In anticipation of spending the next year teaching English in South Korea, I’ve started making a list of places to visit while I’m there. The most recent addition to my list is the German Village, a German-Korean community located on Namhae Island in South Gyeonsang Province.
Germans in South Korea, you say? While it’s true that most foreigners in South Korea hail from the U.S. and other parts of Asia and that most Korean expats live in China, the U.S., and Japan, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 South Koreans moved to West Germany in the 1960s and ‘70s to work as ‘Gastarbeiter’ (lit. ‘guest workers’) due to the economic devastation caused by the Korean War. Many of them ended up staying in Germany and starting families; as a result, Germany is now home to the second highest number of people of Korean heritage in Europe.
A little over a decade ago, South Korean authorities offered former guest workers who had lived in Germany at least 20 years an incentive to come back to Korea, offering them and their families land and subsidized German-style housing in an area Koreans call ‘Dogil Maeul’ (‘German Village’) on Namhae Island. The most seemingly reliable stats I could find on the Village come from a 2012 article run by Der Spiegel stating that there are 35 houses in the Village, although some informal sources I’ve seen put the number at anywhere between a dozen and 75 (there’s probably an accurate number listed somewhere on the Village’s website, but someone with better Korean than mine is going to have to get back to me on that). Some inhabitants live there full time, and some split their time between South Korea and Germany.
As Der Spiegel’s article points out, many of the Korean returnees no longer feel at home in their country after having been away for 30-40 years. Cho Sung-Hyung’s 2009 German-language documentary Endstation der Sehnsüchte follows three German-Korean couples who live in the Village and details these feelings of heimatslosigkeit. Below is a short excerpt from the film.
The German Village has become something of a tourist destination, attracting tens of thousands during the summers and at least ten thousand for Oktoberfest, according to Der Spiegel. I get the sense that it’s a lot like Missouri’s own Hermann, but without the wineries or good German drink—apparently beer in a can at the Village’s Cafe Bremen is about as close as you’re gonna get. On the other hand, you can’t beat the scenery, and f0r German- or Korean-speaking tourists, it seems like the residents would be fascinating to talk to. Apparently there’s an American village located on the island as well.
But in the words of Lavar Burton (Reading Rainbow, anyone?), don’t take my word for it. Check out pictures and reviews of people who have been to the German Village here, here, and here, and stay tuned for my next blog post on Koreans in Germany, featuring an interview with Suin Roberts of Indiana University.