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Nostalgia Overdose – Article from PARAGRANA 20 (2011) by Akademie Verlag.

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Nostalgia Overdose: Homesickness in Wedding Ceremonies of the Turkish-German Community in Berlin*

*Published in the periodical “Paragnara: Internationale Zeitschrift für Historische Anthropologie”, Issue 20. 2011. (Heft 1). Akademie Verlag. Berlin. Editors: Christopher Wulf, Jacques Poulain, Fathi Triki

Having a focus on wedding rituals of the Turkish communities in Berlin, this research is based on the ways in which rituals strengthen community bonding within immigrants away from their homeland. When done periodically, such rituals reassure social connections within immigrant communities, while creating borders to keep others outside. Unlike weddings in Turkey, those in Germany are performed in purpose-built indoor spaces, isolated from the German community. This voluntary isolation enables the restaging of cultural codes and forms of the homeland, which often results in excess of emotions related to nostalgia. This in turn mutates cultural symbols for younger members of the immigrant community and paves the way to confused identities.

“Our festivals are the movement of the hook that serves to bind together the various sections of the straw roofing so as to make one single roof, one single word.”[1]

Home is where you feel at home. Although this might sound simple, after living away from home for so long and having made different homes in different parts of the world, it is personally the closest I can get to a definition of home. After all, the experience of home is primarily a personal issue. Secondly, it is an emotional and abstract phenomenon, which makes attempts of rational definitions almost like Sisyphus working. Therefore, I deliberately omit such definitions here, favoring a more emotional approach. Records of emotional experiences of individuals constitute the basis of this survey. The simplicity of this expression also underlines the complexity of the matter at hand. The notion of home for Turkish immigrants in Germany is complicated. The country’s large Turkish community – officially referred as “German citizens with (Turkish) immigration background” dates back to the initial labor recruitment contracts between Turkey and The German Federal Republic in 1961, shortly following the construction of the Berlin wall; hence the abrupt stop to the flow of workers from East Germany.[2] A Turkish gastarbeiter[3] who was 30 at the time is now eighty, babies of gastarbeiter fathers born in Turkey in the 60s and brought to Germany in the 70s are now reaching their fifties, their respective children who are born and raised in Germany are now in their twenties already starting to have siblings. This simple timeline suffices to show that a great portion of Turkish immigrants living today in Germany have not spent their adolescence or even a single part of their life in Turkey. With such limited social and cultural ties to Turkey it would be wrong to assume that home means Turkey for them. If we are going to talk about homesickness it is imperative that we keep this information in mind. After all how can you be homesick for a home you never had?

Then what is home for this generation of “Turkish Germans”?[4] In sporadic interviews with my Turkish German neighbors in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district upon their return from summer holidays in Turkey mostly at the hometown of the parents, I have asked younger members of the family (away from their parents) how they felt in Turkey. The majority of the answers demonstrate that they felt somewhat “different”. When asked to elaborate on it, most subjects choose to talk about the feeling of home. For instance Emir, the youngest son of the Akin family replied “People are different over there, we cannot communicate much. I didn’t feel at home, but more like a guest. We go through this every summer and I try that my father doesn’t realize my emotions. It would make him sad.” Thirty-two year old florist Hasan Yusufeli works at his family owned shop next to the Schlesisches Tor metro station in Kreuzberg. He recently made his second marriage to a Turkish girl from Malatya, a predominantly Kurdish city in the East. He had great difficulties to bring his wife to Germany, due to the harsh visa regime of the German Federal Republic. One day during our regular chats at his shop while buying flowers I asked him how things were going. He expressed his frustration about the whole process, sinking to his knees at one point almost as if he lost all hope. When I said, “Maybe it would be easier for both of you to live in Turkey?” He exclaimed “No! They will eat me there!” In Turkish slang “to eat a person” means they will fool and trick you mostly because you are naive or less cunning than the others. He continued: “I grew up here, all my family is here. Look, I have made a home here for myself.” Similar expressions chime around many middle aged Turkish Germans who see Turkey as their land of cultural origin and source of an ambiguous nostalgia but not their real home. Despite all hardships they face because of being “the other”, Germany is still the only country they think of living in. This is despite the shifts in the global economy in recent years. At the peak of labor immigration to Germany, Turkey was a poorer country with a high unemployment rate and political instability – two of the main reasons for immigration. Today, it is a prospering regional power with vast job opportunities. Nevertheless, even this fact does not seem to motivate Turkish Germans to a relocation to Turkey, as this would clearly mean leaving their own home for the home of their parents – a home whose language they cannot speak well or its social structures they cannot adapt to. The fear of being eaten by “them” is therefore no exaggeration.

