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Turks look for a niche in W. Germany; . . . as Germans try to come to grips with cultural differences

Artifical palm trees, video games, ''Bazaar-Burgers,'' and the whine of exotic music fill an old elevated railway station near West Berlin's Nollendorf Square.

The Turkish Bazaar here may not be ''typisch deutsch,'' but then Istanbul was never like this either.

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What this mini-mall of shops may be is a symbol for West Berlin's 100,000 -plus Turkish residents, a people caught between two cultures.

Several of the shop windows display posters advertising a film playing in the heavily Turkish borough of Wedding. A postscript to the cinema ad thumbs its nose at the Germans and their frequent snide comments about Turkish prolificacy: ''Watch out, drivers! Lots of kids around here!''

Many West Berliners feel they are experiencing an invasion - and not just of baby carriages. But it has been invasion by invitation.

Labor-short postwar West Germany needed extra manpower to propel the economic miracle. And so ''guest workers'' were imported from the labor-surplus countries of southern Europe - Italy, Spain, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Turkey. Recruits were generally lone males who lived in barracks and sent most of their earnings back home.

Many of these workers have gone back home. But the Turks have kept coming.

Recruitment of ''guest workers'' ceased in 1973, but new government policies have encouraged family life instead of barracks life. Under the family reunification program, spouses and children up to age 16 may come from Turkey to join workers already here. (It's not just young men sending for their brides, either. The considerable semiconductor industry has brought a great many young Turkish women to West Berlin, who then send for their husbands.)

The Turkish influx is a new experience for a nation with no ''melting pot'' tradition and which has been a net exporter of people.

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Government pronouncements urge integration of the Turks into German society, and point to the assimilation of Polish coal miners in the 19th century as a model. ''But the Turks are not Europeans,'' West Berliners observe emphatically.

In West Berlin, the Turks are concentrated in working-class neighborhoods in the boroughs of Kreuzberg, Wedding, Schoneberg, and Neukolln, along or near the Berlin Wall. These areas, full of old factories built with reparations money extracted from France after the Franco-Prussian War, are also full of houses built in haste to house the workers in those factories: one- and two-room apartments sans bath and with shared toilet facilities.

As a rebuilt West Berlin rose from the rubble, these older neighborhoods (which suffered relatively less during the war) were forsaken by those who could afford to leave. Those remaining were the less affluent and the elderly - whose share of the population in these areas is even greater than in West Berlin as a whole, where 25 percent of the inhabitants are over 65.

Wolf Mayer, a social worker in the central part of Wedding, has a huge map of the borough in his office. Buildings housing foreign families are marked with colored pushpins - green for Turks, blue for Yugoslavs, and white for Italians. And central Wedding looks like a dense forest of little green trees. Although the borough as a whole has a foreign population of some 20 percent, in certain blocks that figure goes up to 50 to 70 percent.

On a stroll through the neighborhood Mr. Mayer takes a visiting reporter through inner courtyard behind inner courtyard. The molded plaster in the passageways is crumbling, paint is peeling, and plastic substitutes for some of the missing windowpanes.

Some of the buildings are being razed or rehabilitated - as condominiums or cooperative apartments.

It is now ''suggested'' by the city government that developers set 15 percent of new apartments aside for foreigners.

But Mr. Mayer says it is not illegal for a landlord simply to tell a Turk who wants to rent an apartment, ''I don't want you.''

And the West Berlin Senate, at the request of the ''little city halls'' in Kreuzberg and Wedding, have capped the immigration of new Turkish families into those boroughs. The educational problems of the Turks are considerable, especially in the case of those who arrive here as illiterate adolescents with little hope of catching up with their schoolfellows before hitting the job market. Hence the recent push to drop from 16 to six the maximum age for children allowed in under the reunification policy.

Meanwhile, the German parents in places like Wedding fear that too high a concentration of Turkish children in the schools will slow the progress of their own children. If foreign children make up more than 25 percent of a class, they are given a class of their own - usually with a teacher who speaks no Turkish.

For the younger children - German and Turkish - there is concern that there aren't enough nursery school and kindergarten slots to give them the boost they need to enter first grade. And some of the Turkish parents are reluctant to put their little girls into school before they are legally obliged.

How likely are they to stay? Or to become really integrated into West German society?

''The older generation - the ones who have been here 10 years or more - probably will go back eventually,'' Mr. Mayer suggests. ''The younger generation? Oh, they travel with their parents to the old country, and they enthuse about how lovely it all is - but they won't really go back.

''The third generation - the ones who were born here - are the question mark. How well will they fit into society? If they end up competing with Germans for jobs, it could be tough.''

There are already 66,000 unemployed in West Berlin. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine any people willingly resigning themselves to permanent underclass status in low-paying service jobs West Germans don't want.

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