& Events

4IM Miskolc: Mainstreaming integration  

Jul 14, 2023 | News

Offenbach, in the conurbation of Frankfurt-am-Main in the middle of Germany, is the most diverse town in the country. Hungarian and Slovak partners in the 4IM project visited in June to learn some lessons in successful integration. 

The programme of the 2-day study visit included presentations on Germany’s employment and social security system, a walking tour of the nearby Nordend district, and a visit to the office of Caritas, one of the town council’s key partners 

Organised by AEIDL, the visit enabled actors working on integrating the most vulnerable groups in different countries to reflect on how good practices developed in other European cities could be tailored to the context in Miskolc and Košice.    

The skyline of Frankfurt, a 15-minute train ride from Offenbach.
The skyline of Frankfurt, a 15-minute train ride from Offenbach.

On two scorching days in June 2023, a group of visitors from Miskolc (Hungary) and Košice (Slovakia) made their way to Offenbach, in Germany’s Frankfurt conurbation. They were received by Matthias Schultze-Böing, leader of the EaSI-funded CRIS project and eminence grise of the MainArbeit municipal job centre. 

High diversity 

Offenbach, with a population of 140,000 (about the same size as Miskolc), is notable for being the municipality with the highest share of migrants in its population in Germany – 32% of its residents are foreign-born and as many as 70% have a migration background. Historically the centre of Germany’s leather industry, a major source of employment today is in transport and logistics. Frankfurt Airport, which employs 88,000 people, is 20 km away, and the docks on the river Main are also major employers. 

Marcus Schenk, manager of the Nordend neighbourhood office, shows the $IM group around

Many people see Offenbach as offering a model of how to successfully integrate a migrant workforce. A key factor in this is that its population comes from many countries. Turks make up the largest community, but the town is home to over 150 nationalities, with four communities – Turkish, Romanian, Bulgarian and Greek – numbering over 5,000, and a further three – Croatia, Italy and Poland – numbering over 4,000. This diversity leads to one simple fact – you can’t get by in your native language and you have to learn German. With this competence under your belt, job mobility is opened up. 

Of course integration in society depends not solely on having a job, but also on having and income and access to social services – the three pillars of the EU’s Active Inclusion Strategy. Since the days of Bismarck, Germany’s social security system has consisted of two pillars: an insurance-based system for those in regular paid work, and a welfare system for the others. In 2005, this division was overcome through the ‘Hartz IV’ reforms. The two systems still exist, but they now work hand in hand. Sozialgesetzbuch II (SGB II) deals with unemployment insurance, while SGB III deals with welfare transfers. This unified system guarantees a minimum disposable income of €503 per month, whether you are working or not. Nationally, around 55% of recipients have a migration background. 

Integration is mainstreamed 

This integrated approach is carried through at municipal level. There is no separate integration policy – it is everybody’s business. Departments work together according to a complicated matrix of interrelationships, with the four main pillars being employment, education, urban development and social cohesion. For instance: 

  • the employment department deals with jobs, skills, entrepreneurship and the school-work transition; 
  • the education department caries out social work in schools and offers early years language learning; 
  • the urban development department builds mixed areas which avoid segregation; 
  • the social cohesion department supervises neighbourhood management and migrant involvement in civil society. 

It is, in Matthias Schulze-Böing’s words, “a never-ending story of co-ordination”. 

The approach to the clients is integrated too: to help them get off benefits, counsellors work intensively with whole families to explain procedures, help fill in forms, solve problems, and accompany people to job interviews. The basic rules are to treat the family as a system, accept its members’ cultural preferences, and build trust. It is notable that the whole is co-ordinated by MainArbeit – the Job Centre – rather than the social services department, and it has built an integrated database to combine employment, social and benefits information. Selected clients benefit from a proactive job placement service. 

Neighbourhood offices 

The tour of Nordend started at the Stadtteilbüro (neighbourhood office) on Goetheplatz, where, perched on a table in its multi-functional shopfront premises opposite a primary school, co-ordinator Marcus Schenk explained how it works. The Stadtteilbüro offers a model for the access points (elérési pontok) to be set up in the two neighbourhood of Bábonyibérc and Tetemvár in Miskolc. 

Since 2005 the municipality of Offenbach has established five of these offices. Each of them serves a population of around 10,000, a factor of magnitude larger than the two Miskolc neighbourhoods. To escape any bureaucratic approach, they are operated under contract by local organisations, although these are private contractors, not community associations. They are full of life, the focus for many community activities: after-school clubs, book exchanges, amateur dramatics, gaming, community gardens hewn from the roadspace. Progress in removing cars from the landscape is slow. 

Nordend benefits from being a mixed neighbourhood, in which midrise housing is interspersed with industrial premises such as the Heyne Fabrik, an old screw factory now listed and gentrified, which houses, among other companies, the German headquarters of jeans manufacturer Levi Strauss. The neighbourhood is densely built-up but has a “lung” in the form of the docks off the river Main, which flows along its northern edge. Here, among the newly-built blocks of flats and the preserved dockside crane, there is space for community gardens as well as lazing in the sun. 

Diversity brings resilience 
Community gardens, yacht marina and new housing around Nordend’s harbour.

The visit to the Offenbach branch of Caritas revealed the irony that a tight labour market can imperil community initiatives. The work integration social enterprise (WISE) CariJob relies on public subsidy to provide 19 jobs for people “far from the labour market”, who are employed to collect old furniture and sell it at reasonable prices. The subsidy covers not only wages but the cost of a core of professional managers. The problem is that nowadays CariJob cannot find enough needy workers. Currently only about 60% of its places are filled. This has effectively halved its income, and its survival is imperilled. One solution may be to diversify sources of income, for instance by convincing the waste collection department to contribute to its running costs. There may also be scope to step up the repair and renovation of furniture, which would introduce skills training into the equation. Here again, diversity brings resilience. 

Institutions matter 

As the visitors discussed what they had learnt, the point that stuck the visitors most forcefully was the strong tradition of welfare associations in Germany, and the high level of trust that enables effective partnership and networking. The trust on which the town’s network strategy depends has been built up over decades and centuries. In comparison, Hungary lacks that institutional depth. 

The varied menu laid on by MainArbeit offered rich learning for the Hungarian and Slovak visitors. If the model of the Stadtteilbüro is not directly transferrable because of the scale it requires, the way the municipality addresses integration as a cross-cutting priority, and its keenness on internal and external collaboration, are valuable lessons. 

Further reading 

4IM project: 


“Arrival City” Offenbach am Main. Challenges for Urban Development and Integration Policies, Matthias Schulze-Böing: 

Toby Johnson, AEIDL