Who Said Heimat? I’m Only Renting / by Kristin Dickinson, et al. | TRANSIT

Who Said Heimat? I’m Only Renting

by Selim Özdoğan
TRANSIT vol. 11, no. 1

Introduction and Interview by Kristin Dickinson

Translated by Milena Beltrama, Brittany Boyle, Brandon Cummings, Kristen Datta, Hannah Kelley-Watkins, Nathan Korth, Edward Kosta, Ted Ma, James Margard, Sydney McConnell, and Sabrina Walker

Download PDF


© Selim Özdoğan

Selim Özdoğan, Istanbul 2014

Throughout the Fall semester 2016, the Department of German at the University of Michigan hosted Selim Özdoğan as Max Kade Writer in Residence. During his residency, Özdoğan visited Professor Kristin Dickinson’s seminar “Un/Translatability in Theory and Practice” to workshop student translations from his most recent novel Wieso Heimat? Ich wohne zur Miete (2016) (Who Said Heimat, I’m Only Renting). Students first read the novel and then selected individual chapters to translate. Over the course of several weeks, students then read, discussed, and edited each other’s work together with the author. Overall, this project offered the exciting opportunity for students to engage in a collaborative translation practice which underscored the value of translation as an ongoing process rather than simply an end product. The selections presented here comprise several humorous, pointed, and poetic scenes from the novel.

*   *   *

Who Said Heimat? features the unlikely protagonist Krishna Mustafa, whose search for his cultural roots and a second Heimat in Istanbul ultimately turn both of these concepts on their head. Son of a hippie German mother and a pot-selling Turkish father, Krishna Mustafa is born in October of 1990. While this date coincides historically with German reunification and the official Day of Unity (Tag der Einheit, October 3), Krishna Mustafa enters the world in Istanbul, where his family lives happily until his sixth birthday. Skeptical of the Turkish education system, Krishna Mustafa’s mother then relocates the family to Freiburg, where ensuing marital tensions lead his parents to divorce. Following his father’s return to Turkey, Krishna Mustafa is raised by his single mother in Germany.

At times incredibly naive, Krishna Mustafa is not particularly invested in his cross-cultural heritage. It is only when his girlfriend Laura ends their relationship because she believes he has “not yet found his identity” that Krishna Mustafa embarks on a semester-long sojourn in Istanbul to ‘rediscover’ his Turkish roots. Yet this search is doomed from the start. Upon arriving in Turkey, Krishna Mustafa sets out to find Istanbul’s famous mosques, but instead stumbles upon churches in the traditionally Greek and Armenian neighborhood of Pera. He is surprised to discover that there are Christmas lights (Weihnachtsbeleuchtung) adorning the entire length of Istiklal Caddesi—a major pedestrian zone and shopping street, where a simit vendor informs him that because Turks are not Christian, they are not bound to a religious schedule. Lights are festive and thus good for business—they stay up year round. Shortly thereafter, Krishna Mustafa attempts to meet his father at a local Starbucks, but finds himself being sent in a different direction by each passerby he stops to ask for directions. While in search of something quintessentially Turkish, Krishna Mustafa is confronted by the signs of global capitalism, with a Starbucks on every corner.

Following these comical first impressions, Krishna Mustafa’s experiences in Turkey are driven largely by his own oblivious confusion and naiveté. Determined to find a mosque, he sets out for Sultan Ahmet, one of the most iconic landmarks of old Istanbul. In the sweltering heat, he makes a spontaneous decision to shave his dreadlocks, while opting to keep his beard. When the sun then beats down on his bare scalp, he picks up a prayer cap from a street vendor to protect his skin, unwittingly transforming his outward appearance from hippie to hacı (religious pilgrim) in a matter of minutes.[1]

Dressed as such, he finally finds his way to Sultan Ahmet where he decides to pray, although he does not know how. After moving his lips and bending to place his forehead on the ground several times, Krishna Mustafa ultimately opts for a bridge pose instead:

I lay down with my back on the floor, arrange my feet at my bottom, put my hands by my ears, and lift myself up into a bridge. We did that a lot as kids (thousands of times) and Laura always did that at yoga; surely God won’t mind. I’m offering up my heart to him in place of my neck and my butt. I’m making a bridge between this world and that invisible world.

