The German Village in Namhae County, South Korean

Walking along the main street in Dogil Maeul on a Monday afternoon, one could get the impression of being somewhere in Germany. The walk leads past white single-family houses with red gable roofs. The only confusing thing are the signs on the buildings with auspicious names: Mainzer Haus, Beethoven Haus, Haus Mosel, Heidi Heim, Berliner Schloss or Hamburg Haus. In addition, there are signs everywhere saying “WLAN 5G”. The streets are empty, there is no bakery, butcher’s or corner shop. Not a soul to be seen. A church steeple promises a lively market square. Once there, one finds the place absolutely deserted. The church steeple turns out to be a restaurant. On the square in front of it are two life-size plastic dummies of a Bavarian couple in lederhosen and dirndl. Instead of the faces there are two holes, through which people can stick their own face and have their photo taken. In the distance, two Korean women are taking selfies in front of the church tower. One can only imagine how crowded this place is at the weekends …

In the Migrating Spaces and Tourism research project, we explored the question of how and in what way spaces migrate and er analysed the specific forces by which they change.
The historical starting point of Dogil Maeul’s development is the classic capitalist and global exchange of labour for development funds. After the end of the Korean War and the division of the country, the Federal Republic of Germany granted South Korea development aid of 75 million German marks until 1961 (cf. Hyun 2018: 20). In addition, South Korea was to be supported in 1963 through the recruitment agreement “Programme for the Temporary Employment of [South] Korean Miners” with the qualification of South Korean contract workers in mining companies. At that time, the West German mining industry was desperately looking for workers, which is why about 8,000 miners from Korea moved mainly to the Ruhr area. Likewise, there was a nursing shortage in the Federal Republic at the end of the 1960s, with West German hospitals lacking about 30,000 nurses. About 12,000 nurses were therefore recruited from South Korea (cf. Roth/Hyun 2019). As was the case with Vietnamese guest workers in the GDR, a rotation principle was planned, meaning that all contract workers were to return home after three years. Not all of them did, though. Some married German men or women and were thus able to stay in West Germany, others married compatriots and were able to extend their stay in West Germany by virtue of the agreement negotiated in 1977. Both the loans and development aid from abroad and the remittances from migrant workers to their families at home supported Korea until the 1980s and thus enabled a rapid development from an agricultural to an industrial country.

Two factors are essential for the development in Dogil Maeul: On the one hand, the idea of making it easier for the former guest workers, who had made industrialisation in Korea possible in the first place, to return home by offering them low-priced plots of land arose from the traditional Confucian sense of community. On the other hand, the Namhae county council pursued the goal of using the implementation of the “otherness” for an economic upswing in the Namhae region, thus making the area attractive for tourism. Due to the change in the world of work and the amendment of the school law in 2010, Saturday became a day off and short weekend trips became possible. As an expression of postmodernism, a leisure and tourism society is now also emerging in Korea.
In addition, the young generation is breaking with Korean traditions such as living together with the whole family. Influenced by the media and trips to the Western world, there is a desire to live alone with a partner and to remain childless to save money for travelling.

We live in a condominium and don’t want children. Instead, we want to live in a nice place and travel a lot. Our parents don’t like that, and every time we see them, we argue about it.”

Interview #Jahr#, Taehyung and Yunai Hur, 32, pharmacists, living on the outskirts of Seoul

Living independently of the family is the dream of this young generation and is reflected in the high demand for condominiums in high-rise buildings in the new housing estates on the outskirts of Seoul. TV series like Couple of Trouble even broach the subject of living in a detached house. The main filming location for the series, shot in 2006, was one of the houses in the German Village. Since then, young couples have flocked to Dogil Maeul in search of good settings for wedding photos and to get inspiration for their future homes.

Dogil Maeul and its exurbs — mutual influences between migrant and local spaces

In 1999, the Namhae county council decided to build a German village for former guest workers and commissioned the Berlin-based architectural firm NA Architekten to design nine model houses for this purpose: Black Forest House, Sauerland House, Moselle House, Saxony House, Westphalia House, House by the Sea, Vitte House, Bavarian House, Swabian House.

With the catalogue of model houses, representatives from the county council travelled around Germany in 2000 and 2001 to offer former guest workers the opportunity to return to their home country. The possibility of acquiring an inexpensive plot of land was intended to honour the contribution made to Korea’s economic development. The county council explained the concept of the German housing estate in Namhae to the now German-Korean families: The plan was to build a “pure housing estate” with German-style houses where the couples could spend “a restful retirement”.

