On day ten I have to leave in the morning.
Even though in the beginning I had doubts about the journey, after these ten days I am flying back home with a totally different perspective on Istanbul. We both have learned so much during this trip and – especially for me – it has been a big enrichment. Despite having prepared a lot for this research in advance, the reality turned out to be more spectacular. Especially the interviews brought me a lot of new insights on the city and in particular Beyoğlu from which I have learned a lot.
We are on our way to the airport when I see the skyline of the city from the car’s window and can´t help to smile.
On day nine we want to get some souvenirs at the old bazar, walk trough old Istanbul and buy some Baklava to bring it home.
Later during the day, we sum up all impressions and information to make sure not to forget anything. We go through everything we learned during the stay before leaving. We make a structure for the documentation work back home and sort the best pictures and quotes.
In the evening we meet friends of Laura for some drinks. We sit in a park having beer, wine and some snacks. The park is full of other groups of young people enjoying the Saturday night.
We have an interesting experience later, when it comes to a dispute about a girl wearing a white dress. First we just notice yelling, but Laura’s friend explains the situation to us. The security man, patrolling in the park wants to take her to the police, because he thinks her clothing is not suitable for public space. A big discussion/fight starts and many visitors in the park attend it. Most of them help the girl, defending her from the abuse of power of the security staff.
In the end the police arbitrate the dispute, they want them to calm things down and forget about the incident…
On day eight we go to Yenikapı (translated as ‘new door’ or ‘new gate’), since it has came up so many times during our interviews because it as well as Maltepe, are the new gathering points for the mass and so we are so curious about them…
As soon as we get off at the metro station of Yenikapı, it becomes clear that we are no longer in the hip district of Cihangir where our apartment is located, in the middle of fashionable, expensive bars. The majority of the inhabitants here clearly belong to the working class. Beggars and street vendors are increasingly striking. From Laura’s friends, we get to know that Syrian and other refugees now increasingly inhabit the neighborhood, which also gives the name a further meaning. The government promised to resettle and take measures to help their integration, but here they find themselves in an unknown country with a language they do not speak, left to their fate.
Yenikapı’s land was reclaimed from the sea to create space for political mass meetings, from what we learned. As soon as we realize that we already reached the destination we burst into laughter. What of „ there is nothing“ didn´t we get? There is less than nothing… We find a huge space covered in concrete, surrounded by a fence and observed by cameras, isolated between the water and a massive highway. Only birds seem to be allowed to be there.
Several people gather at Yenikapı, not on the square –of course- but on the sea promenade to forget the everyday life on this warm Friday evening. The view is the best in this place. There are almost exclusively men, few isolated couples that sit on large rocks, fish, eat, drink, smoke or deal. From the beginning, we do not feel very comfortable among the men, because they are grouped and bored. We walk around the fenced-in square towards the park. The park essentially consists of a lawn with strictly arranged rows of trees and a straight, pragmatic route, and is almost empty without any furniture. We only can see a group of men who are just starting to end a dispute. We do not go to the park, take a few photos and disappear soon.
It is still fascinating how full the place can be in case of a political event from the government.
On day seven we work in the apartment until midday when we go to Kadıköy. Once we get there, we meet with a group of architects that took part in the Gezi Movement. They tell us about how the protest began and developed, as well as how they participated. They started different activities for the neighbors of the park as soon as they got to know about the Ottoman barracks reconstruction plan. Since they participated in the movement from the very beginning they could share a lot of information and personal experiences of that time.
About Taksim: “The government sees it as a passing point, not as a Square.”
Later that day, we take the boat back to the European side to visit the Salt Galata Library in order to search for the books recommended in the interviews. The building is old but evidently renovated. The interior is all new, modern but cozy, practical and restrained. It has reading zones with a living room atmosphere. The selection of books is extensive and well sorted; this is why we are successful.
These two text passages we found about Taksim Square and Istiklal Street in BECOMING ISTANBUL – FRANKFURT, DAM – Eine Enzyklopädie. Katalog. Frankfurt 2008. Text von Pelin Dervis, Bülent Tanju & Ugur Tanyeli.