That sort of bridge was exhausting—when I come back down I’m out of breath. I get up, sit on my heels, and wait until my breathing calms down. (Özdoğan 23-24)

While Krishna Mustafa attempts to bridge this world and the next, the absurdity of this scene also leads the reader to ask what kind of ‘cultural bridge’ Krishna Mustafa both represents and puts into question. In her manifesto from 2000, “Against Between,” Leslie Adelson addresses the prevalence of the bridge as a metaphor used to describe migrants in Germany. The image of a bridge “between two worlds,” she writes, “is designed to keep discrete worlds apart as much as it pretends to bring them together. Migrants are at best imagined as suspended on this bridge in perpetuity” (267), and are rarely imagined as crossing to the opposite shore.

By choosing to practice yoga in the mosque, Krishna Mustafa literally embodies this all-too-common trope of the migrant as a figure suspended ‘between two worlds.’ Turning his body into a bridge, he nevertheless reveals the exhausting nature of this status, and the extreme vulnerability that literally bending over backwards entails. In fact, this passage pokes fun at the trope of the bridge on a number of levels. Rather than a typical bridging of German and Turkish cultures, the scene offers a comic ‘bridging’ of Krishna Mustafa’s two names, which refer to the Hindu god and the surname of the prophet Mohammed (although his father did not choose the name for this reason), respectively. At the same time, it points to the western appropriation of eastern spiritual practices through reference to Laura, a character who otherwise essentializes Krishna Mustafa’s Turkish ‘roots.’

By relocating Laura’s yoga practice to Sultan Ahmet, Krishna Mustafa unwittingly sets into motion his own comic, highly individualized form of Islamic spiritual practice. This explorative encounter with Islam flies in the face of the Islamophobic rhetoric used by a German journalist who interviews Krishna Mustafa later in the novel; misconstruing his every word, this interviewer comes to the false conclusion that Krishna Mustafa is training to become an ISIS fighter in Turkey. In a follow-up article, Krishna Mustafa is figured as the ultimate opposite of a cultural bridge: in the words of the interviewer, he is a home-grown terrorist, or “a serpent that has now turned against the West and threatens all of our freedom.”

The novel offers one final comedic intervention on the discourse of the bridge. In chapter six Krishna Mustafa attends a summer festival run by the German organization, The Bridge. Asked by the chairwoman of the organization what he is doing in Istanbul, Krishna Mustafa replies:

I am searching for my roots.

There are no roots, she said. Life is a bridge for us, always driving back and forth until you run out of gas. You never arrive.

I never felt like I was going back and forth. And I don’t have a driver’s license either.

But I want to know what’s under the bridge, I quipped.

Homeless people, she said. Under the bridge there are always the homeless, who no longer have a home, who fell down under the bridge. We, we are lucky, she said, as she took a sip of her champagne.

[…] I’d like to ask what it would be like if you took the ferry to the other side, or flew, instead of going over the bridge, but she waves to somebody that she knows, asks me to wait a moment, and then disappears into the crowd. (36-37)

Through the trope of the bridge, this scene reveals a certain double standard. Whereas the German expat understands the state of non-arrival as a sign of her own cosmopolitan existence in Istanbul, a generation of Turkish guestworkers in Germany were often described as never having ‘arrived’ in the German cultural realm, a metaphor which expressed their perceived failure to integrate properly. This reference to a double standard is strengthened by the fact that the chairwoman has been living in Istanbul for nearly 44 years, meaning she ‘arrived’ in Turkey at the tail end of the guestworker programs, which were halted in 1973.

Notably, even in her appropriation of non-arrival, the German expat still gets to have a Heimat. Even though she embraces a life in flux, she still positions herself on top of the bridge, in a state of relative security. When Krishna Mustafa asks what lies under the bridge, she immediately retorts “the homeless” (Obdachlose), or those who fell down and no longer have a home (Heimat). One of the few instances where the word Heimat actually appears in the novel, this passage underscores a certain fear not simply of losing one’s home, but of losing the safety and security we generally associate with the word Heimat.

And yet Krishna Mustafa cannot help but associate the metaphoric name The Bridge with the actual Bosphorous Bridge in Istanbul. Rather than assert its iconic and clichéd status as a bridge between East and West, or between the Asian and European sides of the city, however, he wonders what it would be like if we just took the ferry. By referencing a simple part of everyday existence for many commuters in this megacity, Krishna Mustafa not only sidesteps his own role as an assumed ‘cultural bridge’ between Turkey and Germany, but also the fear of those cultural others who have fallen beneath the bridge and no longer have a home. As such the comical figure of Krishna Mustafa, who is often incapable of reading social cues or understanding the full context of a situation, offers us a critical perspective on the discriminatory practices he encounters in his everyday life—from being systematically searched on the train in Germany (Chapter 10), to being pegged as a once well-integrated migrant child turned Islamic terrorist in training (Chapters 11 and 13).

