Vietnamese people in Germany

Vietnamese people in Germany
Total population
150,000 (2011)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Vietnamese, German
Mahayana Buddhism[2] and Roman Catholicism[3]
Related ethnic groups
Vietnamese people in Bulgaria, Vietnamese people in the Czech Republic, Vietnamese people in Russia, and other overseas Vietnamese[4]

Vietnamese people in Germany form the country's largest group of resident foreigners from Asia,[5] with Federal Statistical Office figures showing 83,446 Vietnamese nationals residing in Germany at the end of 2005.[1] Not included in those figures are individuals of Vietnamese origin or descent who have been naturalised as German citizens. Between 1981 and 2007, 41,499 people renounced Vietnamese citizenship to take up German nationality.[1] A further 40,000 irregular migrants of Vietnamese origin were estimated to live in Germany, largely concentrated in the Eastern states, as of 2005.[6]

Migration history

West Germany

The Vietnamese community in West Germany consists of refugees from the Vietnam War. The first of the boat people who fled the country after the fall of Saigon, consisting of 208 families totalling 640 individuals who had fled on board the Hai Hong, arrived in Hanover on 3 December 1978 by plane. None spoke German.[7] Several factors aided their social and economic integration into German society. They received official aid in the form of social benefits and job placement assistance, as well as broader societal support for their successful adaptation to German life. Further, unlike other migrant groups, they knew that they had no option to return to their country of origin if they failed in their adopted land. They spread out through a variety of economic sectors, but were somewhat concentrated in the metal industry.[8] By the eve of German reunification, West Germany had roughly 33,000 Vietnamese immigrants, largely consisting of boat people and their relatives who were admitted under family reunification schemes.[9]

East Germany

Guest worker in Erfurt, 1989
Garment workers in Rostock, 1990

East Germany began to invite North Vietnamese students to attend study and training programmes there as early as the 1950s; cooperation expanded in 1973, when they pledged to train a further 10,000 Vietnamese citizens in the following ten years. In 1980, they signed an agreement with the reunified Socialist Republic of Vietnam for enterprises in East Germany to provide training to Vietnamese; between 1987 and 1989.[4] The East German government viewed industrial trainee programmes not just as a means to increase the labour supply to local industry, but also as development aid to the poorer members of the socialist bloc.[8] By the mid-1980s, Vietnamese, along with Mozambicans, comprised the main groups of foreign labourers in the GDR.[10] From a population of just 2,482 in 1980, the number of Vietnamese residents of East Germany grew to 59,053 by 1989, with the largest influx in 1987 and 1988.[11] They were concentrated mainly in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Dresden, Erfurt, East Berlin, and Leipzig.[12] Their contracts were supposed to last for five years, after which they would return home.[4]

Vietnamese guest workers received salaries of roughly M400/month, of which 12% went to the government of Vietnam, and another portion was paid in consumer goodsmainly sewing machines, bicycles, clothes, sugar, and soapinstead of cash, due to inflation. In terms of their relations to mainstream society, the Vietnamese guest workers of the GDR differed from the boat people in the west: they were upstanding citizens of their country of origin, rather than refugees from it, and they were prohibited from developing personal relationships with GDR citizens despite the official rhetoric of socialist brotherhood.[13] They were formally blocked from integration: all areas of their lives were regulated by government regulations, and pregnancies among female Vietnamese workers were punished by forced abortions.[14] They were sometimes subject to xenophobic violence, and even when their physical safety was maintained, they became the target of resentment due to their preferential access to consumer goods.[12] Despite their thoroughly socialist context, many helped their families to become petty capitalists, using raw materials and sewing machines sent back to Vietnam to privately produce fashionable clothing, such as imitation stone-washed jeans, and sell it to their neighbours.[11]


After German reunification, the German government sought to reduce the populations of former guest workers in the east by offering each DM3,000 to leave the country and return home. Tens of thousands took this offer, but they were soon replaced by a further influx of Vietnamese asylum-seekers who had been employed as contract workers in other Eastern European nations.[4] Throughout the 1990s, German attempts to repatriate the new immigrants back to their country of origin were not particularly successful, due to both Berlin's reluctance to forcibly deport them, and Hanoi's refusal to re-admit them; however, nearly four-tenths were barred from permanent residency in Germany.[15]

