The Berlin-Istanbul Exchange Program

by Sara · 21.05.2014 · Escapism · 2 comments

Everyone’s prais­ing our mul­ti­cul­tural Ber­lin for its eclectic mix of people. But no com­munity has left a big­ger imprint on life in Ber­lin than the Turk­ish. The fam­ous Döner, beau­ti­ful mosques and the pub­lic dis­course of integration/multiculturalism have coined the city­scape and cul­ture. The influ­ences of the Turk­ish pop­u­la­tion are far reach­ing within Ger­many, but its espe­cially in Ber­lin that they come to life in all their beauty.

Unfor­tu­nately, those bits and pieces of Tur­key are isol­ated items without con­text. I know from my own back­ground: although com­munit­ies abroad bring many neces­sary ele­ments and struc­tures from their respect­ive homes, they’re usu­ally only frag­ments of the “real thing”. So my friend Dag­mar (video editor and coolest per­son alive) and I decided to pack up things and leave for a spon­tan­eous short trip to Istan­bul. Since so many Turk­ish people in the past had prob­ably made the leap and wondered what it would be like to visit or even live in the Ger­man cap­ital, I wanted to exper­i­ence the exact oppos­ite for myself and raise the ques­tion: what is it like for a Ber­liner to visit Istanbul?

Dag­mar spor­ted her big shot bazooka cam­era dur­ing our trip and doc­u­mented all of my fail­ures in a won­der­ful little clip where you can see where we went and what we did (basic­ally, I fell a lot). There was no plan, no proper research or struc­ture to our roam­ings, but after all, that’s how we like it best. Yes, you may laugh about me.

View from the Mar­mara Pera Hotel

Istik­lal Street, the artery of “European” dis­trict Beyoglu

Istan­bul is up and com­ing, not in spite, but because of the polit­ical mood being cur­rently agit­ated. Con­flicts like 2013s Gezi Park are merely put on hold (and this could change any­time, espe­cially after the recent protests) — society is under­go­ing rapid change and mod­ern­iz­a­tion. Whatever hap­pens in Istan­bul is what hap­pens in Tur­key and ulti­mately what could hap­pen in the Middle East. I expec­ted the spirit to be like back when I vis­ited Athens dur­ing the height of the EU crisis: rest­less and flustered.

But the streets around Tak­sim were quiet dur­ing our visit, and people were gen­er­ally in a good mood. Friendly, with twis­ted and prank­ful humor, there were only wel­come signs to be seen. But as if I was to expect grave danger, people kept warn­ing me about Istan­bul. “It’s dan­ger­ous by night”, “people are super strict about clothes and alco­hol and night­life”, “there are many polit­ical restric­tions”, but none of that I noticed. I felt safe most of the time; if it hadn’t been for the news broad­casts, I wouldn’t have known there were any con­flicts in Istan­bul at all. Only very small, very assess­able cul­tural con­tra­dic­tions, mostly between East and West.

If you’re look­ing for our advice on where to go, check out our 5 cool places in Istan­bul art­icle over here.

A sym­bol of upris­ing? These stairs were painted in protest by residents.

The Gal­ata Tower in Beyoglu

What I did notice: Istan­bul has about 15 mil­lion more people liv­ing in its metro area than Ber­lin. Dodging people on the street like machine gun bul­lets, I pretty much threw away all my inten­tions of com­par­ing Istan­bul to Ber­lin. It’s impossible to see even just a little part of Istan­bul on a short, five day trip. So I dumped my “Find­ing” spirit and did what every other sane per­son would have done: I went sightseeing.

The Aya Sofia, mosque turned church turned museum.

The Aya Sofia from the inside; it’s still part con­struc­tion site.

Sul­ta­nah­met looks like some­thing taken out of a Star Wars backdrop

I don’t regret it. It’s stress­ful and I hate wait­ing in line, sure. But sight­see­ing in Istan­bul is not like sight­see­ing in Ber­lin. Istan­bul is a liv­ing, breath­ing museum of land­marks. The pan­or­amic view of the min­ar­ettes, the sun going down over the Black Sea, the Bos­phorus part­ing Europe and Asia, mak­ing Istan­bul not just men­tally but phys­ic­ally as well a very ambi­val­ent place to be right now. The mod­ern people — “white Turks”, as they’re being called — obvi­ously live on the European side of the city. The European side, that’s Bey­oğlu mostly. This is the dis­trict where things hap­pen (as opposed to Sul­ta­nah­met, the dis­trict with all the stately and mes­mer­iz­ing mosques). It’s buzz­ing. I kept ask­ing myself how someone who grew up here could not get dan­ger­ously bored in Ber­lin. Com­pared to that hustle, even acous­tics on Her­mannstraße are as dream­ingly gentle as a soft piano melody.