*   *   *

This critical perspective that the character of Krishna Mustafa embodies, together with the many pointed references to bridges in Wieso Heimat also recalls the clichéd image of the translator as a figure who bridges two cutural contexts. While working on Wieso Heimat, students of German 472 ultimately arrived at a much more dynamic understanding of translation. One that—like the image of the ferry—brings us down to the level of mixing waters and moving currents.

Download PDF


Interview with Selim Özdoğan, December 6, 2016.

KD: You received a Galata Fellowship from the city of Cologne to work on your most recent novel, Wieso Heimat, ich wohne zur Miete (2016), in Istanbul. What kind of preparation went into the writing of Wieso Heimat and to what extent did being in Turkey influence the final outcome of the novel?

SÖ: Well my plan was originally to apply for a fellowship (Aufenthaltsstipendium) in order to spend half a year in Turkey. I was never really planning on following through with the novel, but I knew that I had to put together a solid application in order to ensure that it would be accepted. And so I proposed to translate the essence of Turkish satire into a German novel.  The political atmosphere in Turkey tied into this project: I submitted my application about a half a year after the Gezi protests which people were still responding to in humorous ways, with graffiti, memes, and political cartoons.

Then once I got to Istanbul, I thought, this is actually an interesting idea. And I began trying to understand how Turkish satire works, what kinds of patterns it follows, and how I might go about translating these into a novel in German. Once I started writing, it was easy to build everything that was happening around me into the novel. If I went to a demonstration or to the Prince’s Islands, I could go home and write about it. In this way, parts of the novel are just reactions to daily life.

KD: How exactly does Wieso Heimat participate in the tradition of Turkish satire?

SÖ: Turkish satire employs an indirect form of humor. While this is in part cultural, it also has to do with the history of censorship in Turkey. Historically, authors could be jailed for openly expressing their political views; as a result, authors developed more subtle and often humorous techniques to describe contentious subject matters. Krishna Mustafa works within this tradition, in that he doesn’t fully comprehend the events around him and never addresses an issue head on.

But Wieso Heimat also accommodates multiple voices and points of view that don’t follow the traditions of Turkish satire. Although Emre is Turkish, his character is more typically “German,” in that he directly addresses and makes fun of certain cultural practices, such as the recycling culture in Germany. Isa is very cynical; he doesn’t see any hope for Turkey’s future and he doesn’t shy away from offending people. These competing voices are important for the multidimensionality of the story, which is an aspect of the novel that corresponds to my own world view: It’s never the case that just one side of a story or an argument is true.

One criticism of Wieso Heimat has been that it doesn’t take a clear position on the issues it describes. I take this rather as a form of praise. As a novel, Wieso Heimat works against easy lines of division (Trennlinien) and the idea that we need to, or even can, take a clear side.

KD: You utilize satire and humor in Wieso Heimat to approach and also break down identity formations. Have your experiences as a Max Kade Visiting Author at the University of Michigan given you any new perspectives on cross-cultural humor, or led you to reflect on the way humor functions in your novel?

SÖ: I’ve only been in the United States for three months, and I don’t yet feel equipped to describe the tendencies of American humor.  You can’t consume humor from the outside; it’s not something you can just learn from comedians, but rather through everyday occurrences and interactions.

What I can say is that certain deconstructions of identity that work within the novel might not work in the United States because identity is constructed differently here. We tend to understand identity as something that is predominantly national, and not in a constructed sense, but rather as something that has been predetermined (vorgegeben).  When I say ‘I’m German,’ I necessarily set myself apart from the Dutch, the Belgians, the Luxembourgers, the Swiss…. But geographically, the United Sates is much larger, and has fewer neighboring countries than Germany. In the absence of so many borders, it’s harder to see how blurry national ascriptions actually are and the statement ‘I’m American’ seems even more self-evident.  I don’t have the sense that one’s name, for example, is as decisive a factor in the way you are publicly received as it is in Germany. That said, I am certain that identities are also constructed in the United States, I just don’t feel equipped to describe how.

© Jon Cho-Polizzi

KD: Heimat is a term that can reflect on both personal and national identities. While the word only appears once in Wieso Heimat, to what extent was it central to your conception of the novel?

SÖ: I deal with so many other aspects of identity formation in the novel, I didn’t feel the need to also come to terms with Heimat on top of that. In fact, I don’t think Heimat works well as a concept. It’s charged (aufgeladen) with meaning and diffuse at the same time. If we define Heimat as something that is spatially limited, as a place where you know the terrain, where you feel comfortable and safe, where you like to spend time, and where you have social contacts, then we may as well be talking about our smartphones. But no one refers to their smartphones as Heimat.

