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Kulturakademie Tarabya
The Most Beautiful Workplace on the Bosporus

The Villa Tarabya in Istanbul
The Villa Tarabya in Istanbul | Photo: Baris&Elif

The German-Turkish Kulturakademie Tarabya is a retreat in the middle of Istanbul. Its impressive beauty inspires artists, musicians and architects – a true success story. The Goethe-Institut is responsible for curating Kulturakademie Tarabya.

By Rainer Hermann (Kunstakademie Tarabya: Der schönste Arbeitsplatz am Bosporus. Published on 25.07.2019. All rights reserved. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt. Provided by Frankfurter Allgemeine Archiv.)

Showpiece of German foreign cultural policy

Filmmaker Jan Ralske is one of more than eighty scholarship holders who have worked as artists at Tarabya since 2012. The Kulturakademie on the northern bank of the Bosporus is a showpiece of German foreign cultural policy. On the initiative of the Bundestag, it was founded to promote artistic exchange between Turkey and Germany. It is managed by the Foreign Office. Every year it houses up to twenty artists who work and live in Germany.
The Kulturakademie is housed in the historic summer residence of the German ambassador to Turkey. It was donated to the German Reich by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1880. The complex, built in local style of wood and situated on large wooded grounds, is one of the most beautiful properties of the Federal Republic of Germany abroad. The grounds contain an historic cemetery where more than 660 soldiers are buried who died in allied Turkey during the First World War, the German-Turkish Chamber of Commerce, a German kindergarten and the Kulturakademie with seven flats as well as rehearsal rooms and studios.

Cosmology in the mosque cupola

From his desk, writer Christoph Peters sees the big ships pass by. The view connects him with the whole world. Every morning he works on his new novel, in the afternoon he immerses himself in Islamic Istanbul to research his next novel. Sometimes he travels by boat for an hour down the Bosporus to the centre of Istanbul, other times he takes the Metro. In Istanbul, Peters, who has spent a great deal of time in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, studies the ornaments in mosques and in carpets, meets dervishes and seeks the traces of Islamic cosmology.
“This cosmology is visible in a mosque cupola,” says Peters. The symbol of the God’s absolute unity is in the middle, often a golden or black point – absolute unity as the beginning of everything. Out of it grow ornaments representing the laws that have governed the world since the Big Bang. Out of them emerge writing and floral ornaments that symbolise the playfulness of creation. Peters examines this as well as prayer rugs, whose ornamental patterns capture the meandering spirit again and again.
On 6 July 2019, current artists, alumni and Turkish co-production partners transformed the park complex of the Tarabya Academy of Culture into a stage for creative work in eleven venues - performatively, musically, literarily and visually
On 6 July 2019, current artists, alumni and Turkish co-production partners transformed the park complex of the Tarabya Academy of Culture into a stage for creative work in eleven venues - performatively, musically, literarily and visually, Video: Nar Photos

Scholars have to immerse themselves in the culture

Scholarship holders say they’ve rarely had a more beautiful workplace in their lives, that Tarabya releases ideas. Ralske says that the buildings and grounds are so beautiful that you really don’t want to leave. But scholarship holders should, and they do, in a constant alternation of serenity and noise. Tarabya’s appeal is that the academy is a retreat but also close to the centre of a mega-city, says Joachim Sartorius, the chair of the five-member jury that selects the scholars from the fields of architecture, fine arts, performing art, design, literature, music, film, journalism and cultural theory.
Applicants are expected to network with the Turkish cultural scene, to communicate with local artists and cultural institutions, art galleries and museums. New things are created in the encounters with Turkish artists, but also in the relationships between the seven resident artists. At present, a composer, a musician, a dancer and two writers and filmmakers are working in Tarabya. Numerous novels and screenplays have been written in Tarabya, from Beside Myself by Sasha Marianna Salzmann, a scholarship holder of the first hour, to Katerina Poladjan’s recently released Hier sind Löwen.
Scholars and alumni come together with Turkish musicians in the Tarabya Ensemble, which performs at irregular intervals in Turkey and Germany, for example last November at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin for Studio Bosporus, the first major event in Germany that showed works produced in Turkey.
Dance and music during the presentation of the Kulturakademie Tarabya in Berlin 2018 Dance and music during the presentation of the Kulturakademie Tarabya in Berlin 2018 | Photo: Dawin Meckel

Popular in spite of political uncertainty

Photographer Andréas Lang is interested in the many layers of Turkish history. He set out on excursions from Tarabya to all over Turkey, especially in the farthest east, where he also sought Armenian traces. He is fascinated by the overlaps and the clash of cultures and the resulting recurring overwriting of Turkey’s own history.
The past few years have also been overshadowed by political tensions in Turkey as well as between Turkey and Germany. Nevertheless, there has never been a vacancy in Tarabya. This spring, despite the difficult political environment, more than three hundred applications were received for the period from September 2019 to August 2020. “Tarabya has arrived in the cultural world,” says Johannes Ebert, secretary-general of the Goethe-Institut.
His institution has the curatorial responsibility in Tarabya, and organises more residencies in Kyoto and Salvador da Bahia. In addition, the Goethe-Institut, together with other partners, oversees two hundred resident artists in more than seventy programmes abroad. A residency house like Kulturakademie Tarabya is an important instrument for cultural exchange, says Ebert. “These houses create lasting contacts and networks.” Cultural exchange as made possible by Tarabya is especially important in difficult political times, according to Ebert because it keeps communication channels open and keeps encounters between people going. “Among the artists something has emerged that is worth preserving,” says Ebert. Therefore, they plan to improve options for alumni to, for example, return to Turkey for follow-up research.