Turkish, Arabic and Vietnamese fill the air in the playground outside the Eberhard Klein school in Berlin Kreuzberg, where German is a foreign language. Last year, the last four German pupils left the secondary school in the district filled with immigrants. While Chancellor Gerhard Schröders centre-left government is proud of how it says it has modernised immigration laws, conservatives criticise the lack of integration and spread of "ghettos" in large cities such as Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg. "You can live around here and never have to utter a word of German - there are Turkish shops, Turkish lawyers and Turkish doctors," said Bernd Böttig, principal of the Eberhard Klein school.
Böttig said he tries to dissuade German parents who want to register their children at his school. Studies show that German language skills decline once the percentage of those who do not have a command of the language rises above 20 percent in the classroom.
Böttig says integration has not worked. "For a long time, people figured migrant workers and their children would eventually mix with Germans," he said. "But lets face it, integration has failed. We could have steered it 20 or 25 years ago, but now I really dont know what can be done."
The language of Goethe and Schiller is rarely heard outside his classrooms. About 80 percent of the pupils are from Turkish families. The remaining 20 percent come from Arab-speaking countries, former Yugoslavia, Vietnam or Africa. Böttig said it was a fact of life that Kreuzberg has its ethnic diversity, adding it had enriched the city.
The bustling district is famous for its variety of foreign restaurants and night clubs. Its trendy low-cost ethnic neighbourhoods are especially popular among German students. "But once people start having children, they begin to move away," Aliya Dirican said. The Turkish educator offers women German classes at the school.
Böttig admits he quickly loses patience when parents of pupils come to see him and expect to have a Turkishlanguage translator provided by the school. "If the parents dont go through the trouble to learn German, how should the children know any better?" Böttig said.
Germany boasts a large population of immigrants that began arriving in the 1960s when the country was in need of labourers. There are seven million who hold foreign passports in Germany, but an estimated 14 million of the countrys 82 million population are immigrants or children of immigrants.
The post-World War Two "Economic Miracle" would not have been possible without the "Gastarbeiter", or guest workers, who came mostly from southern Europe or Turkey. But because the conservative governments at the time insisted Germany was not a country for immigration, little was done to integrate the foreign workers because no one expected them to settle permanently.
Although millions left Germany, many more have ended up staying in the country.
Some politicians have tried to capitalise on public fears about an influx of economic migrants in the face of high German unemployment. For some, the Kreuzberg school is proof that immigrants have isolated themselves and the development stokes fears of foreign ghettos developing in German cities. Böttig concedes parts of Kreuzberg are ghettos. He said many lack basic German language skills, which is taught in the classrooms but rarely spoken outside. "The children speak German with the teachers, but then turn around and speak Turkish with their classmates," Böttig said.
Berlins adviser on immigrants, Günter Piening, said there will be more schools with dwindling numbers of Germans. "It was foreseeable that sooner or later we would have a school without any German children." The key to integration is a proficient knowledge of German, Piening said.