Turkish Scene

Compiled by Menekşe Toprak
  • 1. Regenbogen Buchhandlung (Gökkuşağı Kitabevi) Berlin
  • 2. Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek
  • 3. binooki Verlag
  • 4. Yunus-Emre-Institut Berlin - Türkisches Kulturzentrum
  • 5. Online-Magazin: Renk
  • 6. Maxim Gorki Theater
  • 7. Namık Kemal Bibliothek – Wilhelm Liebknecht Bibliothek
  • 8. Ballhaus Naunynstrasse
  • 9. Tiyatrom
  • 10. Alte Liebe
  • 11. Berlin locations as literary settings
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Menekşe Toprak

Born in Kayseri, Turkey, Menekşe Toprak came to Germany with her parents when she was 9 years old. She went to high school in Ankara and later studied at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Ankara. Since 2002 she has been working as a freelance author and radio journalist between Istanbul and Berlin. She writes in Turkish, stories and novels, yet also loves to read in German. Her collection of stories Valizdeki Mektup (The Letter Inside the Suitcase) was published in 2007, followed by Hangi Dildedir Aşk (What Language Has Love) in 2009, and her debut novel Temmuz Çocukları (July Children) in 2011. Her latest book, Ağıtın Sonu, was awarded the prestigious Duygu Asena Prize for the novel of the year 2015. The German translation of the novel will be published under the title Die Geschichte von der Frau, den Männern und den verlorenen Märchen by Orlanda Verlag, Berlin, in the autumn of 2017.


Before I moved to Berlin from Ankara, I knew the city from literature. I knew the golden 20’s from Sabahattin Ali’s novel Madonna in a Fur Coat, I knew Berlin’s melancholy side from texts by Tezer Özlü, who spent a good deal of time in Berlin starting in the late 1970’s, I knew the boat restaurant Alte Liebe from Özlü and from Tomris Uydar, whose short stories I greatly admire. Yes, Berlin was familiar, even if my images of the city were perhaps fictional and nostalgic. But then I had experiences of my own. First in Kreuzberg, working in a Turkish bank. It wasn’t a good experience: the business of money is cold and not pretty. But soon I got to know another city. I met Turkish authors like Gültekin Emre and translated texts for his magazine Şiir-lik into Turkish, trying through this work to understand how young Berlin writers write. And when after two years I ended my career in banking to report on Turkish literature for the Turkish desk of Radio multikulti (RBB), Berlin became the place I’d dreamed of. And finally, I had more time to write. I still report (though a bit irregularly) on Turkish and German-Turkish literature in Berlin for the Turkish desk of Radio Cosmo (WDR). I know from this work that it’s not easy to fully represent a particular Turkish scene in Berlin, and so here I’m making a distinction: I’m listing only places, streets, cafes, etc. where texts written in the Turkish language make an appearance. And not, for example, German texts by authors with Turkish names. In that case, I wouldn’t be able to leave out Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s beautiful texts, or the complex works of Zafer Şenocak. Nor could I omit debuts by Fatma Aydemir or Deniz Utlu, whose young protagonists live in Berlin. But in my opinion these works belong to German literature, even if their authors and most of their protagonists bear Turkish names. At the same time, it wouldn’t be right to report on a Turkish literary scene without mentioning these Berlin authors. For just as Zafer Şenocak invited many Turkish authors to present their work in Berlin in the nineties, Deniz Utlu does so today. The Turkish literary scene is in flux. Many places, like the Namık Kemal Library, have closed. Programs like Radio Multikulti that offered weekly reports on Turkish literature are no longer broadcast. But new institutions and new opportunities are arising. More and more books are being translated into German, more and more Turkish authors invited to Berlin. Turkish literature is more present in Berlin than ever, and it is becoming more and more a part of the German language.