One of the most disputed aspects of Turkish German culture is the insufficiency of social integration into German society at large. In a country where more and more public figures admit the failure of multiculturalism like other immigrant groups Turkish Germans also tend to live in more closed groups; that is, among themselves.[5] By doing so they collectively create “support structures” not only to lessen the pains of xenophobia that they are subject to but also to escape from the challenges of integration. The situation is complex. But on the other hand, this act of closing in is not surprising if one recognizes the fact that especially the rural Turkish society essentially consists of closed groups of family and kinship. Therefore, like the case of Turkish Germans in Germany, similar reactions are seen in Turkey within inland immigrants who move from the countryside to big cities like Istanbul. They also prefer to live in closed groups, defining their identity in terms of their fatherland and through kinship rather than by being an integrated part of the big city. Here is the clash of two different societies: one that is traditional, the other modern. To follow Henry Maine’s distinction, one in which “rights are distributed through status, taken/inherited from personal relationships and inheritance” and the other where “people act individually with the principles laid out by written and formal laws.”[6] In the case of Istanbul, the two groups who do not integrate well into each other, namely the modern and the traditional, are both Muslim and Turkish. The act of closing in is therefore not only related to differences in nationality or religion but also more to culture. These closed groups primarily try to preserve social bonds within them and maintain their own cultural values, which are often very different from other people living the modern city life. However, what is perhaps meant to be cultural preservation could gradually turn into xenophobia. This brings forth various kinds of isolation. Those who are from Istanbul know that this giant metropolis is composed of several isolated communities of inland immigrants differentiated by their place of origin, mostly from rural areas. Until recently, public transport from these neighborhoods or towns to other parts of the city has been scarce, making them segregated. The popular contemporary expression of “Istanbul: not a big city but a giant village!” proves this point. Residents of these towns still have little connection with the people living in the central parts of the city and vice versa. For example, many immigrant families feel hesitant about letting their children go to modern and more secular neighborhoods of the city such as Etiler or Beyoglu – the city’s nightlife center, stating the difference of their lifestyle.[7] In fact, this sounds similar to how some Turkish German residents of Berlin do not spend time in certain parts of the city, such as Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, etc., and how some German residents would not be crazy about lingering in Neukölln and even Kreuzberg. In other words, the path to understanding Turkish integration issues in Germany begins in Istanbul.

To come back to Berlin: as family or kinship ties on their own are not sufficient to strengthen the bonding of the “closed society” in a totally different country other forms of cultural bonding are encouraged by repetitive social gatherings. Especially those social gatherings with traditional forms are treated with more respect and meticulousness. Weddings are one of them.

