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At Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project, we have long forged close and lasting relationships with Irish diaspora organisations that assist Irish citizens across the world. To date these ties have been strongest with welfare focused groups  in what we might consider traditional destinations for Irish emigrants, such as the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. For hundreds of years people left the island of Ireland and journeyed to these countries. As a result, it is here that we find the most established Irish groups, many of whom continue to serve our diaspora in these regions. That is not to say, however, that Irish people did not go elsewhere. They did and they do – increasingly so.

As part of our mission to support and inform the Irish diaspora, we aim to build connections and gather learning from global Irish communities in regions outside of those historically associated with Irish migration through in-person outreach. In November 2023, Policy and Outreach Officer Niall Foster embarked on a week-long trip to Germany – our first ever outreach visit to mainland Europe. In this blog post, Niall recounts his journey to Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin, detailing the groups he encountered and sharing his reflections on the Irish in Germany.

Though once described as being too serious to appeal to Irish people in the Celtic Tiger years, Germany is home to a small but steadily increasing Irish population. According to Ireland’s most recent strategy document on Irish-German relations (Ireland in Germany: A Wider and Deeper Footprint – April 2018), the number of Irish citizens in Germany grew by 40% between 2010 and 2016 to 14,000 people. There was also a 37% increase in the numbers of Irish children born in Germany between 2012 and 2017.

These days creatives flock to the Berlin where they flourish amongst the vibrant art and music scenes. Finance professionals seek to work in Europe’s largest financial hub and home to the European Central Bank, Frankfurt. Engineers discover new opportunities in the famous shipyards or aircraft manufacturers of Hamburg. The Irish in Germany are more integrated within the broader population, immersing themselves in a culture and language quite different to what you might find in Queens, Bondi, or Camden Town.

With Germany’s appeal reportedly growing amongst new Irish emigrants, I travelled to Germany on behalf of Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project to engage with and learn about the organisations, clubs, and societies that exist in Germany for the Irish.

First Day in Frankfurt

My journey began in Frankfurt, Europe’s answer to Manhattan. As I collected my bags from the carousel, I was struck by the sheer size of Frankfurt Airport. Ranked fifth in Europe for passenger volumes, Frankfurt Airport ushered over 48 million passengers in 2022. To put that in context, that is 20 million more than Dublin Airport in the same year.

I took a very short and efficient shuttle ride between terminals to reach my first meeting of the day with Kirchlicher Sozialdienst für Passagiere, or ‘Travellers Aid’ as they ate better known. A service of Diakonie, the social welfare organisation of Germany’s Protestant Churches, they provide information and support to those who find themselves stranded at Germany’s largest airport. I met with two full-time counsellors, who shared how (with the support of an extensive network of volunteers) they assist people who have missed connecting flights, been robbed, lost belongings, or have problems with their passport or visa. With no Irish emigrant-focused welfare organisations in Germany, this service has in recent times assisted Irish citizens stranded in Frankfurt, helping them to connect with appropriate supports in order to make the journey back to Ireland. I left feeling that every airport should offer these essential supports to travellers.

Policy and Outreach Officer Niall Foster meeting with Travellers Aid at Frankfurt Airport, November 2023

Policy and Outreach Officer Niall Foster meeting with Travellers Aid at Frankfurt Airport, November 2023.

Travelling from the airport across the River Main on which the city sits, it became clear why Frankfurt is known colloquially as ‘Mainhattan’. Large skyscrapers dotted across the city emblazoned with the logos of the world’s leading financial institutions, and the gleaming Euro-Skulptor which first lit up at New Years 2001/02 when the euro was introduced, are reminders of Frankfurt’s importance as Europe’s leading financial hub.

My next stop was the Consulate General of Ireland, Frankfurt. Established in 2019, it was the first Irish consulate in mainland Europe. Here I met Deputy Consul General Aaron Reen and his colleague Martina Klingbeil-Sadowski. They talked me through the work of the Consulate, and its strategic importance for Ireland’s interests in the regions of Hesse, Rheinland-Pfalz, and Saarland which it serves. We discussed the growing data centre industry in Frankfurt and the pivotal role which Irish companies and contractors have played in its development. While the finance industry once dominated Irish interests here, data is attracting transient contract workers from Ireland. Speaking about life in Frankfurt for the Irish, we explored how Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project might best assist the Consulate’s work in supporting new arrivals as well as long-term Irish emigrants in the region.

Deputy Consul (Frankfurt) Aaron Reen and Policy and Outreach Officer Niall Foster.

GAA in Germany

To cap off my time in Frankfurt, that evening I met Ray, a Westmeath man who has been instrumental in the growth and success of Gaelic games through Frankfurt GAA. A longtime emigrant who previously spent time in Canada before moving to Germany, Ray confided that although he was already keen follower of GAA whilst in Ireland, it took being abroad for him to want to become involved in both the playing and organisational side of things. We reflected on GAA clubs abroad that offer a cultural landmark and place where anyone can connect with Irishness and Irish people.