Regenbogen Buchhandlung Berlin
Adalbertstraße 3
10999 Berlin

1. Regenbogen Buchhandlung (Gökkuşağı Kitabevi) Berlin

The Regenbogen bookstore at Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg is small, but it gives a good overview of the goings-on in the contemporary Turkish literary world. The store is owned by Metin Ağaçgözgü, who started out peddling Turkish books in Berlin in the 80’s. Ağaçgözgü, who now lives partly in Istanbul, places the orders himself and is, like his colleague Sinan Şimşek, very well-informed. Even if a new release isn’t available the same day, it can be ordered and received within a week. For those interested in reading Turkish literature in German, the store is also a unique resource, as eventually all books translated from Turkish to German make their way onto the shelves here. Regenbogen organizes monthly readings in Turkish, which take place next door in the Wilhelm Liebknecht Bibliothek. The Liebknecht Bibliothek is also one of the municipal libraries that lend Turkish books.

Blücherplatz 1
10961 Berlin-Kreuzberg


2. Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek

The best-represented language in the foreign-language section of the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek (American Memorial Library) is Turkish. Though the selection of books has shrunk in the past years, this is the only library in Berlin whose collection is consistently updated with new releases. Turkish daily newspapers are available in the periodicals section, including Cumhuriyet and the Turkish-Armenian paper Agos, which isn’t available on German newsstands.  

Die Verlegerinnen Selma Wels und İnci Burhaniye

Verlag Binooki
Motzstraße 9
10777 Berlin


3. binooki Verlag

Binooki Verlag, which specializes in translations of new Turkish literature from Istanbul, was founded in 2010 by sisters Selma Wels and Inci Bürhaniye. The aim was clear from the beginning: to translate the Turkish novels and stories that the publishers themselves wanted to read, according to an interview. Highly recommended is Die Haltlosen, a magnum opus of modern Turkish literature by cult author Oğuz Atay, which appears in its first German translation, despite its reputation as an untranslatable work. The sisters received the 2017 Kairos culture prize for their efforts.

Yunus-Emre-Institut Berlin
Türkisches Kulturzentrum
Kronenstraße 1
10117 Berlin


4. Yunus-Emre-Institut Berlin - Türkisches Kulturzentrum

The Yunus Emre Institute is one of 30 cultural centers worldwide founded in 2009 by the Turkish Ministry for Culture. Since 2015 the Berlin branch has offered language courses, readings, lectures, films, concerts, exhibitions, and workshops. Until early 2017, famous authors such as Latife Tekin or the mystery writer Ahmet Ümit were invited to Berlin for readings and panels. It would be nice to see these readings return to the programming.

Online-Magazin: Renk
Colbestrasse 1
10247 Berlin – Friedrichshain


5. Online-Magazin: Renk

“Renk” means “color,” and is the name of a German-Turkish online magazine focusing on art and culture. The magazine’s team describe themselves as young, diverse, and creative. The magazine is published in German and English, but concentrates on the German-Turkish art- and literature scenes. The magazine features interviews with young German writers of Turkish heritage, for example, as well as reviews of translated Turkish books.


Maxim Gorki Theater
Am Festungsgraben 2
10117 Berlin


6. Maxim Gorki Theater

Since 2013, under Shermin Langhoff’s direction, the Maxim Gorki Theater has been an important center for post-migration theater. The theater often stages immigration stories that break with cliché, for which accomplishment it was voted 2016 theater of the year (together with the Volksbühne on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz). Turkish literature in German also finds a home here: for example an adaptation of Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow, directed by Hakan Savaş Mican. Can Dündar, a Turkish writer living in exile in Berlin, writes a column on theater for the Gorki. Readings and literary conversations with authors who have been translated into German such as Ece Temelkuran, Yavuz Ekinci, and Can Dündar are moderated by the Berlin author Deniz Utlu.