While Heimat is a very porous concept, it does often have to do with a sense of security—it’s something that offers comfort, or a place where you feel like nothing can happen to you. But this security simply doesn’t exist and it has never existed. To varying degrees, we’ve only ever had illusions of security.

KD: But did you choose the title for a reason?

SÖ: Well, yes. The title works because of the contrast. You don’t usually associate money with Heimat. But the fact is, if you don’t own a house, you pay rent. And even if you do own a house, you pay for upkeep or taxes.  So the reference to money estranges our understanding of the term.

KD: Let’s talk about the question of security, or the connotations of Heimat that include feeling safe and comfortable. The situation in Turkey has changed dramatically since 2014 when you were working on this novel in the wake of the Gezi protests. In 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the transition from Prime Minister to President. In the June 2015 elections, The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 13.1% of the vote, passing the threshold necessary to secure seats in parliament; on the other hand, support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) went down by 10%, causing it to lose its majority for the first time since 2002. Following the declaration of a state of emergency, the AKP regained its majority in a second election on November 1, 2015. In the months leading up to and following this second election, Turkey has been at the forefront of the refugee crisis, has experienced bomb attacks by ISIS, and has seen a significant increase in state violence against its own Kurdish population. Most recently the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016 has led President Erdoğan to consolidate his power under increasingly authoritarian measures.

Taking all of this into consideration, do you think you could have written the same novel, with the same kind of light hearted humor today? And how do you think Wieso Heimat speaks to the current political climate?

SÖ: While it is not my personal opinion, you could argue that without satire, hope no longer exists. And as long as people can work satirically, we can say that there is still hope.

In 2014 the political situation in Turkey didn’t look good to me, but it also didn’t appear hopeless. Whereas today, I can only describe the situation as hopeless. I visited many universities in Istanbul in 2014, and I could already sense a palpable atmosphere of fear among intellectuals at the time. This fear has since intensified and spread to all sectors of the population. 2016 has brought more deaths, more fear, more hopelessness—and less satire. But the political tensions that we see today in magnified form always existed; they have just been gradually increasing over the past few years. And while I wouldn’t trust myself to write a novel like Wieso Heimat today, I think that everything I describe in the book is pertinent to the current situation.

KD: Does this statement also apply to the political situation in Germany? Does an ironic take on Heimat, for example, resonate with current debates regarding the integration of refugees?

SÖ: Yes, when we consider the political situation in Germany today and the emphasis on integration we can also say that only the dimension of the debates has changed. For me, identity construction begins with the nation state. Part of the problem is that we act as if the nation state is a natural mode of belonging and not a more recent historical development. Of course, it’s only human to want to be part of a group. But in forming a group you also end up shutting other people out.  And if we shut others out to a large enough degree, at some point, we stop viewing them as human.

As I mentioned before, Heimat is something we usually associate with comfort and security. And as soon as we don’t feel safe, we are quick to blame others for our own discomfort or fear. But security is only ever an illusion. For me, the real question is: what are we willing to do, or how far are we willing to go to uphold our sense of security?

Download PDF

Selected Translations

Prologue, in which Krishna Mustafa’s parents meet in the Pudding Shop, conceive him, spend seven years together, and then separate
Translated by Milena Beltrama, Brittany Boyle, and Edward Kosta

Maria was different from the other foreign women who had slept with Recep. But like the others he had also met her in the Pudding Shop. Opened in 1957 by the Çolpan brothers, the Pudding Shop was coasting off its reputation from the sixties when the restaurant had become the central exchange point for information about travel in the east. You could find out which streets were cut-off and impassable, where dangers lurked, and at which border-crossings they’d turn a blind-eye for a small baksheesh. The Pudding Shop was the meeting point of hippies and freaks, dropouts and adventurers who wanted to be on their way to India, Nepal, or Thailand in order to seek out something they could not find at home.

The Pudding Shop, through which busloads of tourists are funneled nowadays and in which a small bulletin board commemorates the past, is actually called Lale Restaurant, but that name only appears in small typeface outside on the sign. Lale means tulip. The tulips found it funny that people called flower children couldn’t seem to make out these four letters and therefore continued to call the restaurant the Pudding Shop. There, amid the merry laughter of the tulips, our little story unfolds. When Maria and Recep met in November 1989, the freedom of the world as we know it did not reek of weed, free love, yoga, and enlightenment, but rather the freedom to travel, jeans, vinyl, and tropical fruits. Recep, the son of a wealthy cattle dealer from Kars, was 22 at the time and studied German at Istanbul University. He had wanted to study economics or law, but performed too poorly on the entrance exams. But at least he was in Istanbul, and not in a dorm, but in his own apartment in the district of Balat. His father sent him money each month, and Recep earned additional money for himself by selling hashish to tourists who were the easiest to overcharge. Even those among them who thought they had learned to bargain in India, Pakistan, and Iran.