Like in many cultures around the world, in Turkey weddings are considered and treated as important social gatherings for the meeting of family and kins. Abroad, especially with the lack of other such social gatherings their importance is intensified, even exaggerated. They go beyond pure nuptial ceremonies. Their social value and functions are multiplied; they become sort of glues to social bonds or chargers to the battery of the community. And there are plenty of them as the common saying among Turkish Germans proves: “Dügün eksik olmaz” (never a lack of weddings). Throughout the year, every weekend Berlin’s wedding halls are fully booked with often two weddings back-to-back, with the exception of the summer months six, seven and eight[8] when the workers often take holidays to go to Turkey, where a second wedding ceremony may be hold for the same couple.[9] Wedding guests are not only family members or close friends but consist of a larger group of people who might be little known to the host families. As it would be considered a shame to have small group of guests in your wedding the general idea is to have it as crowded as possible. Therefore, if you are a Turkish German living in Berlin you are likely to get wedding invitations as frequently as a “social butterfly” would get dinner invitations in a big city. The significance of weddings in the community is shown by the frequent use of idioms and metaphors with the word wedding: for example when two acquaintances want to say that they should be meeting more on their own initiative, they would use the expression “Düğünden düğüne görüşüyoruz!” (We see each other from one wedding to another) even though it wasn’t at a wedding that they last saw each other. But its role and frequency makes wedding a phenomenon that describes a generic form of meeting. For example, when someone refers to a happy social gathering they could refer to it as “Düğün dernek!” meaning “Wedding gathering!” A host who is receiving a lot of guests at home could say at a merry moment: “Baksana, düğün dernek oldu!” (Look! It became a wedding gathering) meaning that it became a big gathering, with stress on its positive and joyous qualities.

The wedding hall is the gateway to the crucial questions of this survey. At this point I remind myself of Victor Turner and how he in “Liminal to Liminoid” shows the passage from one social status to the other being accompanied by a parallel passage in space; a spatial movement from one place to another.[10] In the weddings of Turkish Germans in Berlin, there is also an interim space between these two territorial spaces; a threshold to be passed, a limen – the latin stem from which van Gennep developed his expression of liminality. The wedding hall is this limen, the threshold. Weddings usually take place outdoors in Turkey; in more “accessible” spaces open to the rest of public such as a village square, the garden of a family house or a space in the town like a car park etc., but in Berlin they exclusively take place indoors, namely in the wedding hall, a clearly defined space which is closed to the outside world.

Banu Kaskati (30) is the previous presenter of the popular TV program “Evleniyoruz” (We are getting married) for TD 1, which is about wedding ceremonies of Turkish Germans in Berlin. Families who will have weddings race to go on to this program. They reserve their place with Banu months in advance. During her assignment with “Evleniyoruz” between 2006-2008, she has been to over 500 weddings. I accompanied her with my video camera from time to time.[11] Years later, during one of our interviews for this survey we tried to put the wedding hall in Berlin in a relation to Turkey and Germany by making small drawings on a paper in front of us. I first sketched a drawing, which had two circles. One of them represented Turkey, the other Germany. Inside the German circle I drew a small rectangular and called it “wedding hall”, then extended two arrows from this rectangular to the Turkey circle (Fig. 1). She looked at it and said “No, it should be like this” and drew only one big circle naming it Germany. Inside this circle she placed a small circle, naming it Turkey (Fig. 2). Pointing at the small circle she said: “This is the wedding hall. It is a small Turkey inside Germany. It is our space, it belongs to us. We enclose ourselves here from the outside world. We create a small Turkey in here”, and she added: “It is a voluntary isolation”.

Figure 1                                                                         Figure 2

Banu was born in the rich coastal city of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest. Her family moved to Germany when she was nine. Along with her work for the TV station she is a graduate of Media Studies and Communication at the Technical University of Berlin. Along with her good “Istanbul Turkish” she speaks fluently “high German”, socializes with Germans as well as with people from other nationalities. Neither she nor her family is religious. Occasionally she can be my clubbing partner as well as one of the best followers of my exhibitions. She is one of those who would be called – in the popular German term – “well integrated”. Her choice of not even naming the wedding hall on the drawing and calling it “a small Turkey” is worth noticing. Although she is born in Turkey, she represents a very common idea among all generations of the Turkish German community. Even those who are born and raised in Germany still see such experiences as belonging to Turkey, just like how they name Kreuzberg as “small Turkey” – as opposed to “das kleine Istanbul” (Little Istanbul) used by the Germans. What is really referred to is the Turkish culture, not the Turkish homeland, as there is a difference. One can still be attached to Turkish culture without considering Turkey as home. Like how Robert Musil explains for Ulrich, the main character of The Man without Qualities with the words “he has fallen in love with the idea of falling in love”,[12] one can fall in love with a fantasy of the homeland, just because he/she needs to live that emotion of longing.

