Stories of migration

Integration – Creative ideas to dispel clichés



Young German/Turkish creative professionals are taking new approaches to mediating between Germany and their country of origin: using digital platforms, as publishers – and in the kitchen.

A “model Turk” is something that Melisa Karakuş has no aspirations to be. As she puts it, she is “nothing special” and she defines identity beyond ethnicity, but without denying her ancestry. However, the many media reports on this publisher of an online magazine, renk., have meant that she has become something exceptional. In Turkish, renk means colour. And colour, in the figurative sense, is one of the subjects addressed on the digital medium that graphic designer Karakuş, born in 1989, developed for her Bachelor’s thesis at Dortmund’s University of Applied Sciences. Because her friends and many other people were so wild about the concept for this online magazine it has become something more than just a dummy. In summer 2013 renk. went online, since which time it has been reporting in German on German Turks who are making a name for themselves in art and culture and in the context of projects and events.

“It is not exactly creativity that we are renowned for in Germany”, reports the daughter of Turkish migrants. Accordingly, the magazine that sees itself as a “platform for the colourful lives of German/Turkish creative professionals” dispels clichés both visually and in terms of content. The explanation in the editorial, that renk. is a medium to expose the “state of emergency in existence between Germans and Turks”, is something that Karakuş intends ironically. In the mainstream media German Turks are usually associated with deficits. And this is something that the graphic designer aims to contrast with something positive.

Contemporary literature from Turkey

It was also a deficit that triggered creativity in Selma Wels and Inci Bürhaniye. The two sisters, born in 1967 and 1979 respectively, noted repeatedly and with some regret that there is precious little Turkish literature in German. Five years ago, after visiting the Istanbul Book Fair, they hit upon the idea “over Turkish meatballs and pilau rice” of establishing a publishing house and thus building a bridge between their “two homelands”. In 2011, with their own personal experience in mind, the fact that literature can build cultural bridges and explain a great deal about a given society, they risked a foray into a business that was foreign to both of them, founding a publishing house, Binooki, in Berlin. Business graduate Wels and her older sister Inci, who is by profession a lawyer, have now published over 20 books. And they have already received a good number of accolades, such as the Kurt Wolff endowed prize for rising to the challenge “in a great variety of ways and taking great pleasure in discovering Turkish literature”. Their publishing house’s programme includes titles by contemporary Turkish authors whose novels, thrillers and short stories present a highly diverse image of Turkish society.

“The way to integration is through the stomach”

It is also the aim of Orhan and Orkide Tançgil, born in 1973 and 1974, to dispel “Turkish stereotypes”. Some ten years ago, in his student digs far from his parents’ home, Orhan Tançgil realized that he had absolutely no idea how to make Turkish meatballs and pastries. This gave him the idea of cooking these dishes following instructions from his mother, documenting the whole process on film and publishing the videos on YouTube. Together with his wife Orkide, Orhan, by profession a media designer, has now established a food blog, KochDichTürkisch, containing not only instructional videos and recipes, but also texts devoted to the culture and the idiosyncrasies of Turkish cuisine. Moreover, via a publishing house specially established for the purpose, Doytç Verlag (Turkish spelling of Deutsch, “German”) the Tançgils publish books on Turkish cuisine as well as running a cookery studio in Düsseldorf and an online store. KochDichTürkisch also sees itself as a political statement. “We aim to share our experiences, emotions and backgrounds and to bring together people of all kinds of ethnicities and religious beliefs – through Turkish food and the culture of Turkish cuisine”, explains Orhan Tançgil. His wife Orkide puts it even more succinctly: “The way to integration is through the stomach.”

What Melisa Karakuş, sisters Selma Wels & Inci Bürhaniye and Orhan & Orkide Tançgil have in common is that they do not recognize themselves in the image that exists of them in mainstream society. And they have made it their business to straighten out the image of German Turks and that of their country of origin. For Binooki and KochDichTürkisch, this commitment culminated in a business model. This is not the case with renk. however, whose some 20 journalists, photographers, filmmakers and graphic artists are all volunteers. Karakuş cannot make a living out of her magazine, but nonetheless she invests a great deal of time in it, because she wants to make a contribution to people like her – the sons and daughters of Turkish migrant workers – not being perceived as exceptions.
Canan Topçu
is a freelance journalist working for various forms of print and online media. Her work focuses on the subjects of migration, integration and Islam.

Translation: Jeremy Gaines
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
May 2015

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