"German-Turkish Exchange has Never been a One-way Street"

On April 22, Federal President Steinmeier gave a speech at a cultural evening at the Tarabya Cultural Academy in the historic summer residence of the German ambassador

April 23rd, 2024
Editorial, News from Berlin
20240423 German-Turkish Exchange.jpg

I am reliably informed that Turks love the phrase “round about”. So I want to get in your good books straightaway by announcing that I am going to talk to you for round about five minutes.

When I came here for the first time many years ago, I was dazzled. This heavenly spot is unique and not only because of its breath-taking location directly on the shores of the Bosphorus. For in this ever vibrant city, Tarabya almost seems like a spa resort. This park also shows how far back the close relations between Turks and Germans go. In 1880, Sultan Abdülhamid II gifted it to the German Empire – in the expectation that the friendship would continue to grow. German-Turkish relations could not but grow and flourish in such imposing surroundings! And that was certainly the idea behind it.

Relations between our countries not only stretch back far but are extremely multifaceted. We have been closely linked for one hundred years. Germany is Turkey’s most important trading partner in a common customs union. And in the sphere of foreign policy, too, we are working together closely – in NATO and, at present, we are also cooperating closely in the face of the dramatic and highly dangerous crisis in the Middle East.

However, we not only have shared economic and political interests. German-Turkish relations thrive on the personal ties that have developed over centuries. They have thrived thanks to Bosphorus Germans and Almancis, as well as artists and academics engaged in close exchange, as we can see this evening. With its many programmes and scholarships, Tarabya Cultural Academy plays an important role when it comes to preserving cultural and civil-society spaces. But foundations, NGOs and the Goethe-Institut are also reliable partners and key platforms for exchange – for that I would like to thank you!

German-Turkish exchange has never been a one-way street. German architects of international renown such as Bruno Taut or Berlin’s former mayor Ernst Reuter found refuge here in Turkey after 1933 and helped to build the young republic. German-Turkish relations are still visible everywhere today, in Ankara’s streets and in its squares. So it would be fair to say that we Germans have been helping to shape Turkey since it was founded.

However, the almost three million people with Turkish roots are now playing an even bigger role in shaping my country. Many of them have become Germans and they are part of who we are. For a long time, many regarded them merely as Gastarbeiter, as foreigners who would only stay for a while. Even in the second or third generation, even if they were born and grew up in Germany, many only saw what made people of Turkish heritage different without recognising that they long since belong to our country. They are not people with a migrant background. Rather, our country is a nation with a migrant background! That was one of the reasons why it was important to me – ahead of the 75th anniversary of our Basic Law, ahead of our Republic’s anniversary in one month’s time – to travel to Turkey and say: your stories, the stories of by now four generations of people with Turkish roots in our country, are part of German history! This afternoon, the first port of call on my trip was Sirkeci station, where hundreds of thousands of these stories began.

Where do you come from? People of Turkish heritage are not only asked this question in Germany. Here in Turkey they are known as Almancis, Deutschländer. Where do I come from and where do I belong? A whole generation of writers in Germany with Turkish roots are addressing these questions. They include Dinçer Güçyeter, who is accompanying us on this trip and who we will hear in just a minute, Dilek Güngör, Necati Öziri, Fatih Çevikkollu, Deniz Utlu – I cannot name them all here. They were born in Germany, as children of so-called Gastarbeiter, and their novels tell of their quest for their own identity, their sense of belonging and their origins. And by recording the stories of their families and describing the wounds inflicted over generations, sometimes in an angry tone, sometimes sad, often questioning, they are also relating something about the history of the Federal Republic of Germany – and thus about all of us.

These German-Turkish authors have broken the silence of their parents. Their books are bestsellers and they are helping to shape public debate in Germany, about Germany. They are a new generation of Germans with Turkish roots who are setting the tone with a new self-confidence. These voices are helping to make this country aware of itself.

I once said that we can be at home in more than one place. How self-evident it is that you do not have to decide between two home countries is demonstrated by a passion which Germans and Turks share: football. The captains of both the German and the Turkish national teams were born and grew up in Germany as the children of Turkish parents. Ilkay Gündoğan comes from Gelsenkirchen, Hakan Çalhanoğlu from Mannheim. And who knows, perhaps their teams will play against each other during the European Championship this summer.

And there is something else that Germans and Turks love: barbecues. I am therefore pleased to invite you now to partake of the buffet prepared for us by the wonderful Istanbul chef Cem Eksi, who learned his culinary skills in Germany. I am especially pleased that Arif Keles has accompanied me on this trip. He is the third generation in his family to run a popular döner shop in Berlin’s Yorckstraße which – I have been told – is also the favourite shop of our national football team. The döner kebab, the modern form of which was created by Turkish Gastarbeiter in Berlin, is now a German national dish: no fast-food dish in Germany is sold, eaten or even exported more often than the döner kebab, which in its evolved form – in its “typical German” form it must be said – has even made it to New York as the Kotti Berliner Döner Kebab. A piece of Turkish-German everyday culture which has become an integral feature of our country and our cuisine. I will have the pleasure of preparing a döner kebab with Arif Keles in a moment.


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