Inside the wedding hall there is a rigid structure which is hardly been broken. It brings to mind Rappaport’s expression “invariance of rituals”.[13] A typical wedding, which usually starts at 18:00 and ends at midnight is divided into sections that has specific names, forms and rules. These rigid rules are hardly changed. The evening starts with the greeting of guests by the parents of bride and groom. Those who enter take their reserved seats. Recorded music is played – often slow Turkish pop, mostly the youth start dancing, warming up the dance floor. Around 19:00 the couple arrives with fanfare and enters the hall under arches of torches or leaves held by maidens – a primarily Western influence. The first solo dance of the couple is made in the middle of the dance floor, to their favorite song; mostly slow Turkish pop – another Western influence. At the end of their dance, the groom opens the bridal veil with the words “You are my honor” and kisses her forehead. With this sign live music starts as the crowd gathers around them and the first ecstatic halay circle is formed.[14] This first halay goes on about 40 minutes until the dinner is served. The dinner is surprisingly short and plain. There is a rush to finish the food and continue with the dances. Dances constitute most of the wedding. Actions are more meaningful than words here. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that weddings are danced, not done. The second halay section, which lasts longer than the first one also has the elders in the circle and naturally more traditional songs are played and danced. This part is probably the one most charged with emotions of homesickness and longing. Although no alcohol is served in most of the weddings, dancers might look like that they are under the influence of alcohol. This is due to the excess of a variety of emotions led by nostalgia. On most occasions this part lasts about an hour, until the master of ceremonies announces the arrival of the wedding cake. After the couple has cut the wedding cake in typical Western style and after it is distributed to the guests, the couple performs the second and last solo dance. With the culmination of this dance, the longest part of the wedding ceremony commences and can last more than an hour. The taki (adornment) ceremony is the handing out of money and gold gifts by the wedding guests. The master of ceremonies announces every single gift over the microphone, stating the amount and the name of the giver. The money and gold usually is pinned on the wedding dresses of the bride and the groom, but in some occasions, especially when a great number of givers are expected a “table of elders” can be formed to supervise the reception of gifts. The main reason for this is that the excess amount of money and gold expected could not fit to the surface of the bridal dress, and it might also get too heavy for the bride or the groom to carry the attached gifts. The money collected at the taki ceremony supports not only the immediate families involved in the marriage, covering the wedding costs but also the whole community prospers and endures with it. For the money taken now must be returned with surplus at another wedding, making it a system of exchange of gifts that is similar to potlatch.[15] The wedding comes to a close with the wrap-up of taki. While guests slowly leave, the immediate family of the couple performs one last dance; their most emotional one. In what I used to refer as “the Cinderella effect”, by midnight the wedding hall is emptied and guest go out to the “real world”, leaving the temporary isolation behind, with all its merry memories …

This sort of invariance of wedding ceremonies is a sacred issue to the Turkish com­munity. Especially in the older generation, I experienced there is a serious concern of possible deterioration of cultural and moral codes in their community. As they see their form of weddings as a protection against this deterioration, they tend to be conservative about its structure and performance. In a process that Schechner calls “restoring the past” weddings are used to preserve the ideal form of their culture; that is, before the immigration took place. Weddings then are essentially nostalgic events.