„…Hier steigt man aus einem Fahrzeug aus und in ein anderes ein. Hier trifft man sich vor dem französischen Kulturinstitut oder dem AKM und geht an einen anderen, spezielleren Ort und zu später Stunde macht man sich wieder von hier aus auf den Weg. Man kommt hierher, man verteilt sich hier, man kommt unbedingt hier vorbei – selbst wenn es unterirdisch ist… er als Name und als ein Platz, an dem man zurückkommt, immer präsent.„
„…Das Geheimnis für den Erfolg dieser großen Fläche, der es gelingt ein Ort zu sein ohne Platz und Raum zu werden, liegt zu einem hohen Maß in dieser Unkontrolliertheit. Der Taksim mit seiner Unbestimmtheit, Vagheit, Nachlässigkeit und Schlampigkeit ist eine Haltestelle der Freiheit – ein Freiraum der niemandem gehört und der dementsprechend für die in dieser riesigen Metropole lebenden Individuen, ohne sich unruhig zu fühlen, – wenn auch nur kurzfristig – genutzt wird.“
On day six we go to Kadir Has University in Fatih to meet up with a human rights lawyer. He explained to us the legal situation in Turkey regarding freedom of expression, right of demonstration in public space, Platzverbot... as well as his own perspective and experience on this topic. The interview takes longer than expected and it becomes more an informal talk than an interview, since we are all relaxed and sharing our different ideas. Finally he even invites us to come back to Istanbul after we finish our research to present the results at his University.
”The question now is how much we will be tolerating them attacking us.”
After over three hours of talk, we have a small snack in the canteen before we travel to Mimar Sinan University, for an interview with an architect specialized in Urban Planning History. During this interview, he and his colleague explain to us – keeping it short of course – the development of the city of Istanbul since Byzantium, and later we get into detail on Beyoğlu. We end up talking about the nowadays structure of Taksim Square. After over three hours of really interesting input we have to end the discussion in order not to be late for out last appointment of the day. Before leaving his office, he gives us access to an uncountable number of historical plans, technical drawings and photos of Beyoğlu.
”They build no matter if the people will use it or not.”
During the boat trip from Karaköy to Kadıköy, the sun is setting as we slowly edge away from the old city on the European side and its beautiful skyline. The dark silhouettes of the minarets from the mosques start to fade in the fog while the sunset makes the Bosporus shine with gold tones.
Once we reach Kadıköy we meet with a Political Scientist and Artist, who takes us to a nice bar with a big garden that turns out to be a Culture Center. She tells us about her experiences as an artist and the effect of art in public space in the critical moment for the country.
”The art is going to flourish again when people have nothing more to lose.”
The day was long and stressful. We have a couple of beers in Kadıköy and get back to the apartment with a dolmuş, where we shortly fall asleep. We arrive to Taksim shortly before midnight, from where we walk home.
On day five we want to understand the importance of the Taksim Square and Istiklal Street for ourselves. Before we start our analysis we review few articles explaining the historical meaning of the area. In order to be able to record our own findings, we spend the whole day analyzing both the square and the street: we take pictures, draw maps and make audio recordings.
We find that the monument celebrating the victory of Atatürk in the Independence War – located in the convergence of the axes of the square and Istiklal – is surrounded by the construction site for the tracks of the historical Tram in Istiklal. The monument is still accessible for pedestrians through small metallic bridges. We can still find some people accessing the monument for few minutes to take some selfies.
On a fence behind the old Ottoman water pumping station, we find renderings and visualizations of the huge mosque that is currently being built there and would have a tremendous importance in the perception of Taksim.
It is so hot outside that we have to have frequent breaks for a cold limonata. During our breaks we visited some of the cafés close the shopping street. What is interesting, is that most of the nice places are in the side streets, with tables outside in the shadow of the narrow streets, instead of directly on Istiklal. We heard that it was not always like this. Years ago the Istiklal Street was a hotspot for bars and restaurants.
The entrances to the metro are small, unimpressive and often hidden by a fence of the construction site. There are loads of pigeons on the square and feeding them is a pleasure for young and old. One can find mobile stands selling Simit everywhere, also at Taksim. We notice the high number of huge advertising banners. Some are regular advertisements about universities in Istanbul, but most of them – extremely large ones – are about the anniversary of 15th July, the failed coup of 2016 or of the president. We also find a high presence of national flags, which seem to be everywhere, as if like we would otherwise forget that we are in Turkey, which is somehow even disturbing.
After the analysis of the Square we still find curious that the festival is not in the “real” Taksim, since it would offer a lot more space and possibilities and would in this way also fill the wide square with a function and life…
The AKM, the Atatürk Culture Center, is shut down and in very bad condition. As we heard from our interview partners, a new opera house is to be created.
On day four we wake up early to prepare for our first interview with a sociology professor at Yıldız University. The campus is huge and it reminds us of American university campuses. The security staff at the entrance arranges that a driver bring us to the professor´s office when they notice that we are foreigners. We learn about the historical meaning of Taksim Square and the changes during the past years, about hopes and fears.
“No matter how much you erase the historical footprint, you can not erase the society’s memory.”
