Goodbye Cologne

Cologne has been my tough love. How can I explain? I came to Cologne three years ago.

Whenever I go to a new city, I get an instant feeling; it is very strong, and it sits in my core. It tells me “this city is you…”  or not.  I know how it feels when a city is me. We breath together. All its faces, nice and ugly, are also mine. All its moods, high or low, are also mine. When my guests see my city they see me.
Cologne wasn’t me.  I gave us a try, three years long. It didn’t work. It’s a pity because it is a nice city. It is full of friendly, open minded and welcoming people. Besides, it is almost at the border of both Holland and Belgium and  this has an effect. There is so much interaction in between these cities due to the vicinity that people almost live together. It is like a shared flat, where each roommate brings in his unique character and cultural background. And this makes life the more interesting, at times challenging, and the more beautiful in this city.

In Cologne you will find many Belgian boutiques, cafes and  restaurants. In the grocery stores you will find much more Dutch food than in other cities. If you go out for tango dancing, your partners will be from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Maastricht even from Lille and Paris. Multicultural heaven.

In Cologne there is also a large Turkish community, which also has an effect. At least on me. All this time on all my public transport travels within the city I had to listen to many Turkish stories, about the breaking marriages, about the betraying couples, about the businesses going bankrupt. Very loudly told, very emotionally lived, all in Turkish. I know the all. I didn’t have a choice; it happens that I understand Turkish.

It is a pity that it didn’t work with Cologne and me. It is almost like, when you meet someone and admire and respect his or her personality but instantly you also know that there is no affection; and things will not pick up. This is our relationship with Cologne. In less than a week I am leaving; going to the south. Me and the south. Now, that is a passionate love affair.

So here am I again, saying goodbye to a city. I do not even know the number of times I have been in this picture; silently saying goodbye to the streets, to the shops and cafes, to the familiar faces behind the counter.
Next week the bakery across the street will sell my morning croissant to someone else. I also wonder if and when the man in that little shop where I have been buying water will realize I have stopped coming by. I will miss Museum Ludwig. I loved to go there after the work to see the paintings yet another time. It freed my mind and filled my soul.

Cologne wasn’t me, but I admire its personality. I am saying goodbye, while not believing in goodbyes. I know I will come back; I still have tandas to dance, flammkuchen to eat, friends to see; and many more Turkish stories to listen to on the trams.

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On My Roots

My friend has a hobby: he is a genealogist. So, his passion is finding out about his family roots. He is German and he has been able trace back his roots that took him to today’s Czech Republic. It is not where it stops.  And he will find it out.
I have always admired his passion, yet to me it remained as his passion.  Could not become mine. Did not think much about it either. I liked to listen to him.
Three weeks ago I met some far members of my family, whom I have not known until this age.  My ‘new’ uncle told me where my family stems from on my father’s side.  He is also interested in genealogy, and it has been important for him to find out who we are and where we come from.  
My gran-grandfather came to Turkey from central Asia, more precisely from Uzbekistan. My grandfather and father were born in Istanbul.  Grandma and granddad found each other in Istanbul.
The form of the eyes of my ‘new’ uncle is like those of a central Asian.  I recalled that occasionally few people have been telling me that my eyes are a little bit like Asian eyes, especially when I was still a child. 
My grandma on my father’s side, whom I never met, is a ‘sarayli’ my new uncle said; which literally means ‘from the palace’. So, in general she belongs to a family that lived in the Ottoman palace. She and her family are Ottomans.
My grandparents on my mother’s side come from former Yugoslavia, today’s Bosnia-Herzegovina. Grandma and granddad found each other in Adapazari, a small town one hour away from Istanbul.  
It sounds like I am a genealogical mixture: a little bit central Asian, a little bit Ottoman/Turkish, a little bit Balkan.
All of a sudden I have all this information about who I am, where I belong to, where my roots trace back to.  What I feel is relief, and comfort.  I don’t know why. Maybe because I have never felt that I had roots. I have always been on the move; I have lived in different countries, cities, continents, cultures.  It was my choice, and it made me happy. I have cherished the freedom, I still do, and being able to move and not to have to be stuck somewhere. The feeling that the entire world is my home.
I feel relief and comfort, now that know a bit better about my roots.  That I am not a ‘stray bullet’ like my grandma would have said… I am the product of central Asian, and European souls, who were seeking new homes in yesterday’s Ottoman today’s Turkish soil, whose ways and hearts crossed in and around Istanbul.
I have a friend.  He is a passionate genealogist. I understand him much better now. I understand his passion.

My Father’s Turkey

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My father always used to tell me how Turkey and Istanbul once was. His Turkey, his Istanbul. I loved to listen to his memories as if they were tales. My father used to tell me Istanbul was a place full of public beaches. Families and singles would hop on a tram, go to the next public beach and spend a nice summer day there. He used to tell me people would always dress nicely when they went out to the streets, out of respect to the others. They would greet strangers on the streets if their ways crossed. He used to tell people would discuss poetry, politics and arts at long dinners while drinking raki to the fish they ate.

My father used to tell they were proud of their young democracy, they respected those who went to mosques to pray, just as well as those who didn’t go nor prayed. Women with head covers were respected as so were those without. Nobody questioned, nobody judged. Nobody asked why their hair were so apparently visible, or why not…Things were just the way they were

My father was a kind gentleman, who never said a bad word to anyone, even if the price he paid for it was to be looked down upon or be considered a weak person. He increasingly grew sad to see his Turkey and his Istanbul descent…

He saw Istanbul’s streets getting more crowded, and then more crowded and even more crowded, so that it became impossible to greet neither the strangers nor the acquainted faces. He saw people becoming more and more disrespectful to each other because the life got more stressful as the competition for resources got higher and tougher.

My father’s Turkey was a place, where everyone were sisters and brothers,no matter what religion, what ethnicity. Everyone was proud to have had established an enlightened republic after the Ottoman Empire and the yearsof war. Everyone was hungry for knowledge and the word ‘human’ was written in capital letters.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.

A week ago I saw the Taksim Square turning upside down…I saw the demolished cars and busses, I saw the young people running away from the police as these were chasing them with pepper gas sprays.

I used to go to operas and to the concerts of the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field… I used to get on the bus that crosses the bridge to go to ‘our side’ with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…I used to go the the Borsa Et Lokantasi to eat the famous ‘doner’ and the baked milk rice pudding with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…

Then again, I saw the hopeful, determined, proud, open minded young Turks, who sat in front of the beautiful green trees of the Taksim Square to protect them from being torn down…I saw them uniting their hands, minds, dances, songs and hearts to protect the democracy in Turkey. I saw the ray of light at Taksim Square.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.