Most of the rel­ev­ant and inter­na­tional clubs are in Bey­oğlu. We ended up vis­it­ing Wake Up Call! off Istik­lal street (think Ku’Damm in way more crowded, lead­ing up to Tak­sim Square) on a Wed­nes­day (Trop­ic­ana Party, any­one?). It felt no dif­fer­ent than being at Farb­fernse­her, except the line up is ser­i­ous Pan­or­ama Bar techno and house. This is where things sud­denly con­fuse you: between all the mosques and churches and sights, there’s an excit­ing night­life and queer scene, but that’s not what people usu­ally asso­ci­ate with Tur­key, right? Most of the tour­ist can be seen in the typ­ical Nar­gileh (hookah) bars or, like us when we felt lazy, on the sight­see­ing bus. Our visit to the club was just a little nibble from the plat­ter of amaz­ing oppor­tun­it­ies: bars, cafés, clubs are appar­ently grow­ing out of every nook and cranny and trust me, Istan­bul has many of them. There are curfews and booze isn’t cheap, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.

The polit­ical and cul­tural infra­struc­ture won’t make Istan­bul another Ber­lin. Nobody would want that, either. Being being in Istan­bul is a 24/7 rush, I couldn’t ima­gine liv­ing here without the con­stant fear of tin­nitus. But it’s a feast for the senses, from the land­marks to the people to the shop­ping miles. Oh and, the food? For­get whatever crappy sand­wich it is you had here. If you haven’t eaten at a nice Lokanta or Mehayne, haven’t slurped mussles from the side­way stands, drunk sah­lep with cin­am­mon or dove into a mixed plate of mezzeh you know noth­ing about the vari­ety of the Turk­ish cuisine. Künefe, Turk­ish cof­fee, Lahmacun, Kum­pir, Köfte, and yes, the clas­sic Döner, too — there’s an abund­ance of street food. In Ber­lin, it seems like every­one is always look­ing for the “next big thing” while in Istan­bul, you won’t even have enough years in your life to try all of the latest little things.

Turk­ish cof­fee & Künefe

As men­tioned before, four days are not even remotely enough to exper­i­ence Istan­bul. Accord­ing to my friend Lev and his girl­friend Deniz, who moved from Ber­lin to Istan­bul last year, you could spend your life­time dis­cov­er­ing the ener­getic urban space that is the eco­nomic and cul­tural cap­ital of Tur­key. Many things are left on my to do list: hang out in Cihangir, stride through Gezi Park, visit Prin­cess Islands, check out Min­iM­uzik­hol, go shop­ping for fake products, eat out in fine and upper class res­taur­ants, see the West­ern Dis­tricts and most import­antly: finally hike over to the Asian side to see the sup­posedly calmer parts of Istanbul.

I’m not stress­ing though. I’m com­ing back. Now that all of the exas­per­at­ing sight­see­ing has been done (it’s really dif­fi­cult to be in Istan­bul and not pay a visit to the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque or the Aya Sofia — you just try!), I can finally plan my first “real” voy­age to Istan­bul. Maybe ten days in Septem­ber? We’ll see.

Not just a museum of land­marks, but of graf­fiti, too

We never figured out what this was. The guy wasn’t break­dan­cing, he only did this one move and the ran­dom people behind him had to clap.

Between the mar­kets you’ll have to dodge people like bullets

The Bos­phorus tour (nice view from the water which should only be con­sidered in sun­shine) yiel­ded new friends.

Traffic is insane dur­ing rush hour, but infra­struc­ture is good: trams, met­ros, taxis, busses, minibusses, fer­ries are available.

A won­der­ful view can be caught from anywhere.

Fists of Ber­lin, Istan­bul version

See also our five top spot recom­mend­a­tions in Istan­bul.

One comment
  1. sen­sa­tion­eller Clip!

What others had to say about it

  1. […] had the pleas­ure to go and find Istan­bul a couple of weeks ago. You can read everything about our exper­i­ences in this rather elab­or­ate art­icle. Our short trip was full of sur­prises and we found many places that were worth recommending, […]