Are You Smart Enough to Be a German Citizen? I Am . . .

by Peter Spiro

. . . and I bet you are, too.  In a recent move ostensibly aimed at shoring up its national identity, Germany has instituted a citizenship test.  Naturalization applicants must correctly answer 17 out of 33 multiple-choice questions on German institutions and society.  The questions are drawn from a catalogue of 310 questions that test-takers are given in advance.

Try your luck here.  For most, you don’t exactly need a high level of background in things German.  Simple multiple choice strategies will work just fine.  Some examples:

Question: What is not stated in Germany’s Basic Law?

  • A person’s dignity is inviolable.
  • Everyone should have the same amount of money.
  • Everyone is allowed to express their opinions.
  • Everyone is equal before the law.

Question: What is meant by the right to freedom of movement in Germany?

  • You can choose where you want to live.
  • You can change jobs.
  • You can convert to another religion.
  • You can walk around in public while wearing little clothing.

I always suspected that the Germans had a constitutional right to nude sunbathing!  Okay, so you do have to have a little background in European history to answer ones like this:

Question:  What was a defining feature of the National Socialist regime.  A policy of . . .

  • state rascism
  • freedom of speech
  • religious freedom
  • the development of democracy

I got 28 out of 33 correct, and that was before this morning’s second cup of coffee.  The only ones that present any real difficulty are those requiring rote memorization, like, what is the capital of Hesse.  The only substantive question I got wrong was “Who do you have to allow into your home in Germany, if asked?”  I thought the Germans might have some practice under which “the postman” would enjoy entry at will, rather than the (correct answer) your landlord.

So it looks pretty much a sham along the lines of the US naturalization exam, except that this one is multiple choice and requires a lower percentage of correct responses (50% v. 66% in the US).  Obviously, you can pass the test without being German in any real sense.  But easy as it seems to us, it won’t be easy for everyone, and so the new requirement is generating stiff opposition (also for its lack of any questions relating directly to the Holocaust and “ideological bias” against Muslims).  

This in a country that used to have naturalization inspectors who would actually visit applicant homes, to make sure that they had Schiller and Goethe on their bookshelves!  The fact that Germany is having a tough time imposing a very thin culture requirement shows how difficult it has become for states to police the boundaries of identity.

2 Responses

  1. A bit of history, the questions on the US naturalization exam were very similar to those at the time for literacy tests that blacks faced when trying to vote in the South.  That has always seemed to me a wonderful meditation as to what was considered an American – blacks took tests of the kind non-citizens had to.

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