Nostalgia is a hybrid word worth explaining. Coined by Swiss physician Johan­nes Hofer in the late 17th century while he was researching on conditions of homesickness among Swiss mercenaries fighting far from their motherland in the flat plains of Europe, it is a combination of the Greek word nostos, to return home, and algia, longing.[16] He diagnosed it as a disease of imagination that deprived the body of its normal strength: “the ailment spread along uncommon routes through the untouched course of the channels of the brain to the body, resulting in an uncommon and ever present idea of the recalled native land in the mind”.[17] The complications ranged from nausea to loss of appetite, from pathological changes in the lungs to brain inflammation all the way into an inclination to suicide. The nostalgic patient was considered to be possessed by a “mania” of longing. More interestingly for our case, the patient had an aggravated capacity for remembering things about home (such as scents, sounds, tastes, etc.) that would not be noticed by those who are back home or went unnoticed by himself if he was (living) at home. In her interesting work about the global epidemic of nostalgia, Boym summarizes some of the agents of the so-called “nostalgia disease” as follows: “Gastronomic and auditory nostalgia were of particular importance. Swiss scientists found that rustic mother’s soups, thick village milk and the folk melodies of Alpine valleys were particularly conducive to triggering a nostalgic reaction in Swiss soldiers. […] The sounds of ‘a certain rustic cantinella’ that accompanied shepherds in their driving of the herds to pasture immediately provoked an epidemic of nostalgia among Swiss soldiers serving in France.”[18] Although leeches, warm emulsions, opium and purging of the stomach were prescribed, the best remedy was to return “home”. Hence the word nostalgia first started to be used as a painful yearning to return home, and its core referent was homesickness. Its close affiliation with homeland and origin also made it akin to nationalism; an emotion turned into a movement that swiped across Europe following the French Revolution. The German heimweh, French maladie de pays and the Spanish mal de Corazon are all expressions becoming popular in this period. Following the second half of the 20th century however, with its assimilation into American popular speech the word came to define rather more positive emotions of yearning for the past, past-time or memories on a broad scale. Triggered by digital progress and globalization it now represents an emotion that underlines the human side of life, and usually pointing at its “analog” qualities. In a way it became a sort of rebellion against the modern idea of time, that is, a mixture of history and progress. As Boym argues: “It favors the part of history in this equation but it also deconstructs history by turning it into a private or collective mythology so that one can visit time like space […] In other words we can now resist the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition.”[19] That is, nostalgia takes control of us: it shapes a world on its own and makes us long for a re-visit to that world, but only temporarily and to be repeated again. It is like an addiction in this sense. From a different perspective nostalgia could be “under control”. In its most contemporary form it can be seen as one of these emotions that is consumed. Hollywood, fashion and the music industry all use and even abuse nostalgia. From the Modernist themed Titanic to eco-friendly Jurassic Park, from Vivienne Westwood’s Victorian inspirations to John Galliano’s baroque collection, from Amy Winehouse’s songs reminding us of the jazz sounds of the 50s to Grace Jones’ re-rendering of “Glam”, nostalgia is ever present in contemporary culture. Nostalgic elements attached to things make you purchase these things. So as we go along, nostalgia evolves too, taking new shapes and forms as it progresses and multiplies. It is now such a wide covering term that its “alluring object is notoriously elusive”.[20]


How do we then place nostalgia in wedding ceremonies of Turkish Germans? And how do we read it? Perhaps I shall ask the question in another way: how do they feel and read it? What do they make of it? Is the emotion in control of them or are they in control of the emotion? What emerges from this temporary and isolated experience?

