The great German citizenship trivia challenge
Want to become a German citizen? Take our fun quiz to see if you have what it takes to pass Hesse's new citizenship test. David Gordon Smith tries to remember what Otto Hahn discovered and which assembly met in 1848 in Frankfurt's Paulskirc
So you want to become a German. Who can blame you? It is after all the land of Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Wagner, Caspar David Friedrich and Karl Friedrich Schinkel. No wonder people are lining up the block to apply for citizenship of this great country with its glorious heritage and history.
But if you planning to apply for German citizenship in the state of Hesse, you had better make sure you have a firm grasp of all that glorious heritage and history. The state plans to test prospective citizens on their knowledge of German politics, geography, history and culture as part of a new six-point programme for applicants.
The Hesse interior ministry have issued a 100-item questionnaire which prospective candidates can use to revise for the "knowledge and values" test. Hesse Interior Minister Volker Bouffier emphasises that the aim of the questionnaire is to get people to learn about Germany, rather than just cramming for an exam: "It is the express sense and purpose of the questionnaire that the applicant prepares intensively for the test and thereby gets to grips with all aspects of the Federal Republic."
Hesse is the second German state to bring in a citizenship test, after Baden-Wuerttemberg introduced a test in January of this year. But at least the Hesse version appears to be constitutional, unlike the Baden-Wuerrtemberg now-notorious "opinions" test, which is only aimed at Muslims and thereby violates Article 3 of the German constitution ("No one may be prejudiced or favoured because of their sex, their parentage, their race, their language, their homeland and origin, their faith or their religious or political opinions.").
At first glance the Hesse test seems fairly harmless, even if, as many commentators have pointed out, most Germans would struggle with at least some of the questions. It is only natural that states demand prospective citizens to have a firm grasp of the country’s political make-up and constitution.
And knowledge of history and culture is surely no bad thing, even if you might ask – again, like many commentators – why a citizen needs to know about certain painters in order to be a law-abiding member of society. The slightly random nature of some of the knowledge required has led observers to facetiously compare the questions to those in the popular TV quiz show "Who wants to be a millionaire?"
There's a lot to learn if you want to become a German.
On an even more sinister note, some of the questions (such as #39, "You hear that a woman is not allowed to go out in public or to travel without being accompanied by a close male relative. What is your opinion of this?") are similar to the Baden-Wuerttemberg test and are clearly aimed at Muslims. No bonus points for guessing which recent events question 89 ("If someone says 'free media are an essential part of a democratic society', do you agree or not?") is referring to.
Similarly, a conspiracy theorist might be inclined to think that the high-brow questions are intended to keep uneducated people out of Germany and attract only those highly trained specialists which every country seems to be gagging for. (In the opinion of Expatica reader Charles Dukes, "the main purpose of the so-called test seems to be discouraging possible applicants from applying for German citizenship in the first place.")
Don't look at me, I only know what happened up until 1832.