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The History Man

This blog contains interesting facts about the history of Spain and things Spanish.

The Great Andalusian Exodus
Thursday, February 24, 2022 @ 6:28 AM

Co-author: Andrew Pearce

It was an opportunity that even the insular General Franco could not turn down. Despite over two decades since the end of the Civil War, much of Spain was still in an economic mess. And the Republican stronghold of Andalucia – largely ignored by the Spanish dictator – was facing ruin.

Yet a ray of light arrived from the most unlikely of places which was to change the lives and fortunes of thousands of Andalusians. Little more than ten years since the end of the Second World War, a once broken Germany was experiencing its own economic miracle.

It was quickly rebuilding its economy and handed Franco the chance to reverse the ailing fortunes of his country. Jobs in industry were fast being created and Germany’s government was offering ‘Gastarbeiterprogramme’, Guest Worker Programmes, in the heavy steel industry.

Free, functional accommodation was often the selling point for the thousands of Andalusians who had been forced to live in squalor in the years after the Spanish conflict. Italy had already signed up to send over workers in 1955 and Spain struck its own deal on March 29, 1960.

“Many Andalusians were in desperate need of work and Franco made a point of sending them over first as they were illiterate and of less value to the Spanish economy,” explains German author Erica Ruetz, who in 2009 made a TV documentary about the Germany-bound emigration of Andalusians.

The majority initially headed to Baden-Wuerttemberg and the industries of the Neckar valley around Stuttgart. From the Serrania de Ronda alone some 8,000 people headed north, with the villages of Montejaque, Benaoján, El Gastor and Igualeja being the biggest providers of workers. And, as the floodgates opened, many Andalusians also opted for Switzerland and France as the opportunities for work grew.

But it was in Germany where many established long-term ties with the towns and people. So special were the bonds that were eventually formed between the work-hungry Spaniards and the welcoming Germans, that a partnership was announced between two Andalusian mountain villages and a German town.

Benaoján and Montejaque – two white villages near Ronda – put the official seal on the 50-year relationship with the town of Knittlingen, where about 300 Andalusians settled. And it was not just the booming German towns that saw the opportunity to benefit from these eager Andalusians. Incredibly, a taxi service was created that drove people from Montejaque to their new work base in Knittlingen. Manolo was the hardy soul who regularly embarked on the journey up through Spain to the German climes.

“Over 30 years ago I regularly drove villagers – many of them were close friends of mine – up to Germany,” he remembers. “Back then, I’m sure you can imagine, the roads were nowhere near as developed as they are now. “It could be a hair-raising journey at times, especially along Andalucia’s mountain roads but I would get about 18,000 pesetas for a day’s drive – about 100 euros in today’s rates.”

Despite having to start a new life so far away from the idyllic villages they grew up in, the Andalusians were determined not to use homesickness as an excuse not to go. “Although the Germans have a reputation for being workhorses, I can tell you that the Spanish immigrants often worked harder than their counterparts,” explains Ruetz.

And it was through their spirited, determined attitudes that the Andalusians won the respect of their colleagues. “The Spanish melted into German society without a trace and never created any unrest or tension,” continues Ruetz.

“There have notoriously been many problems between the Germans and the Turks but, in spite of my extensive research, I have been unable to uncover any sources or people documenting trouble between Spaniards and Germans.”

One reason for this was undoubtedly the very fact that the Spaniards were overcome by relief with the new lives they encountered in Germany. Companies such as Keumo and Kiesselmann offered the migrants free, new flats – a commodity of which dreams were made of back in Andalucía.

“It was a paradise, water came out of the wall,” explains Miguel Ruiz, from Benaoján. What’s more, although wages were certainly not bountiful, the Spaniards undoubtedly earned more than they ever would have back in Andalucía.

But this flourishing quality of life far away from the Spanish motherland was still able to be tempered by the autocratic Franco. He sent priests and teachers to the Spanish districts to ensure his people adhered to their home values and remained true to Spain. More likely, it was a case of “remaining Catholic and keeping their mouths shut” according to Ruetz.

However, the dictator could not complain about the efforts his disbanded Spanish workers were putting in. It is estimated that between 1960 and 1970, the overseas workers contributed some five per cent to Spain’s GDP, purely through the money that was sent back to the family.

Originally harbouring hopes to work for a number of years and wait for the economic situation in Spain to pick up before returning home, many Spaniards soon realised that they had become extremely settled in northern Europe. “Many of them wanted to make enough money to allow them to come back, buy a home in Spain and live happily back in their villages,” explains Ruetz. “But the problem is their children went to school, integrated so well and basically became Germans themselves. Now, many of the original arrivals are recognised as highly-skilled workers and earn more than teachers.”

Overcoming their stereotype that Spaniards are not the world’s greatest at learning languages, many quickly picked up their new mother tongue. However, one, María López, in Knittlingen, despite having lived in Germany for almost 30 years was still unable to string a sentence together. But she managed to get by. For example, a trip to the butchers would involve lots of ‘oinking’ if pork was on the day’s menu!

As the Germans became increasingly friendly with their Spanish friends they would often hear the names of their former village homes, such as Benaoján and Montejaque, crop up in conversation. The migrant workers would speak about their old lives and the paradise, mountain outposts in glowing terms – fuelling their hosts’ desire to visit these mystical heavens.

For instance, Rita W, 69, a former nurse, proved that not all migration was Germany bound. “I was living and working in a Knittlingen clinic and I could never get away from co-workers and patients talking lovingly about their home pueblo,” explains Rita. “In 2003 I decided to take a holiday there and fell in love with the area. So much so that on the second day we bought a house where I lived for five years before remarrying and moving to Ronda!” Rita still has the Montejaque house, which is a casa rural (a holiday rental), although she and her husband use it from time to time as a change from living in the campo.

Indeed, Rita’s case is not unique as there are quite a few Germans who settled in the mountain towns. And it was during these trips to the hillside hideaways where Germans – paradoxically just like the migrant Spaniards – stumbled upon their dream settlements.

The life of Charlie I., once a workaholic in southern Germany, was transformed after choosing to settle in Spain. “I learned how to work in Germany, but in Montejaque, I learned how to live,” he says.

The Germans after all really do have a lot to thank the Spanish for too.

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