People who have been living away from their homeland for a long period of time develop a certain kind of cultural conservatism that is highly emotional. When abroad, objects, songs, celebrities, news, food that belong to the homeland are attributed almost as emotional totems. When living at home the same things would have been passed without notice, since there is plenty of opportunity to reach them. For example, each time I make a homecoming and go back to Istanbul I make it a big issue to go to the hamam,[21] celebrating it to the maximum, entering it with almost exaggerated excitement and staying long hours inside, almost ecstatically. I had been doing this rather indifferently when I used to live in Istanbul – in and out and no further mention of it. Like in the example of the Swiss soldiers abroad, the mere mentioning of a certain dish from Turkey may trigger an enormous amount of homesickness for a Turkish German. Overhearing a folk song can make him/her emotional. A raki bottle on the table can create nostalgia and when it is consumed it can ease the pain.[22] Even a certain behavior, like a certain kind of hospitality found in Turkish culture but rarely seen in German culture can bring people to emotional highs, while it would be normal and ordinary in Turkey. Similar to totems, all of these entities or things are treated as having a soul that belongs to an emotionally charged geographical location. They are symbols of the homeland. They both heal and trigger homesickness. Weddings are cultural performances where several of these totems or symbols are celebrated and staged at the same time. Songs, dances, food, behavior patterns that are attributed with home all meet inside the wedding hall. Nostalgia unites all participants under one roof. Everything is done according to this leitmotif. The staging of nostalgia is not done in obvious ways such as putting Turkish flags or other national symbols around the wedding hall, or arranging image projections with pictures from the “homeland”. It happens in more performative ways. It is the attention paid to do the dances in their most correct way, that is, to stay close to the traditional form. It is the choice of the songs that the live music band plays. The hierarchies in kinship are also staged in an exaggerated way. The youth behave better in the wedding hall. They pay more attention to values of respect. In other words, everyone strives to stage the perfect family, the perfect community. The elders benefit from their temporary dominance and the respect they are generating, even though they know it is a bit manipulated. In short, tradition is revived and restaged.

However, this staging has a double effect, determined by the age of the participants: the first group are the elders and the middle aged, who have actually lived at “home” or who know it well enough. The second group are those who have not seen it except for brief visits; they were born in Germany. For the first group this staging of acts and symbols that belong to the home culture leads to an “overdose of nostalgia”. The resulting emotion is a mixture of melancholy and hope. Melancholy, because they are celebrating yet another wedding away from home, they are enclosing themselves yet another time inside and they are making themselves forget yet another time what lies outside. Hope, because the restaging of nostalgic symbols and acts gives them support to continue the hardships of living abroad. It is the hope but not the melancholy they take with them outside when the wedding ends. This collective hope will linger in the community until the next wedding, when it will be recharged. This is perhaps another reason why there are so many weddings, or perhaps why especially the elders are so enthusiastic about going to weddings of “everyone they know little or well” as my corner shop owner Halil Oturmaz told me one day. At the age of 64 he says he socializes only in weddings or in the mosque. When I asked him if meetings in the mosque or at weddings create more solidarity in the community, he replied “The weddings of course! Men and women are together there. Everyone comes! It feels like you are back in Turkey, with all your loved ones around you.” “How important are weddings for you?”, I asked and he replied: “If there were no weddings we wouldn’t have survived [this life]! We remember who we are at weddings.” For the elders, nostalgia maintains their own culture. Weddings exaggerate it. It is also this overdose of nostalgia that incites them to temporarily ignore the host culture: “We have a tough life here. We leave all those troubles outside when we go to a wedding. We are all welcoming people, but sometimes we also need to close our doors. It is necessary [here].”

The second group is more confused. Staging of nostalgic symbols brings about something else in them: a confusion about the “idea” (in the Platonic sense) of home and its consequent deformation. With the lack of several original elements such as the climate, the food and the whole atmosphere of the homeland, elders try to re-stage cultural codes in a mimetic process, with tools that do not actually belong to the homeland. This creates a certain mutation of symbols. This mutation has a concave mirror effect to those who do not know what the original role models feel like. If rituals are “mirrors” which help the participants to see their identity, then what happens if this mirror deconstructs the original image and shows us something that is different, mutated? What identity does the participant see then? And how does he react to it? Do they live in a sort of cultural limbo?