Tensions between Germans and Vietnamese broke out into violence beginning on 22 August 1992 in the northeastern city of Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where neo-Nazis attacked Romani people, and then, on the third day of the riots, set fire to a housing complex where over 100 Vietnamese asylum-seekers lived. Some were injured, but none died; the police evacuated the Vietnamese residents but took no action against their attackers.[16][17] A week later, extremist demonstrators burned a tent city in Berlin. Though some local residents cheered them on in Rostock, the rest of Germany was far more critical of their actions; 15,000 leftists staged a march through Rostock to condemn the violence.[18] Rostock's mayor, Klaus Kilimann, remained out of town on holiday until the third day of the crisis, and was blamed for exacerbating the situation by not ordering the police into action earlier; he in turn blamed state officials, but after continuing pressure, finally resigned in late 1993.[19]

Gangs became rampant in the Vietnamese community in Germany after reunification, with about half a dozen gangs competing for turf in the Berlin area in 1996, each with about 150 members. In the first 5 months of the year, there were 15 recorded killings among them.[20] These criminal enterprises primarily smuggled cigarettes, but also branched out to gambling, prostitution, and video and audio piracy. In 1994, Vietnam agreed to accept the guest workers in exchange for US$65 million in development assistance, but by the end of the year only 67 were accepted instead of the agreed number of 2,500.[20] Some investigators believe that Hanoi is reluctant to accept the guest workers because those behind the gangs operating in Germany may be high-ranking government officials or army officers.[20]

Demography and distribution

The population pyramid of Vietnamese Germans is very unusual. Vietnamese Vertragsarbeiter, who fell pregnant during their stay in the GDR, were subjected to forced abortions or forced deportions, so that most second generation Vietnamese are born after 1989.[21] The Vietnamese population in Germany is fairly young compared to the average and to other minority groups; 25% consist of children 15 and under, 63% are between the ages of 15-45, with only 10% in the 45-65 age bracket and 2% over the age of 65.[22] 10,000 live in Berlin, of whom roughly one-quarter consist of Hoa (descendants of Chinese immigrants to Vietnam).[23][24] Vietnamese, along with Koreans, form one of the only Asian groups in which men and women migrated to Germany in roughly equal numbers, at least among legal residents; in contrast, there are far more Thai and Filipino women than men in Germany, while the reverse holds true for Chinese and Indians.[9]


Dong Xuan Center in Berlin-Lichtenberg
A shop in Dong Xuan Center

With the loss of their jobs, many Vietnamese guest workers turned to street vending, especially of smuggled cigarettes, while others subsisted on meagre unemployment benefits.[22] Media portrayals of cigarette vendors were initially sympathetic, but by 1993, increasingly emphasised their link with organised crime. Cigarette vendors were subject to frequent police abuse; in Berlin, some Vietnamese residents even started a street fight with a police officer who frequently beat up one cigarette vendor, and threatened to hold a protest and block traffic to bring attention to the issue. By mid-1994, discussion of the police abuse of Vietnamese dominated local media; more than 85 investigations were opened against police officers in Berlin and surrounding areas, but in the end, only five officers were punished.[25]

After the 1993 announcement that only those who had a legal means of financial support would be able to receive a residential permit, even more former guest workers, with little hope of achieving professional employment due to their poor German language skills, turned to self-employment. Floral stands and grocery stores were two common business choices.[26] Others imported cheap products from Vietnam, especially garments, and sold them in small family-scale businesses; however, they could not compete with large discount retailers.[27]

Due to the economic pressures on small retailers, the number of unemployed Vietnamese in Germany has shown an upward trend, rising to 1,057 individuals in 2000.[26]


2008 studies by German education experts show that Vietnamese children are among the highest performing pupils in Germany (50% gaining entry into Gymnasiums). News articles have drawn attention to how children of former guest-workers are among the highest performing pupils in East German schools. Vietnamese students in East Germany who grow up in poverty typically outperform their peers, such as the Turks and Italians, and even native Germans.[28]

