Anja Müller, Project Manager of the German courses offered by Malteser Werke

German Lessons from the Very Beginning 
“We shouldn’t just watch, we should do something ourselves.” This was the resolution that ALTANA’s Management Board made when refugees flocked to Germany at the end of the summer in 2015, and employees in the company, too, started discussing how integration could be achieved. Those responsible at ALTANA all agreed that the key lies in the German language. Only by learning German can the refugees communicate with others in their new country and get a foothold in the labor market.

Via Aktion Deutschland Hilft e.V., an alliance of German aid organizations, ALTANA announced it was donating 250,000 euros to help fund a project to this end. The coalition’s member organizations were invited to submit proposals for suitable language programs. In the end, Malteser Werke won the day with an innovative concept called “German lessons from the very beginning.” They also scored points with their experiences integrating refugees. Back in January 2016, German classes began for the first 100 students in the Malteser facility in Hamm, North Rhine-Westphalia.

On behalf of the German federal states, Malteser Werke supervises ten central refugee accommodation facilities across the country. The refugees usually live there for up to six months after being registered, until they are officially granted asylum and placed in municipalities. Only subsequently is it actually possible for many to take a German course. Which means lost time for the newcomers, much of which they spend waiting.

“The core of our concept is to offer refugees German lessons starting on their very first day in Germany,” says Anja Müller, the manager of the project at Malteser Werke. “The first question that many ask when they arrive is: ‘Can we learn German here?’”

So ALTANA’s donation came at just the right time. Initially, the company is financing qualified German teachers for one year at six Malteser facilities in North Rhine-Westphalia and in the city of Voerde, in the vicinity of the company’s headquarters in Wesel. The money is also used to equip the classrooms, to prepare course material, and to scientifically evaluate the pilot project.

Innovative Concept
In their planning, Anja Müller and her team had to take many variables into account. Their students not only come from different countries and have different educational backgrounds. In addition, it is uncertain how long they will remain in the facility and thus in the class. Against this backdrop, the Malteser Werke developed something completely new: The classes are offered in modules with increasing levels of difficulty. Four 90-minute lessons are given five days a week. The subject matter is geared to the participants’ living environment. “We asked people at the facilities what is important in daily human interaction,” explains Anja Müller. Thus, incidental yet important content found its way into the class materials, including the particularities of German can deposits.

Although participation in the courses is voluntary, the classrooms are bursting at the seams: Around 600 students come to class each day. At the end of the first year, some 100,000 people will have acquired the basic language skills they need to lead a self-determined life in Germany. In the facilities, German is replacing English increasingly as the language spoken with others. The residents are gaining confidence and making contact with Germans outside of their accommodation for the first time, for instance, when they go shopping. Anja Müller is delighted about the program’s success: “In some communities, people were understandably worried in the beginning about who was coming. Today our fosterlings are part of everyday life.”

As the project coordinator, Anja Müller orchestrates the Malteser Werke’s language program and organizes the work of the language teachers and volunteer assistants. Müller, who studied cultural anthropology, sees the success of her activities every day. She is convinced that the German lessons boost the refugees’ confidence and encourage them to make contact with their new home country. The refugees’ eagerness to learn and their gratitude touch her time and time again. But she still has one great wish: “We need more generous donators like ALTANA. Then we could do so much more.”


ALTANA donated 250,000 euros to Malteser Werke to fund its qualified German classes for refugees. Learning German is the key to their becoming integrated in both society and the labor market. The language concept, geared to rapid learning success, has the potential to become the standard in the preliminary refugee reception centers. The first participants have already received the recognized A1 language certificate. The project, which is supported and evaluated scientifically, benefits around 100,000 refugees in Malteser facilities.