Namık Kemal Bibliothek – Wilhelm Liebknecht Bibliothek
Adalbertstraße 2
10999 Berlin (Kottbusser Tor)
Tel: 030 50585225

7. Namık Kemal Bibliothek – Wilhelm Liebknecht Bibliothek

The library that opened in 1974 in Haus Bethanien (Mariannenplatz; Berlin-Kreuzberg), whose collection primarily featured Turkish media, was named after Namık Kemal, an important Turkish writer. In 2001, the library, which certainly boasted one of the largest Turkish-language collections outside of Germany, closed. The majority of the books were then transferred to the Wilhelm-Liebknecht Bibliothek at Kotbusser Tor, earning that library its second name of Namık Kemal Bibliothek.

Ballhaus Naunynstrasse
Naunynstr. 27, 10997 Berlin


8. Ballhaus Naunynstrasse

Ballhaus Naunystraße opened in 1863 in a Wilhelminian building as a dance hall, and was used until the end of the 30’s as a space for private functions. Now the domain of the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, since 2008, under the direction of Shermin Langhoff, Ballhaus Naunystraße has been a center for artists, primarily those of immigrant background. Since Langhoff’s move to the Maxim Gorki Theater in 2013, the institution has continued its work with a new team, in cooperation with the theater.

Alte Jakobstraße 12
10969 Berlin
Tel: 030-6152020


9. Tiyatrom

Tiyatrom (“My theater”) is a primarily Turkish-language theater in Kreuzberg, which has been in operation since 1984. Among its offerings are works for children by Turkish authors like Aziz Nesin. Tiyatrom also occasionally hosts readings and political discussions in Turkish. Simurg, a group which organizes philosophical discussions in Turkish, often meets here as well.

Restaurantschiff Alte Liebe
Havelchaussee 107
14055 Berlin


 Tezer Özlü (1943-1986)

Türkisches Buchcover von Alte Liebe


Tomris Uyar (1941-2003)

10. Alte Liebe

“Alte Liebe” (Essay by Menekşe Toprak)

On a sunny July day in Berlin I wait for the 218 bus. I’m on my way to a boat that has been anchored in Turkish literature for at least thirty-five years. Tezer Özlü, Turkish literature’s famous melancholic, described the ship as an old bar in her story “Eski Sevgi,” (Alte Liebe/Old Love), which was written during her time in Berlin in the 1980’s. Özlü’s contemporary and friend Tomris Uyar, an important master of the modern Turkish short story, described it as a grand café-bar in her story “Alte Liebe: Küçük Akşam Müziği” (Old Love: A Little Night Music). And so for me, as for thousands of other readers, I knew the boat in Ankara before I’d even set foot in Berlin, and I knew it as it was described in these stories. This boat, moored on the bank of the Havel for fifty years, fascinates me, as if even the name Alte Liebe is whispering a story. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve come here since I’ve lived in Berlin—with writer friends visiting from Turkey, or to quench my thirst for a bit of green.

While I wait for the bus in the humid weather, the air rich with the smell of linden blossoms, I wonder which time period I’ll be travelling in. If by a chance an old-fashioned bus comes—Tezer Özlü describes it in her story as a “butterfly bus”—I’ll give myself over to the sixties, the bus’s own era. But who knows, perhaps I’ll also drive towards, in Tomris Uyar’s words, a childhood of black-and-white romance films. If I board a regular bus, on the other hand, I’ll remain in today’s world, in my own time. But no, I’m granted a nostalgic double-decker.

I sit on top, all the way at the front. As we leave the highway with its awful traffic behind us, in Tezer Özlü’s words, and turn onto the Havelchaussee, the city feels far behind us, as if it wants to be forgotten. Now we’re driving over a narrow, curvy road through the woods. Suddenly I’ve lost my sense of time. Neither past or present. The branches that tangle towards each other overhead brush the windows and roof of the bus. The sun withdraws, then breaks through the branches again and hits me full in the face. We snake through the timelessness of nature, even if only for twenty minutes.