In fact they do. This is visible to anyone who comes from Turkey to Berlin, i. e., anyone who is raised up in Turkey. It is easy to see the deep identity crisis of younger Turkish Germans. It is visible in their language, a mixture of German and Turkish with a peculiar intonation and an uncommon use of words that would surprise many Turkish people. It is visible in the way they dress and manipulate their look with either heavy make-up or an excessive solarium-tan or the adjustments of their eyebrows, not only by girls but also by boys. It is clearly visible in the music they listen to which consists either of quite outdated Turkish pop songs or of completely unexpected folk tunes that would normally be attributed to much older people back in Turkey. When their elders are charged with excessive amounts of nostalgia they are naturally contaminated with it. However, they do not know the home that nostalgia is made for, so they remain confused. But during my experience with the younger generation I found that admitting confusion is not a desired situation. It is seen like a sort of defeat or impotency. Therefore, they adapt to the situation as best as they can. In this path of appropriation they walk relatively on their own, cause the elders no longer seem to be coping with their ways. Another elder I talk to regularly, Fehmi Özbek (53), who is retired from Siemens sees a widening gap between the youth and themselves: “It hurts my heart. We don’t speak the same language. They don’t listen to us, they go their own way. They are Germanified. Some people say they are more German than Germans. We are losing our identity.”

The expression “Germanification” is essential to the understanding of this state of uncertainty. It is a word mostly used by elder Turkish Germans in response to the shift of their children towards German culture. Ironically, the youth who are seen as more German than Turkish by their elders are seen more Turkish than German by the Germans, as well as the Turkish who live in Turkey. How they see themselves is yet another complication. Among many other young Turkish Germans I directed this question to Savaş Kurt (25), a corner shop owner in Neukölln who was born and raised in Germany. Savaş speaks a broken Turkish and German with that peculiar Turkish German dialect. He is a high school dropout, went in and out of social welfare several times until he was able to set up this business. He is an avid supporter of Galatasaray, the Turkish football team from Istanbul, and the team’s flag is hung between the German and Turkish flags at his shop. Preferring to speak in the second plural rather than the first personal he says: “We don’t really know who we are, but would anything change if we knew? Is it that important? All we want is that people see us as humans, not as someone with this or that nationality or culture. The Germans don’t want us in Germany, the Turks don’t want us in Turkey. So what do we do? We have to keep walking, we cannot afford to fall. ‘They kick more the one who falls’.”[23] This emotional answer I got from Savaş makes me think that the instinct of survival suppresses anything else in this social conflict. The daily life of a young Turkish German is not spent with worries of who they really are and what they are going to do about it. Theirs is a worry for staying alive and enjoying that life. On the other side, so many words are spoken about and so many politics are done on them. They are kicked to one side by their elders, kicked to another side by the German society and “side kicked” by the Turkish society. Ironically, their role models still mostly come from Turkey, and they see their cultural backbone as Turkish; a culture they know not from firsthand experience but through the filter of their family or the media. In this sense the nostalgia they feel for the Turkish home is a custom made one, which in turns proves the point of the elusiveness of this emotion in our time.


[1]     Maurice Leenhardt, La fete du pilou en Nouvelle-Caledonie. In: L’Anthropologie 32, 1922: 226.

[2]      Deniz Göktürk/David Gramling/Anton Kaes (eds.): Germany in Transition: Nation and Migration 1955-2005. Los Angeles 2007: University of California Press.

[3]     Gastarbeiter (guest worker) is the German word used to describe foreigners admitted to Germany with an emphasis on their temporality: it was initially conceived that they would stay for a limited period of time and expected to return home with the host’s gratitude. The 1965 Ausländergesetz (Foreigner Law) stated that foreigners could stay in Germany as long as they had a valid visa and continued to “serve the needs of the Federal Republic”, which is still in force today. As an example, my so called “artist visa“ given in the year 2010 states that it will “expire with the termination of the activity as a video artist.“ Interpretation of this vague concept was in the hands of various semiautonomous agencies, resulting until today in several cases of ambiguity and inequalities. The 1974 “family reunification“ law that enabled spouses to join the workers resulted in a population boom of immigrants, which reached 4.4 million in 1980. It is estimated that German citizens with Turkish ethnic background is currently 1.9 million people, composing 2.4% of the total population of 81,4 millions.

