Archives and research on migration and protest in West Germany

by Nikolaos Papadogiannis

It was early 2012 when I had just embarked on a project at the Humboldt University of Berlin on the history of youth tourism. One of my first archival visits was to Hamburg, to the archives of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (HIS) and the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg (FZH). While there, I stumbled on material relating to Southern European migrants and activism in West Germany. These included articles published in Konkret stored in HIS and the archive of Helene Manos in the FZH. The latter included the interaction between Greek migrants and the West German trade unions.
The serendipitous encounter with these primary sources made me think about researching the links between Greek migrants and protest movements in West Germany, which resulted in a relevant article of mine in 2014. In my blog entry, I would like to reflect on the significance of archival collections on migrants from Southern Europe and protest movements in West Germany and suggest ways in which those collections may facilitate the emerging research on queer migrant activists from Southern Europe who lived in West Germany.

Research on migration from Southern Europe to West Germany in relation to protest cultures in the latter has been expanding in the last 20 years. A brief blog entry cannot entail a comprehensive, relevant literature review. Still, an indicative list of such works includes outputs authored by Simon Goeke, Alexander Clarkson, Alexander Sedlmaier, Manuela Bojadzijev, Maria Adamopoulou, and myself. Those works consider various movements in the Federal Republic of Germany, including solidarity initiatives against the dictatorial regime ruling Greece from 1967 to 1974, Feminism, and working-class mobilisation. Although this body of literature is diverse, several of those works take a transnational perspective and show the significance of migrant activism not just for the receiving society but also for other countries, including the country of origin of those migrants.

Plakat einer Griechenland Veranstaltung in Hamburg zur Frage der Solidarität mit dem Widerstand des griechischen Volkes gegen Faschismus und Imperialismus
Plakat zu einer Solidaritätsveranstaltung an der Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, 1970er Jahre.
Plakatsammlung HIS-Archiv, SBe_491_P3_13

Such research has been made possible by the rich material on the participation of Southern European migrants in protest in West Germany that is available in several archives of research institutions. Such archives include, but are not limited to, the Archive of the DOMiD – Dokumentationszentrum und Museum über die Migration in Deutschland [Documentation Centre and Museum about Migration in Germany], Cologne, the archive of HIS and archive of the FZH in Hamburg. The ASKI (Archeia Synchronis Koinonikis Istorias, Contemporary Social History Archives) in Athens have also been expanding their collection of related sources. The archives of civil society associations, such as the Greek Community in Cologne, also contain numerous written documents.

Research on Southern European migrants and protest cultures in West Germany has not only been expanding but also slowly started becoming more intersectional. Overall, as Maren Möhring aptly remarks in her comprehensive literature review on research on migration in Europe after 1945, what is still missing to an extent from this discipline is an intersectional approach encompassing gender relations. In the field of migrant activism, in particular, some recent works have begun to fill this gap. A case in point is the volume co-edited by Gutiérrez Rodríguez & Pinar Tuzcu, which shows how the mid-to-late 1980s and 1990s witnessed the apogee of migrant Feminist activity. The latter involved migrants from diverse locations, from Turkey to South Korea. However, with a few exceptions (such as Leidinger 2013), the involvement of migrant women in Feminism in West Germany has been under-researched. The queer migrant activist dimension is one that the exhibition ‘Social movements and Greeks in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1960s-1990s’, which I am curating, aims to highlight by showcasing the participation of Greek lesbian migrants in Feminist and LGBTQ activist activism in Hamburg. There are, of course, several more dimensions of intersectional histories of migration from Southern Europe to West Germany, activism and gender, which warrant further analysis. Were there, for instance, migrants from Southern Europe involved in activist initiatives of transgender people?

Greek visibility in the Gay Pride in Hamburg, 1999. (Photo courtesy of Evgenia Tsanana)
Greek visibility in the Gay Pride in Hamburg, 1999.
(Photo courtesy of Evgenia Tsanana)