For the second interview at Istanbul Technical University we are a lot more relaxed and talk about urban planning, policy of land use, the gentrification and privatization process in Istanbul – especially in Beyoğlu -, as well as the laws regarding public space and its use. This interview opens up new perspectives and gives insight into aspects, which we have not discussed so far, in a wider historical and political context.
“Public space means state space.”
After two intense interviews and a lot of new input we are exhausted, also because the city heats up strongly during the day and the humidity is extremely high. We spend the evening with pizza and beer in the garden of our apartment.
On day three we want to see some sights.
We have lunch on the terrace of Istanbul Modern, where we enjoy the nice breeze, the sunny weather and a brilliant view of the Historical Peninsula. After the lunch we go to Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace.
In the evening we go to Beşiktaş, a student neighborhood with a really relaxed atmosphere. After dinner, we go back to Taksim by dolmuş, a kind of shuttle taxi, which stops at the most important places in the city for only 2,5 Turkish liras (about 60 euro cents). On our way home we pass through Taksim again and notice that is used a lot more than during the day. The summer festival is still in progress. People sit in groups on the ground around the monument and on the tiny grassy areas next to it, having any kind of refreshments. It seems as if the people come here late to enjoy the cooler nights outside. We still wonder why they do so, since the space is not inviting at all…
As soon as our giant Türk Kahvaltısı (Turkish typical breakfast with many small dishes) is served we totally forget the all worries about the trip, security matters, visa…
Later we do some preparation and coordination work, because so far there are only a few concrete meeting points set with our several interview partners in various distant points around the city, which makes it hard to come up with a schedule for the following days.
The rest of the day is meant to get an idea of the city and take a deeper look into Taksim and Istiklal. Although I have read a lot the past weeks about Istanbul to get familiarized with the city, what I see is quite different to what I had at first expected…
The city is huge, busy but in an stress-free way and lives from the Bosporus. Water seems to be everywhere. The sea is always close and can be smelled in the air.
We have dinner in a nice passage by the end of Istiklal Street, where Turkish live music is played. While eating the music gets continuously louder until everyone starts to sing and some even dance along as well. People know the songs; they sing and clap their hands with pleasure and suddenly they start to dance. Rakı contributes to the enjoyable, loose mood.
The journey including a stop in Bucharest takes all day and it is already early evening when I arrive at the airport where Laura picks me up. We take the bus to the city. Almost all buses go to „Taksim Square“, an indication that it must be a central point in the city. The bus stops in the middle of a narrow street and we are told to get out, supposedly we are already in Taksim but I am confused though, as I cannot see anything around us looking like a square. When we get off the bus we find ourselves in a busy, narrow street with traffic passing us closely while carrying the suitcases. I immediately ask Laura about the square, who leads me there to find it finally opening up two streets further. Curious that the bus stop isn´t closer…?!
One can hear Turkish music from a loudspeaker. On one side of the square there is a summer festival in progress. People are selling traditional food and handicrafts. It is Friday night and the festival area by Taksim becomes a busy place.
I pull my suitcase down the uneven, partly under construction, Istiklal Street. Side streets are going up and downhill, frequently offering a glimpse of the Bosporus. We meet Ekin, a close friend of Laura, in front of Galatasaray School in Istiklal and he leads us the way through the labyrinth of alleys, where we lose orientation right after the third change of direction…
Our Topic for the research is “Strategies of articulation in Public Space”. For us both, Christina and Laura, elements and strategies of articulation are key factors shaping our cities and therefore, very interesting topics to be researched, well and profoundly understood.
Public space is a vital factor in our lives in many different aspects, such as social, political, as a place of free expression, as gathering point… It is therefore of vital importance to keep the public space free and democratic, to provide the opportunity to people to gather and exchange different ideas.
In the case of public spaces with strong restrictions, there is a clear connection with identity and conflict culture in the public space, liked directly to how the public spaces are shaped with diverse tools.
The articulation tools are various and all of them are made to ultimately define the identity of the cities, to welcome or unwelcome certain actors of society in the public space. The articulation methods have a clear impact in the public space and how it is used. In response to this, citizens react with the articulation forms in public space.
Our aim is to define these articulation tools and understand their influence first on the public space and ultimately in its users’ feelings and activities there.
We want to ultimately research on what does people feel safe and comfortable in the public space and what makes people avoid certain spaces to go elsewhere. We will focus ourselves on understanding how does people use the public space in case of places where severe restrictions practices in public space are being held, in our case it will be the very heart of Istanbul: Taksim Square and Istiklal street.
By the end of our research in Vienna and Istanbul, we want to be able to make clear statements about the strategies of articulation in the public space.