This is what had been promised by the county council, that Dogil Maeul is a retirement village, that one can live here in peace, with medical care and so on…”

Interview 2019, Ilter couple, 80 and 79, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

The builder-owners were assured that they would be allowed to offer overnight accommodation for tourists in their houses, but that they could not set up any commercial businesses. The county council carried out the drawing lots for the sites on the 90,080-square-metre area and undertook the infrastructure development including roads, water supply and sewerage. 53 sites were sold.
Between 2002 and 2009, 33 German-style houses were built. Already during the construction phase, a documentary about Dogil Maeul was broadcast on Korean television in 2003. Immediately after the broadcast, hundreds of tourists pushed their way through the streets of the German Village.

Well, this also caused some anger; many tourists thought, perhaps still think today, that these plots of land and these houses were built by the state and we live here for free, so to speak as museum inventory or as exhibition inventory, as a zoo, so to speak, and everything is open to tourists. They have been trampling around the gardens; you could see that. Front doors are usually not locked here. People just opened the door and came in, and suddenly there’s a stranger standing in your living room.

Interview 2019, Ilter couple, 80 and 79, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

After the series Couple of Trouble was broadcast in 2006 and the film Ode to my Father in 2014, the number of visitors increased. Today, about one million tourists from different regions of the country visit the village every year.1

“In the beginning there were 500 to 1,000 people per day at the weekend — and now it’s 3,000 per day.”

Interview 2019, Meissen couple, 81 and 82, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

“On weekends or holidays, most come from nearby regions, for example JinJu, Yeousu, Gwang Myeung, Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon. However, on long weekends, they also come from Seoul or even more distant regions.”

Interview 2019, Jin Peung Park, Namhae county council

It quickly became clear that there were no possibilities for tourists to spend money and also no parking spaces for them. The residents complained that their village was not a real German village, because it lacked a bakery, a butcher’s shop and public places to spend time and meet people. Former freight forwarder Mr Meissen and his wife Yongso, who have been living in Dogil Maeul since 2005, had originally planned to open a bakery and a sausage shop in Dogil Maeul to earn some extra money to top up their pensions. They had brought everything needed for this from Germany: a baking oven, German flour, a smoking oven and the recipe for Thuringian sausages.

“And now they prohibit us from selling bread and sausages here in the village. We will fight for it. If we have to, we will go all the way to the Korean Supreme Court.”

Interview 2019, Meissen couple, 81 and 82, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

However, the Namhae county council designated the village as a “purely residential area”, which prohibits the establishment of commercial businesses. In 2014, in response to complaints, the district administration realised the market square with a church tower, restaurant, souvenir shop, snack bar and a museum that focuses on the history of miners and nurses in Germany. All shops are managed by the county council. A community house was built for the villagers, where they are allowed to take turns running a snack bar.

“It is actually still prohibited to open any kiosks or shops here, except for the market square up there.”

Interview 2019, Ilter couple, 80 and 79, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

Local property owners around Dogil Maeul recognised the tourist attractiveness and began to take advantage of it. Hence, in 2013/14, commercial buildings were constructed along the main road around Dogil Maeul, which freely interpret and copy the residential typologies in the German Village in terms of their architectural style but exclusively accommodate catering and commercial uses. Adjacent to the village, visitors now find the cafés “Danke Schnitzel – Marienkäferhaus” or “Buddy Bear”, the brewery “Perfect Life”, the “Kunst Lounge”, a butcher’s shop offering sausages and a bakery.
Other buildings along the hills, which are actually not part of the German Village, use German building decorations to feign their affiliation. For example, there is graffiti on one of the houses, depicting two trees in the colours of the German flag. The wall of another house is adorned with photos of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The boundary to the original village is blurred. The inhabitants of Dogil Maeul, who identify with their German Village because of their personal life stories, are annoyed and unsettled by this development. Through the architectural vocabulary of the German Village, there was a clear visual differentiation from the local Korean urban context (see p. XX). With the disappearance of this difference between the inherent and the foreign, one’s own identity is now being called into question. On top of that, Koreans have also been allowed to purchase land in Dogil Maeul since 2013. Houses are now often used as holiday homes. Originally, only those who had lived in Germany for at least 20 years or had obtained German citizenship were allowed to purchase a property. These were then barred from resale for 10 years. The distinction between the particular, in the sense of subtle differences (cf. Bourdieu 1987 [1979]), and the local is fading.

These developments in turn lead to spatial changes in Dogil Maeul. Residents who had built their homes on the main street now convert their garages into ice cream parlours, souvenir or grocery shops, which they partly run themselves or sublet. 

“If you walk down the main street, there’s a little shop here, a little shop there. None of them are allowed to do that. Some have even been reported to the police. Someone from the authorities turned up and put up a yellow notice, and when he was gone, they opened the shops anyway. That is not allowed. Mr Chung is not allowed to run his café either.”