At first glance the boat, anchored on the riverbank and surrounded by green, also elicits a feeling of timelessness. But no, it too has changed—like me it’s settled down and become at home in this city. Until a few years ago the boat was boarded by means of a wooden gangway; now it’s connected to the shore by a concrete terrace. The rooting process is complete: the boat can never again set sail.

In Tomris Uyar’s story Alte Liebe is a grand café-bar; in Tezer Özlü’s it’s an old lounge with a third-world shabbiness to it. If you ask me, today it’s a boat restaurant famous for tasty German and German-inflected food. At the same time, with its new terrace and its wooden tables and chairs, it feels like a fish joint with an ocean view somewhere in Istanbul or on the Aegean. While Tezer Özlü mourns the loss of an old friend with whom she can never again visit this place—a melancholy consideration of the coldness of death, Tomris Uyar imagines meeting an old lover on the boat. When I first came here fifteen years ago, a young reader with a passion for literature, it seemed to me like the place in Uyar’s story: the sky lead-grey, the boat rocked by the choppy river waves, the tables covered in white linen. Just like in the story, is smelled like old love, living up to its name: coffee, vanilla, chocolate, apple peel, cinnamon. And just like in the text, proud old ladies sat at the tables, silent as if at a ceremony.

The space inside still looks as it did before, even if pale mauve tablecloths now substitute for the white ones. But the old smells are gone, as are the people from back then. The officers’ wives in Uyar’s story—the old women I saw fifteen years ago—could be the last women who lost their husbands in the Second World War. I never met the stocky, portly waitress with white skin that Tezer Özlü describes, but now there’s a cheerful waiter who could be the son or grandson of the immigrants who appeared in her story as Turks with sad faces and headscarfs. The boat, like Berlin itself, had to adjust to the spirit of the times, had to make itself younger and more colorful.

I think of the two stories and of my first days in Berlin, a time of loneliness, and I feel like I’m trying to conjure up this sense of melancholy. But both Tezer Özlü’s and Tomris Uyar’s pessimism and my own former gloom remains hard to grasp. Perhaps it’s because of the sunny summer day, such a rarity in Berlin, and hardly there before it’s gone. Or because Berlin itself—home to the loneliest people in the world, home to its very own unique people, described as they were in the story—has changed. It lacks the Wall, it lacks immigrants with sad faces, and it lacks old war widows. Who knows, maybe it’s just because I now feel at home in this city. Sailboats big and small pass by, people walk dogs on the bank, in a nearby inlet a woman emerges from the reeds and walks to the water. The water, bordered by the mighty woods, its own color greening along the banks, flows towards the Wannsee. Once again, my sense of time and space relaxes its grip, if only for a little while.

Sabahattin Ali (1907-1948), hier 1929 in Berlin

Sabahattin Ali: Die Madonna im Pelzmantel

Dörlemann Verlag, Zürich 2013.
Aus dem Türkischen von Ute Birgi


Der Berliner Autor Zafer Şenocak, an der Spree in Berlin, 2016.​

Zafer Şenocak: Deutsche Schule
Aus dem Türkischen von Helga Dağyeli-Bohne
Dağyeli Verlag, Berlin 2012


Barbaros Altuğ: Es geht uns hier gut
Orlanda Verlag, Berlin 2107
Aus dem Türkischen von Sabine Adatepe


Gültekin Emre

11. Berlin locations as literary settings

Sabahattin Ali: Madonna in a Fur Coat (Novel)

In the last few years, young Turkish readers have rediscovered the novel Madonna in a Fur Coat, by Sabahattin Ali, which is set in the Berlin of the roaring twenties. Sabahattin Ali’s protagonist, the shy Raif Efendi, comes from Ankara to Berlin to learn the soap-making trade. He falls in love with the slightly masculine-seeming Maria Puder, whom he encounters for the first time in a self-portrait in a gallery. The woman, whom he reveres as a kind of Madonna, then appears as a dancer in a bar on Nollendorfplatz. Dreaming and in love, Raif Efendi lives in a pension on Lützow Straße, strolls along Kurfürstendamm, watches young gay men in red boots waiting for customers in front of the KaDeWe department store, walks to Nollendorfplatz, sits in the Tiergarten, or wanders through the Botanical Garden and talks with his beloved Maria Puder of love, loneliness, and the meaning of life. Through her he discovers the nightlife and the artist scene in Berlin: how in places like the Romanisches Café (then Kurfürstendamm 238, now Budapester Straße 43) during the day young artists sat in groups having loud discussions and at night the pleasure-seeking rich women hunted young men.

