Chancellor Angela Merkel (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) said the so-called “multikulti” concept has “utterly failed”.
She said attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany, where people would “live side-by-side” happily, did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate, including learning German.
The comments come amid rising anti-immigration feeling in Germany. According to a recent survey more than 30% of people believed the country was “overrun by foreigners”.
Made by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think-tank, the study also showed that roughly the same number thought that some 16 million of Germany’s immigrants or people with foreign origins had come to the country for its social benefits.
On Saturday, in front of a gathering of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Merkel said that at “the beginning of the 60s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country.”
She added: “We kidded ourselves a while, we said: ‘They won’t stay, sometime they will be gone’, but this isn’t reality.”
“And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other… has failed, utterly failed.”
But in her speech in Potsdam, the chancellor clearly said that immigrants were welcome in Germany, specifically referring to recent comments by German president Christian Wulff who said that Islam was “part of Germany”, like Christianity and Judaism.
Merkel said: “We should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don’t speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here.”
In recent months there has been intense debate about multiculturalism in Germany.
Earlier this week, Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, said it was “obvious that immigrants from different cultures like Turkey and Arab countries, all in all, find it harder” to integrate.
“‘Multikulti’ is dead,” Mr Seehofer said.
Talks were held earlier this month between the German chancellor and the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which both leaders pledged to do more to improve the often poor integration record of Germany’s estimated 2.5 million-strong Turkish community.
The debate first heated up in August when Thilo Sarrazin, a senior official at Germany’s central bank, said that “no immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime”.
Sarrazin has since resigned.
Mainstream politicians expressed strong anti-immigration feelings, amid an anger in the country about high unemployment, despite the fact that the economy is growing faster than those of its rivals.