The Korean Diaspora Project: Koreans in Germany

Korea and Germany, through the course of the 20th Century, share an intertwined history, one that has repeatedly drawn parallels between the two war-affected nations and its peoples. As such, the story of Koreans in Germany is one that calls into sharp focus the state and politics of both regions at the height of the Cold War and in the wake of the Korean War. Following the end of World War II, Germany was divided into East and West Germany, and like North and South Korea, each nation had its own economic and political incentive to appeal to one another’s economic and political interests. Much of the migration of Korean peoples to and from Germany stems from these initial yet substantial relations. 

During the 1960s and 70s, over around 20,000 South Koreans traveled to West Germany to work as miners and nurses. They typically worked for a “formal guest work program” called Gastarbeiterprogramm, wherein migrants would travel to West Germany and stay in the country for a few years before ultimately returning to their home country. The first labor recruitment agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and South Korea was actualized in 1963, in the hopes of both maintaining the German mining industry and providing the South Korean government with a much-needed source of steady remittances and economic income. Soon thereafter hundreds of Korean citizens traveled to Germany until 1977. Although they were on time-limited contracts, thousands of migrants stayed and started families and slowly establishing a prominent Korean community, one that is now over 30,000 people strong.

It is important to note, however, that earlier in the 1950s, a smaller yet notable group of North Korean migrants had already traveled to East Germany. Rather than as miners or nurses, these North Korean migrants enrolled as students at universities or traveled as skilled workers. Their experiences were comparatively shortly lived as the relations between the two countries worsened; by the early 1960s, North Korea had obligatorily recalled all of its citizens living in East Germany, and very few, if any, managed to stay.

Among all the Korean diasporas in the world, the story of Koreans in Germany is one of the most unique migrant histories, insofar that it highlights both the scars and divisions of the consequences of the Korean War while simultaneously serving as a possible example or template for reunification in the future. 


 Notable Academic Books and Papers: 

Transnational Encounters Between Germany and Korea: Affinity in Culture and Politics Since the 1880s, Joanne Miyang Cho and Lee M. Roberts (2017)

Roberts S. (2017) The Gendered Migration Experience: South Korean Nurses in West Germany. In: Cho J., McGetchin D. (eds) Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia. Palgrave Series in Asian German Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

Berlin Koreans and Pictured Koreans, Frank Hoffman (2015)

A Comparative Analysis of Foreign Workers and Citizenship in Korea and Germany. In: Pohlmann M., Yang J., Lee JH. (eds) Citizenship and Migration in the Era of Globalization. Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context, vol 5. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg (2013).

Language of Migration: Self- and Other-Representation of Korean Migrants in Germany (Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics), Suin Roberts (2012)

Writing Zuhause: Identity Construction of the Korean-German. Asian Women. 26. 27-59. Suin Roberts (2010).


Beyond the Bifurcated Myth: The Medical Migration of Female Korean Nurses to West Germany in the 1970s.

Horak, Sven. “Phases of the Relationship between East Germany and North Korea after World War II.” North Korean Review 6, no. 1 (2010): 100-07. 

Hall, John. “GERMAN UNIFICATION: WHAT THE KOREANS STAND TO LEARN.” Asian Perspective 17, no. 2 (1993): 101-35. 


A brief summation and archive mission of Korean migration to Germany:

Photographs and Other Images of Korean German Migrants

50 years of the Korean-German labour recruitment agreement

Korea Herald: Korean miners, nurses recall their arduous days in Germany

50 Years of the Korean Diaspora in Germany:

Coal Miners Sent to Germany:

Korean-German Identity: An Interview with Professor Suin Roberts:

German Village in South Korea:

Protests led by “Angel” Nurses in Germany:



German Connections to the Korean Peninsula:

 Korean Miners and Nurses in Germany: 

German Korean Nurse Traveling to South Korea for the First Time:

Brief History: Koreans in Germany  

President Moon and an Address for the Korean German Community:

Trailer for Drama Film Ode to My Father (2014) that includes Migration to West Germany

German-Korean Composers and Artists 

Symphony No. 1 “Loyang”, Movement 1:

Isang Yun was a renowned composer who also worked as a professor at the Berlin Music School and wrote the Opera for the Munich Olympics. His major works incorporate musical ideas from Eastern and Western avant-garde traditions. Twice imprisoned by South Korean police on suspicion of espionage, his Symphonies 1 and 3 confront such political conflicts and the strife of the time. 

Composer Isang Yun:

Distanzen for wind quintet and string quintet


Djong Yun, daughter of Isang Yun, grew up in Munich and collaborated with the German band Popol Vuh. 

7″ Vinyl Release Du Sollst Lieben / Ave Maria
United Artists Records

Composer Unsuk Chin: Akrostichon-wortspiel  

Pianist Caroline Fischer: Performing Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor op. 57 

1. Movement