Zafer Şenocak: The German School (Novel)

The Berlin writer Zafer Şenocak usually writes in German. But in addition to poems, he wrote four of his novels in Turkish. Alman Terbiyesi (“The German School”) tells the story of the officer Salih Bey, who comes to Berlin in 1900 for training. In one scene Salih and the military attaché Enver Bey (later the Young Turk Enver Pascha) ride through the Tiergarten philosophizing on the sensitivities of Germans and Turks. The novel raises questions that are still relevant today.

Barbaros Altuğ: We’re Doing Well Here (Novel)

A novella on the Gezi movement, whose heroes are now in for Berlin. Ali, Eren, and Yasemin demonstrated for more freedom on the streets of Istanbul during the Gezi protests, but are now discouraged, living in exile in a shared flat in Mitte and spending time in the cafes around Rosenthaler Platz. Yasemin works at the Michelberger bar on Warschauer Straße and likes to buy almond cake from KaffeeMitte on Weinmeisterstraße.

Berlin’de Türk Edebiyatı (Turkish Literature in Berlin) and the poetry magazine Şiirlik by Gültekin Emre

The book Türk Edebiyatında Berlin (“Turkish literature in Berlin”) was put together by the Turkish poet Gültekin Emre, who has lived in Berlin since 1980, and published in 2000. From national poet Mehmet Akif to texts by authors well-known in Germany, such as Zafer Şenocak and Aras Ören, the book includes 56 entries, from the 18th century to the end of the 20th. All wrote about Berlin. In addition, for 5 years, Gültekin Emre was the publisher of Şiirlik, a magazine that published works by young Turkish poets from Berlin and Turkey, and poetry translated from German. The editors met in the Café in the Schwartz Villa in Steglitz (Grunewaldstraße 55, 12165 Berlin). Emre still likes to meet colleagues and friends for coffee in the café. http://kitap.ykykultur.com.tr/kitaplar/turk-edebiyatinda-berlin

Aras Ören: “What is Niyazi doing on Naunystraße” (long poem) 

Is Aras Ören a German author or a Turkish one? This question was perhaps answered quite early with a prize: for Ören, who has lived in Berlin since 1969, was the first winner of the Adelbert-von-Chamisso Prize for German literature by writers of non-German-speaking background. He won the prize despite the fact that he writes in Turkish, and collaborates on the translation of his books into German. He became known more quickly in Germany than in Turkey, since his texts get translated very quickly. For Ulrich Gutmair, Aras Ören’s work is the work of the first German author who writes in Turkish. His most well-reviewed long poem, “What is Niyazi doing on Naunystraße?” is the first literary text to talk about Turkish immigration in Germany. The setting, as the title suggests, is Naunystraße in Kreuzberg. As Ingeborg Drewitz wrote in the Berliner Tagesspiegel of December 16, 1973: “Aras Ören has succeeded in portraying the tension between the bleak surroundings of Naunystraße and memories of Turkey, which have solidified into an illusion over the years, as well finding powerful images and storylines for the illusions of a life in Germany and social reality in Germany—testifying to the Odyssey of the Turks in Germany, and more, testifying to an experience that will find resonance not only in Turkey.”
Aras Ören recently published a collection of his early works, called “We New Europeans,” with Verbrecher Verlag.
The author’s archive was made publicly available through the Berlin Academy of Arts in 2014.