The role of archives in Germany storing material on migration and/or protest cultures can be crucial in supporting and enriching the effort to make visible queer migrant activists from Southern Europe in West Germany. While this is far from an exhaustive list, I believe that the following two suggestions would help in this respect. First, the material on queer migrant activists from Southern Europe already existing in those archives could become more visible through an online accessible book that researchers and archivists would jointly author. Such a book would list such sources and indicate research gaps that those sources can help fill. The magisterial work of Christiane Leidinger on the history of lesbian women in West Germany between 1945 and 1969 offers an excellent example of what such a book could look like. This book will ideally be the outcome of transnational collaboration: it will involve researchers familiar with primary sources relating to queer migrant activists from Southern Europe which are stored in archives outside of Germany, such as the countries of origin of those migrants. My experience shows, for instance, that the Feminist archive Delfys in Athens contains very useful material authored by lesbian activists who migrated from Greece to the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My second suggestion is that German archives expand their collections of sources from queer migrant activists from Southern Europe. Such an expansion could entail the creation of accessible online and free databases containing oral testimonies from such activists. Examples of how such databases could like are the growing online archives exploring the histories of reactions to HIV/AIDS, such as the European HIV/AIDS Archive of the Humboldt University of Berlin and the archive of the Transnational AIDS Activism project. It would be worthwhile for the archives to design the oral history databases on migration and protest in such a way that will invite readers to share any relevant memories of theirs. The proposed databases could be a hybrid between a ‘rogue archive’ and a conventional one: the former, akin to how non-professional archivists practise cultural preservation on the Internet, as analysed by Abigail de Kosnik, could encourage former activists to engage. Simultaneously, to avoid any potential harassment towards the contributors, those databases would benefit from professional archivists moderating them.

Overall, existing archival collections have played a pivotal role in enriching the history of migration from Southern Europe to West Germany in relation to protest. They have the potential to help make such research even more inclusive in the sense of making queer migrant activist voices visible through establishing transnational collaborations and a critical engagement with digital technology.

Dr. Nikolaos Papadogiannis is an AHRC Reserach Fellow and Associate Lecturer at the University of St Andrews.
His research focuses on European social history from the 1960s to the 1990s from a transnational perspective,
including protest cultures, gender, sexuality, migration, emotions and European identities.
In his current project, he investigates transnational AIDS activism in Western Europe, 1980s-1990s

Maria ADAMOPOULOU: West Side Stories: the Greek Gastarbeiter’s migration to the Federal Republic of Germany and their return to the homeland (1960-1989). Doctoral thesis submitted at European University Institute, Department of History and Civilisation, Florence, 2022. []

Freia ANDERS, Alexander SEDLMAIER: Squatters, protest movements, Germany (West) history, Italy history, urban history, resistance, capitalism, public transport. In Martin BAUMEISTER, Bruno BONOMO, Dieter SCHOTT (Hg.): Cities Contested: Urban Politics, Heritage, and Social Movements in Italy and West Germany in the 1970s. Frankfurt: Campus, 2017; S. 277-300.

Manuela BOJADZIJEV: Die windige Internationale. Rassismus und Kämpfe der Migration. Münster: Verlag Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2012.

Alexander CLARKSON: Fragmented Fatherland. Immigration and Cold War Conflict in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1945-1980. New York/ Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013.

Abigail DE KOSNIK: Rogue Archives. Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001

Jane FREELAND: Feminist Transformations and Domestic Violence Activism in Divided Berlin, 1968-2002. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022 (open access book, available here:

Simon GOEKE: „Wir sind alle Fremdarbeiter!“: Gewerkschaften, migrantische Kämpfe und soziale Bewegungen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland der 1960er und 1970er Jahre (= Studien zur historischen Migrationsforschung, Band 36). Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2020.

Encarnación GUTIÉRREZ RODRÍGUEZ, Pinar TUZCU (Hg.): “Migrantischer Feminismus in Deutschland (1980-2000). Intersektionale Erkundungen”. Münster: edition assemblage, 2021.

Christiane LEIDINGER: Lesbische Existenz 1945-1969. Berlin: Senatsverwaltung für Arbeit, Integration und Frauen, 2015.

Christiane LEIDINGER: Mit Kräuertee und Bolzenschneider – Die separat agierende Lesbenbewegung der 1980er Jahre und ihre Diskussionen über Macht und Herrschaftsverhältnisse. In: Andreas PRETZEL, Volker WEISS (Hg.): Zwischen Autonomie und Integration. Schwule Politik und Schwulenbewegung in den 1980er und 1990er Jahren (= Geschichte der Homosexuellen in Deutschland nach 1945, Band 3. Edition Waldschlösschen Band 13). Hamburg: Männerschwarm Verlag, 2013.

Maren MÖHRING: Jenseits des Integrationsparadigmas? Teil II: Forschungen zur transnationalen Arbeitsmigration in Europa nach 1945. In: Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 59, 2019. S. 445-494.

Nikolaos PAPADOGIANNIS: A (Trans)National Emotional Community? Greek Political Songs and the Politicisation of Greek Migrants in West Germany in the 1960s and early 1970s. Contemporary European History, 23(4), 2014, S. 589-614.