It was with this in mind that I made my way to Hamburg through the German countryside the following day to meet Pádraic McCannon of Hamburg GAA. I was a little embarrassed to admit that it never crossed my mind that a GAA club with a thriving hurling team existed in this city, providing a space for Irish, German, and international players alike to come together in an inclusive environment and learn about Irish sports, culture, and language.

Hamburg may not have the biggest Irish community, but like Ray in Frankfurt, Pádraic spoke about how though he had not played GAA while in Ireland, whilst abroad it provided him with a place where he could feel that sense of home. Where the Irish are relatively hidden in the tapestry of international communities in German cities, GAA clubs provide for the welfare, cultural, and sporting needs of the Irish diaspora. However, unlike Australia and Canada where Irish emigrants make up the vast majority of GAA club members, German GAA clubs attract a fair number German players who play alongside Irish citizens who have made Germany their home. Promoting the games to an audience of eager players from Germany and beyond, “is extremely important to the continued existence of clubs like Hamburg GAA,” Pádraic insisted.

Hamburg, Germany.

On to Berlin

The final leg of my journey took me to the German capital. A vibrant cultural hub, Berlin has a reputation for attracting Irish artists and creators, many of them young. Reading Dr. Melanie Neumann’s recent research on contemporary Irish and British migration to Berlin en route, it became evident that lifestyle, affordability, and space for creativity are a motivations for Irish people to emigrate to Berlin (Melanie Neumann – Recent Irish and British Migration to Berlin). The popularity of Irish culture amongst Germans provides a further backdrop to explore ones creativity in this impressive city.

Meeting with a former colleague who has now calls Berlin home after leaving Dublin with his German partner and their young child last year, I was struck how widespread the use of English is by Germans. I mentioned this to him and he tells me that whilst he is learning German, it would theoretically be possible to live in Berlin without speaking German.

The next morning, I was honoured to attend and participate in the Embassy of Ireland’s Conference of Irish Organisations and Societies – an annual gathering of Irish business, cultural, sporting, music, and language organisations in Germany. It was here where I had the opportunity to meet Ireland’s Ambassador to Germany Dr. Nicolas O’Brien, Consul Sarah Dooley, and the Ambassador’s personal assistant, the aforementioned Dr. Melanie Neumann.

Meeting Irish Ambassador to Germany, Dr. Nicholas O’Brien (left) and Consul Sarah Dooley in Berlin.

This was in many ways the perfect event at the perfect time, concluding my trip with the opportunity to meet representatives from all across the country, which given how vast Germany is feels like a logistical goal in one! Following a brief presentation on our project and support we provide to Irish people both leaving the country and returning from abroad, I encountered a great deal of interest in our work as well as discussion around how we might collaborate, and surprise at the variety of initiatives funded by Ireland’s Emigrant Support Programme. The event was followed by a delegate dinner hosted at the Ambassador’s residence, where I got to sit and chat with the current German Rose of Tralee among others about life in Ireland, Germany, and beyond. In our post-pandemic world of online engagements, the value of meeting people in-person was not lost on many of my fellow attendees.

Policy and Outreach Officer Niall Foster presents at Berlin conference at the Irish Embassy.

Final Thoughts

German culture is quite different in many ways to Irish culture, yet there is a clear affinity for the Irish and Irish culture in Germany. One can distance themselves from their Irishness, but connect back to it seamlessly through the variety of cultural, linguistic, and sporting organisations throughout the country.

Visiting Germany has provided a fascinating first look at Irish networks in mainland Europe, offering a different perspective on contemporary Irish migration in comparison to regions traditionally associated with Irish emigration. From the perspective of our project and outreach goals, it has underscored the importance of international collaboration in addressing the diverse needs of the Irish diaspora, and offered inspiration in terms practical models of support, such as Travellers Aid. By forging connections with organisations, sports clubs, and diplomatic representatives in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin, Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project is poised to create a more robust and comprehensive support network for Irish nationals in Germany and beyond.

As we continue to expand our outreach efforts, networking trips will play a crucial role in building bridges and ensuring that the Irish diaspora feels supported, connected, and valued across the globe. What we have learnt has in many ways been transformative to our approach to reaching the Irish diaspora on a global scale, wherever they may be found.

Useful Resources

The Embassy of Ireland -Germanys ‘Moving to Germany Information Pack (pdf)’ provides useful tips to anyone new to Germany, starting with an overview of Anmeldung – the official process of registering residence in Germany.  If you are looking for opportunities to connect with established Irish networks, the Embassy has also compiled a helpful list of Irish Groups and Associations in Germany.

In our Leaving Ireland section you will find our Essential Documents Checklist (pdf), Irish Diaspora Directory, and resources on Minding Yourself to help support your move abroad.

 

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