[4]     I prefer to use this expression for the following reasons: The word Turkish immigrant is no longer valid for them since they did not immigrate but were born and raised in Germany. In my opinion, the more official use of German citizens with Turkish immigrant background reflects a certain kind of xenophobia by still keeping stress on their otherness as the siblings of immigrant parents. Therefore, I find it more appropriate to follow the example of “African-Americans”, the term with which black people in the USA prefer to be called. The decision of putting Turkish in the first place, and not saying German Turks is twofold: First, “German Turk” again has a negative resonance by claiming that one has to be more German than Turkish – a bad example that is used in Israel with the official expression of “Israeli Arabs”, rather than “Arab Israelis”. Second, the pejorative expression used in turkey for Turkish people who live and work in Germany is “Almanci”, meaning the Germaner, close to German Turk.

[5]      On October 15, 2010, former central banker Thilo Sarrazin who in his controversial book accused Muslims of lowering the intelligence of German society has made the public statement “Multiculturalism is dead”. Two days later Angela Merkel, the chancellor of German Federal Republic told a youth meeting of her party that “Multiculturalism has utterly failed“. Source: Guardian newspaper, October 20, 2011.

[6]     Henry Maine, Ancient Law: Its connection with the early History of Society and its relation to Modern Ideas. London 2008: Brunton Press, p. 92.

[7]     Private interview with a taxi driver who works in the Beyoglu district because of the frequency of work in the region, but lives with family in Gaziosmanpasa, a poor suburb of mostly Alevi immigrants from Middle Anatolia. August 2011, Istanbul.

[8]     In their daily (German) speech, Turkish Germans often use numbers when referring to the months of the year, whereas native Germans would do this only in rare occasions, mostly in official correspondences. This is a broader linguistic issue that cannot be discussed in detail here. Suffice it to give one last example which may help our understanding of the nuances and problems in cultural integration: during my research I realized that Turkish immigrants not only in Germany, but also in France and Belgium do not use the name „Euro“ for money but „Lira“ – the currency of the Turkish Republic. This is the case even in Switzerland with its completely different currency.

  [9]    This double celebration is often not out of pleasure or choice but more due to the impossibility of bringing all guests to Germany, because of the above mentioned visa regime in this country.

[10]  Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York 1982: PAJ Publications, p. 25.

[11]  From these recordings I have made a three channel video (art)work called “WEDDING”. 2007-2008.

[12]  Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities. New York 1996: Vintage, p. 522.

[13]    Roy Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge 2011: Cambridge University Press.

[14]  Halay is traditionally played during wedding on the zurna, supported by a davul, but in the recent years, electronic instruments have started to replace them. Typically, Halay dancers form a circle or a line while holding each other with the little finger or shoulder to shoulder or even hand to hand with the last and first player holding a piece of cloth. It is a national dance in ArmeniaAzerbaijanIran, and Turkey.

[15]  Potlatch is a rendering of total services practiced by people of the Pacific North West coast marked by the host’s lavish distribution of gifts or sometimes destruction of property to demonstrate wealth and generosity. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth.

[16]  Johannes Hofer, Medical Dissertation on Nostalgia (1688). Trans. Carolyn Kiser Anspach. Bulletin of The Institute of the History of Medicine 2.6, Aug. 1934: 376-391.

[17]  Ibid.: 381-2.

[18]  Svetlana Boym, “The Future of Nostalgia”. New York 2001: Basic Books, p. 164 (page marks from e-book edition, based on reading device used).

[19]  Ibid., p. 191-2

[20]  Ibid., p. 197.

[21]  Hamam: Turkish bath.

[22]  Raki: a traditional alcoholic drink in Turkey and neighboring countries; called Ouzo in Greece, Arak in Arabic countries.

[23]    Turkish proverb.

Written by studioergun

January 27, 2012 at 11:13 am

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