Baking a recipe for migration

Published in Business Spectator (Melbourne), 5 August 2010

Next time you go to Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building you should visit the basement. There, nestled between an accessories store and an Asian fast food outlet, you can learn a practical lesson in successful immigration policy. It can teach you all you need to know about why the integration of migrants is working in Australia and why it is failing in Europe.

To find this place, just follow your nose to the smell of freshly baked sunflower seed bread, apple cinnamon crumble and pretzel-dough rolls. The Lüneburger bakery is a little piece of bread and cake heaven right in the heart of Sydney. Every day, it serves thousands of hungry commuters with a selection of German-style pastries. To add to the perfect illusion of a traditional German bakery, the shop assistants speak with German accents. Even the shop furniture is made in Germany.

None of this would be of any significance for immigration policies if the owner were your average German baker. But the half-bald 47-year-old running the Lüneburger business does not quite look like someone who comes from the Black Forest. And his name, Ahmet Yaltirakli, does not sound very German either.

In fact Yaltirakli was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and migrated to Cologne with his parents when he was 11. Like many other children of Turkish “guest workers” living in Germany, he got only a very basic school education and was subsequently apprenticed as an electrician.

An acquaintance of the family then offered Yaltirakli another apprenticeship as a goldsmith in the early 1980s. Sadly, as it turned out years later, his new employer lacked the formal qualification to teach. In the end, Yaltirakli was left with little else but enough practical skills to open a small jewellery repair business in one of the poorer and predominantly Turkish neighbourhoods of Cologne.

Yaltirakli worked hard. However, there was no escape from his existence as an ambitious yet underqualified manual labourer. Besides, even though he may have spent most of his life in Germany and despite his German passport, he always remained a Turk in the eyes of mainstream society. His family background was the glass ceiling he simply could not break.

If Ahmet Yaltirakli had not switched on his TV one Sunday afternoon back in 1996 he would still be fixing Turkish necklaces and armbands in Cologne. Instead, he watched a documentary about Australia. The pictures of this faraway and exotic place were so enticing that only three days later Yaltirakli and his family were sitting on an Australia-bound plane, willing to explore the country for themselves.

They fell in love with Australia immediately and spent another three holidays travelling around the continent. In 2002, they sold everything they had in Germany and arrived in Sydney with little more than a business visa, a modest amount of cash and a collection of Italian wedding rings that Yaltirakli hoped to distribute in Australia.

A Turkish-born German selling Italian wedding rings in Australia? It may have been too ambitious a plan, and Yaltirakli soon had to find another venture. So he acquired a franchise licence for an ice cream and chocolates parlour. But as he had to discover, Australians don’t buy enough ice cream in winter and not enough chocolates in summer. Again he failed, suffering heavy losses.

After two business fiascos, with few contacts in Australia and nothing but his entrepreneurial spirit, Yaltirakli went for his final attempt: to open a German-style bakery. He was missing good German breads; all his German friends in Sydney told him the same; and when he found a way to import deep frozen dough from Germany, a business idea was born. He was clutching at straws.

All that was still needed was a more German-sounding name than Yaltirakli. He settled on Lüneburger. Not that he had ever been to the historic city of Lüneburg, but you just can’t get more German than that, with the umlaut dots on the “u”, he thought.

The first shop in Sydney’s QVB opened in late December 2005, and Lüneburger took off to become more than your average bread and butter business. Regularly putting in 80 to 90 hours a week, Yaltirakli managed to establish seven shops in Sydney. In a few weeks’ time he will open his first bakery in Melbourne. “And this, for sure, is not going to be the end of my ambitions,” he says.

Looking back over his turbulent career, Yaltirakli is certain he would never have succeeded in Germany. “In Australia, it is much easier to become a part of society,” he says. “If you have an idea, you can make it. In Germany, you will always remain a bit of an outsider and people will judge you by your name and your looks.”

Little wonder, then, that Yaltirakli is now employing more than 70 people in Sydney and Melbourne and not in Cologne or Hamburg. Australia gave him the welcome he and his family were looking for. It did not put obstacles in the way of his business ventures. For him it became the place in which you can try, fail and start again to eventually succeed.

The contrast to Yaltirakli’s Turkish compatriots who remained in Germany could not be more stark. In Berlin, which has the largest resident Turkish community outside Turkey, three-quarters of all Turkish migrants lack any school qualifications (compared with only 15 percent of all German-born Berliners). Consequently, nearly half the unemployed in Berlin are of Turkish origin. And almost 40 per cent of all Berlin-based Turks receive most of their income in the form of welfare payments.

The failed integration of Turkish migrants into German society has many causes. Many migrants lacked the will to assimilate, while mainstream society showed a corresponding reluctance to accept the newcomers. The lack of education and the stifling effects of welfare dependency only made the process of integration even more difficult.

If Germany needs an example of the human potential lying dormant in its Turkish community it should study the case of Ahmet Yaltirakli closely. And if Australians need reminding why migrants can be a great benefit to society, they should look at his case, too.

Ask him about it next time you buy your Turkish-German-Australian pretzels.