Internal divisions

Even after the reunification of their host country, the Vietnamese community in Germany remains divided.[26] Initial sympathy by southerners towards northerners was replaced by suspicion, with the former boat people's staunch anti-Communism aggravating the former guest workers.[29] The former boat people are also far better-integrated into society, and speak German well. However, the children of the boat people retain only tenuous links to Vietnamese culture; in many cases, their parents spoke to them in German rather than Vietnamese, with the hope of speeding their integration; as a result, the parents' German improved with the constant practise, while the children's Vietnamese skills atrophied. In contrast, many of the former guest workers from East Germany speak German poorly.[30]


Viên Giác pagoda, Vietnamese pagoda in Hannover

The majority of Vietnamese migrants in Germany are at least nominal Buddhists.[2] Vietnamese-style Buddhist temples they have set up serve as one of the most noticeable marks of their presence in the country, the most notable example being Lower Saxony's Vien Giac, one of the largest Buddhist pagodas in Europe. The temples, as well as street parades staged during important festivals, thus serve as important focal points for identity formation among Vietnamese Buddhists in Germany, and a sign that they are making themselves feel at home in their adopted country. At the same time, however, the temples and their visibility in public space have provoked backlash from German neighbours, who feel they are a symbol of non-assimilation to German society.[31]

Catholics form a smaller community; as of May 1999, there were 12,000 Vietnamese Catholics in Germany, according to the statistics of the Conference of the German Bishops.[32]

Notable people

This is a list of Vietnamese expatriates in Germany and German citizens of Vietnamese origin or descent.



  1. 1 2 3 Wolf 2007, p. 3
  2. 1 2 "Cộng đồng Việt tổ chức Đại lễ Phật Đản tại Đức", Voice of Vietnam, 2013-05-15, retrieved 2013-07-22
  3. Baumann 2000, Ch. 3
  4. 1 2 3 4 Bui 2004, p. 16
  5. Excluding the transcontinental countries Turkey and Russia; the FSO included those two countries in the Europe total rather than that for Asia
  6. Hillmann 2005, p. 80
  7. "Remembering the First Wave of Boat People in Germany", Deutsche Welle, 2003-03-12, retrieved 2008-10-19
  8. 1 2 Hillmann 2005, p. 86
  9. 1 2 Hillmann 2005, p. 82
  10. Hillmann 2005, p. 87
  11. 1 2 Hillmann 2005, p. 90
  12. 1 2 Hillmann 2005, p. 89
  13. Hillmann 2005, p. 88
  14. Pfohl, Manuela (2008-10-01), "Vietnamesen en Deutschland: Phuongs Traum", Stern, retrieved 2008-10-18
  15. Bui, p. 17
  16. "Germany for Germans?", Time, 1992-09-07, retrieved 2008-10-19
  17. "Riots in Rostock", The Washington Post, 1992-08-27, retrieved 2008-10-19
  18. "German Neo-Nazis Burn Tent City as Violence Continues", Los Angeles Times, 1992-08-31, retrieved 2008-10-19
  19. Kinzer, Stephen (1993-11-13), "German Official Quits Over Riots", The New York Times, retrieved 2008-10-19
  20. 1 2 3 Kinzer, Stephen (1996-05-23), "Berlin Journal: In Germany, Vietnamese Terrorize Vietnamese", The New York Times, retrieved 2008-11-17
  21. Karin Weiss: "Die Einbindung ehemaliger vietnamesischer Vertragsarbeiterinnen und Vertragsarbeiter in Strukturen der Selbstorganisation", In: Almut Zwengel: "Die "Gastarbeiter der DDR - politischer Kontext und Lebenswelt". Studien zur DDR Gesellschaft; p. 264
  22. 1 2 Hillmann 2005, p. 93
  23. Hillmann 2005, p. 81
  24. Gütinger 1998, p. 206
  25. Bui 2004, pp. 49–50
  26. 1 2 3 Hillmann 2005, p. 95
  27. Mai, Marina (2006-12-06), "Vietnamesen en Berlin: Stress, Sucht und Skorbut", Der Spiegel, retrieved 2008-10-18
  28. Spiewak, Martin (2009-01-22), "Gute Schüler: Kinder eingewanderter Vietnamesen", Die Zeit (5), retrieved 2009-03-03
  29. Schubert, Sebastian (2004-11-24), "Berlin's Vietnamese Wall", Deutsche Welle, retrieved 2008-10-19
  30. Hillmann 2005, p. 96
  31. Baumann 2000, Ch. 6
  32. Fernandez Molina, pp. 321–326


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