 visitors from Germany travelled to Ireland in 2017, generating almost €400 million in revenue, according to Irish Embassy figures. Germany is Ireland’s third largest source of tourists and most important mainland European tourism market.

But if the Germans love the Irish, it’s fair to say that the relationship is not one-sided: the Irish are equally fond of the Germans.

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Ní Ceitinn,is one of about 17,565 Irish nationals scattered throughout the country, according to the latest available official statistics collected by Destatis from the end of 2017.

The biggest Irish community is in the capital, where 5,670 are registered. Next is Bavaria, which has attracted at least 2,885 people from Ireland. Hot on the heels of the southern state is North Rhine-Westphalia, where 2,525 Irish people have registered.

 

The population has steadily grown over the years. The Irish community in Germany was estimated to be about 10,000 in 2010, according to the Irish Embassy in Germany. Angela Kennedy, of the embassy, says there is a huge variety of Irish people throughout the states.

“We do have a very active Irish community here in Germany,” she tells The Local. “We have lots of GAA (Gaelic football) clubs, friendship societies and we have lots of cultural organizations.”

Kennedy says these groups provide huge support for the Irish community as well as having a positive impact on the two countries' relations.

“It’s really a way of connecting back to home so when you are feeling homesick or you do miss home you do have Irish people around you or friends of the Irish," she says.

The Irish-German relationship has always been strong but Kennedy says it’s in the spotlight at the moment, “particularly in view of Brexit” as Ireland seeks out stronger partnerships in Europe.

“Recently the embassy carried out a review of German and Irish relations and that was to see how we can take it to the next level,” she says.

SEE ALSO: The forgotton story of an Irish dancer who brought down the king of Bavaria

Influx of Irish to Germany

Irish immigration to Germany has an interesting history. A major influx of Irish workers to Germany took place in the 1980s and early 90s, probably due to economic difficulties in Ireland.

“It was mainly construction workers,” says Kennedy. “They would usually only stay for a couple of months to work on the building sites and then return to Ireland. Now I would say the majority stay for longer than that.”

The townhouse in Munich turns green on St Patrick's Day. Photo: DPA

Ní Ceitinn, who’s from County Laois, recalls how her relatives came to Germany during the 1980s and 90s.

“Students came here to work in factories or the service industry," she remembers. "My step-sister and her husband, who are a bit older than me, went and worked in Munich. My sister worked in Darmstadt.”

Traditionally, the largest Irish communities were found in the wealthier west German states notably Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg as well as in the Düsseldorf region which enjoyed the first direct air links between Ireland and Germany.

The eastern German states have hosted fewer Irish emigrants and this remains true today though there is a small but growing population in the general region of Leipzig and Dresden in Saxony.

The states with the lowest Irish populations are Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Saxony Anhalt (both 55) and Thuringia (65).

Irish housing crisis

Ní Ceitinn’s own connection with Germany started when she did a European voluntary service project in Cologne where she lived with a German family and volunteered at a youth centre for six months.

She later went onto to do an Erasmus programme and studied in Bonn for a year.

“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do that without the European Union,” says Ní Ceitinn, showing Ireland’s strong ties with the EU.

Ní Ceitinn, who’s been in the capital for four years, says those attracted to Berlin are often people with a creative background desperate to escape Dublin's economic woes.

“I’m here because of the housing crisis in Ireland,” she says. “I think the artists also move to Berlin because of that.”

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Jonathan O’Reilly, who’s from Westport, County Mayo, and owns the Crazy B hot sauce company in Berlin, agrees. The 36-year-old has been here since 2006.

“It’s probably easier to get accommodation in Berlin than Dublin,” he says.

Quality of life improves in Germany

According to research by the Irish Embassy, the average age of Irish residents in Germany, both male and female, is just over 40 and that while the average stay of Irish men in Germany is 14.8 years, that of Irish women is a slightly longer 17.6 years.

The latest figures show that about 10,360 Irish men live in Germany compared to 7,205 Irish women.

Melanie Neumann, Irish diaspora officer who completed a phD on British and Irish immigration to Berlin, says most people she’s interviewed arrive in Germany to find a better way of life.