Interview 2019, Ilter couple, 80 and 79, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

Mr Chung and his wife Lee only moved to the village in 2015. Together they built the “Berlin Schloss” for 10 years. The guest house with ten guest flats and a café is not a copy of the Berlin Palace, but like almost all palace buildings, it features many different styles. Mr Chung studied civil engineering at the Technical University of Berlin in the 1970s, where he also met his wife, who worked as a nurse in Berlin. He used his commission by the Namhae county council to design of the soil drainage system for the construction site to support the council in building the village for returnees, thus acknowledging that the compatriots had supported the strengthening of the economy in their home country. He sees himself as the initiator of the village. Today, the two of them operate a guesthouse and a café. On busy weekends, their daughters come from Seoul to help in the café.

The backdrop of the “Berlin Schloss” is used by more and more newly-wed couples to take their wedding photos in the garden of the palace. Similar to Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a traditional neighbourhood in Seoul and is also used as a backdrop for wedding photos, wedding tourism has established itself here.

In addition to the commercial and gastronomic accumulations around Dogil Maeul, a theme park has been built nearby, which also benefits from the tourist attention. The theme park’s website ( advertises the proximity of the German Village. To further promote the tourist attractiveness, the region has created other tourist hotspots: the American Village, which was founded by Koreans who had lived in the USA and is situated about 30 kilometres from the German Village; the Yongmunsa Temple, where tourists can stay overnight; and the terraced fields, which were originally carved into the mountainsides to enable agricultural cultivation of garlic.
The spread of a “German” architectural style can also be observed in other villages in Namhae county. An adaptation of the local to the non-local has taken place.

“And behind you there is one with a brick façade, and here is one that is actually built in the very traditional way; it has an Asian roof but also red tiles and a white wall. […] They used to have black roofs, traditional Korean roofs built using the Korean method. But because it is located close to the German Village, it has a red roof.”

Interview 2019, Ilter couple, 80 and 79, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

Right to space — spatial communication

Since 2018/19, international tourists, for example from Australia or France, have also been visiting the German Village. The number of tourists has grown to such an extent that the situation threatens to escalate. Traffic is almost unmanageable: parking spaces are overcrowded, the residents of Dogil Maeul are stuck in traffic jams to get to their houses. Moreover, they feel that their privacy is impinged upon. The ban on selling products, i.e., profiting from tourism, bothers them. Some residents are threatening to go on strike:

“If we are a ‘purely residential area’, not a single tourist has any business here. We go so far — if [the village] is not converted into a ‘mixed-use area’ by a certain date, we will close Dogil Maeul. That means we’ll block the road with our cars, and no cars can get through.”

Interview 2019, Meissen couple, 81 and 82, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

Returnees and migrants are facing developments that they had not expected beforehand. Expectations they had have not been fulfilled. This leads to conflicts. This case illustrates that re-figuration entails unequal power balances (cf. Löw 2002; Knoblauch/Steets 2020). The inhabitants of Dogil Maeul claim for themselves sovereign knowledge about “German” life and “German” products. Along with this, they claim the same rights as the local landowners, namely to profit from tourism.
If one now considers the situation as a “second-order observer” (Luhmann 1989: 10), the respective reaction of the spaces — of local and non-local spaces — to existing activities is to be understood as spatial communication. According to Luhmann, social systems are also networks of communication: they operate and are active by connecting specific communications to each other (cf. ibid.: 13). The activities of local property owners were thus an operation, a specific communication that followed on from the development in Dogil Maeul. By transforming their garages into shops, the residents in turn reacted to the development outside their system. A recursive communication of local and non-local systems has taken place.


“Migration and tourism are poles in a continuum of temporary mobility that encompasses all current forms of being out and about. A look at this continuum can show how complicated the mobile lifestyles of globalisation are, in which work and leisure, settledness and travel, this place and that place merge.”

Holert/Terkessidis 2006: 240

Tourism researchers C. Michael Hall and Allan Williams have already identified a nexus between tourism and migration (cf. Hall/Williams 2002: 10). This means that, on the one hand, tourism can act as a cause of migration, as was demonstrated in Stefanie Bürkle’s Migrating Spaces project (cf. Bürkle 2016a), but on the other hand, migrants can also draw attention to certain areas. In the case of Dogil Maeul, mediatising played a major role in the transformation from a “quiet village for retirement” to a tourist hotspot. The residents interviewed confirmed that the documentaries and series broadcast on television and the images disseminated on social media and websites are the main drivers of tourism.

“You can see our house on the internet, and customers then enquire whether they can get to know Germans. Then they visit us. […] So we are an advertising magnet.”

Interview 2019, Ilter couple, 80 and 79, in Dogil Maeul since 2005

Some residents live at the interface between migration and tourism because they use Dogil Maeul as a second home and, as shuttle migrants, only spend time here every six months.
Even in times of the coronavirus pandemic, tourists visit Dogil Maeul; although they do not stay overnight, they use the trip as an escape from everyday life, to escape at least briefly from the frightening situation and to dream of their future living situation with a house and garden, as exemplified by the couple in the series Couple of Trouble.

1 Cf. (last accessed 12.12.2020).

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