“Most (people I spoke to) came over for lifestyle reasons because the quality of life is better, especially in Berlin, where they thought the housing was more affordable than Dublin for example,” she says.

She adds that the Irish community in Bavaria has different aims. “The community in Munich is probably a bit more business focussed,” she says.

Ann Dempsey, who runs the consultancy business Hibernian Recruitment, is a founder of the Munich Irish Network.

Dempsey, who’s originally from Dublin, came to Germany in 2003 to visit her brother and decided she wanted to stay. Germany is an attractive destination for Irish people, Dempsey believes.

“Germany is so close to Ireland and yet there’s so much work and a good quality of life,” she says. “There’s a huge goodwill from the Germans to the Irish and an acceptance and friendship that they offer.”

She says the Irish community in Munich is well integrated, with lots of mixed marriages (Irish with Germans as well as other internationals).

There are also plenty of exchanges between Irish and German schools and colleges.

Another thing loved by the Germans? Irish dancing.

“It’s very much embraced,” says Dempsey. “There are Irish dance schools in Berlin Stuttgart, Hamburg and Düsseldorf.”

Irish dancing is popular in Germany. Photo: DPA

Michelle Gallagher, an artist and freelance teacher who is originally from Tipperary, moved to Königstein im Taunus in Hesse in August 2009. A few years later the family moved again to just outside Düsseldorf.

Gallagher knows a handful of Irish people in her community and her children used to learn Irish dancing.

She also pointed to the strong Gaelic football scene in Germany. “But unfortunately it’s only for adults, otherwise I’d have the kids playing Hurley and Gaelic football,” she says.

What do Irish people like about Germany?

In Munich Dempsey loves the high quality of life. She cycles everywhere and finds it's easy to get from point A to B.

"It’s affordable to go out for a meal with the family and the beer is excellent," she adds. "There's investment in culture, education is super. I love that things work here."

Ní Ceitinn is a fan of the German Ruhetag – or Sunday rest day when most shops shut and citizens are not allowed to make loud noises (like recycling glass bottles).

"It's in their constitution,” she says. “I like the fact Germans are a little bit counter-consumerism or they just like the quiet."

Catherine Roche, originally from Dublin, now lives with her family in Düsseldorf and before that they stayed in Stuttgart.

Roche tells The Local she enjoys the freedom that children have in Germany, for example when it comes to playing in nature “ A fallen tree becomes a climbing frame,” she says. She also feels there is investment in family facilities.

“We can go to the pool for the whole day and pay a family rate of less than €10,” she says.

What do Irish in Germany miss about Ireland?

The Irish people interviewed by The Local all agree that they miss “the crack” or "the craic"– the general friendly atmosphere.

“I love to have a chat, I’d talk to a pole at a bus station," says Dempsey. "Here there’s a lack of eye contact. In terms of the public space there’s much more friendliness that’s worn on the outside in Ireland, whether it’s just a smile."

Neumann found a similar response from interviewing Irish people.

Irish in Munich celebrating St Patrick's Day. Photo: DPA

“In Germany it’s not that common to approach someone and talk to them while you’re waiting for the bus," she says. "German people would usually be more reserved in these areas whereas in Ireland it’s easy to start a conversation with someone."

Ní Ceitinn agrees, saying she misses the “banter and wit” in Ireland, while Roche says it's the “chatting at the supermarket checkout” that she pines for.

Gallagher enjoys living in Germany but now and again she pines for home, too. “Sometimes I miss the green and the wonderful coastline of Ireland and of course a good cupán tae (cup of tea),” she tells The Local.

For O’Reilly, who is a business owner, it’s the way of trading that he misses.

“In Germany business is very competitive and impersonal, it’s quite vicious actually,” he says. "There’ a lot more personal connection in business in Ireland.”

Similar pub and food cultures

Although they are completely different countries with varying cultures, history and, of course, language, there are some similarities between Ireland and Germany.

"The pub cultures are similar,” says O’Reilly. “Germans have the Kneipe (old fashioned pubs, often with smoking allowed) and the Irish have pubs.” Irish pubs themselves are also popular across Germany, especially where the two big communities are in Berlin and Bavaria.

“The cuisine is similar too,” adds O'Reilly, pointing to the meat and potatoes staple found in both nations.

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