Recep was very disciplined in his studies, but was just as disciplined in the time he spent each day hanging around outside the Pudding Shop in order to keep an eye out for potheads. The tourists who bought hashish were always drawn to the Pudding Shop like magic, where there was still a bulletin board on which people sought and found travel buddies and information. Recep liked the strangers, they told of a world he didn’t know. And he liked the women who would readily bring him back to their small, flea-ridden hotel rooms.

Maria was twenty-three back then; after Abitur, she enrolled in a regional studies program with a focus on Latin America at the University of Cologne, but she was hardly ever there because in the very first week of class, she met her first steady boyfriend in a bar on Zülpicher Straβe. Ruben was a lanky guy with long, red, lightly matted hair who constantly toked and planned to break out of achievement-oriented society and live in harmony with himself. He could play guitar, sing, and was an excellent lover.

When Maria’s grandmother died and bequeathed her 8,000 Deutsche Marks, Maria bought a VW bus. She wanted to drive to India with Ruben, although they’d have to deviate far from the original route of the Hippie Trail because Iran was at war with Iraq and Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets. Both felt flying was an unnatural form of travel which left the soul behind, it only led to jetlag, culture shock, and environmental pollution.

The relationship only managed to hold until Pakistan, where Maria’s bourgeois upbringing finally broke through according to Ruben. Maria was sick and tired of driving while Ruben shagged the British girl they had found through the bulletin board in the Pudding Shop in the backseat. At first he had done it openly, but after several screaming matches, he tried to hide the sex: he would converse with Maria, meanwhile limiting himself and Jane to groping. For Maria, it wasn’t about the fact, but about the danger of being caught having sex on a backroad in an Islamic country. Ruben insisted that was only a pretense to disguise how jealous and sexually inhibited Maria was. Eventually Maria had had enough, she threw Ruben as well as Jane out—it was her bus, after all. With great difficulty the bus made it to the Indian border before it gave up the ghost.

Maria spent the next 16 months in India, mostly in Benares and Rishikesh, until one morning when a dreadlocked, skinny man with a peculiar glint in his eyes explained to her—unprompted—that it was time for her to go home along the same path from which she had come. Two souls were waiting for her. Maria, who had put up with diarrhea, fever, twenty-pounds of weight loss, several robberies, bad hashish, the sight of beggars with mutilated limbs, sexual harassment, and anonymous groping in the crowds, took these words as a sign, and looked for a lift back home.

Maria was different, Recep thought. Sure, she had her quirks; like almost everyone else he met in front of the Pudding Shop, she meditated, smoked pot, chanted mantras. She spoke for hours about the Sadhus and Gurus, renunciation, wisdom, smiling, humility, reincarnation, and transmigration; she didn’t shave her legs, showered too seldom and ate too little, yet she was interested in him. In his country, his language, his family, his view on things. In contrast to the others, she didn’t claim to understand how India worked, or Pakistan, or Turkey. She seemed to suspect that she knew very little, and therefore wanted to learn more. In Maria, Recep found a wife, who didn’t just claim to be open, but actually was, and didn’t make claims the way a Turkish woman would have. Maria wasn’t out for a provider, she wanted an educated man. Recep read a great deal, had spoken with many tourists; his intelligence did not limit itself to a good look-over for his own advantage. Both thought it was love. Perhaps it even was.

In October 1990, Krishna Mustafa was born, Krishna after the Hindu god, Mustafa not after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of Turkey, and also not after Mohammed whose surname was Mustafa, but rather because it meant the chosen one and Recep believed that his son was destined for greatness.

For six years the three lived in Turkey—Recep completed his studies, worked as a German teacher, and earned a little on the side with small jobs. Maria learned Turkish, pursued an education as a nurse, and worked while her sister-in-law, Sezen, looked after Krishna and her own son of the same age, Emre. The small family lived in a rented apartment in Tophane with few worries.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already been the mayor of Istanbul for two years when Krishna Mustafa’s schooling drew near, and suddenly the household peace hung in the balance. Maria wanted him to go to school in Germany, because try as they might, the two simply could not afford the German school in Istanbul, and she didn’t want to stick the kid in a Turkish school. Recep didn’t understand why the educational system which he himself had attended was such a bad option, but Maria stood her ground.

So they moved to Freiburg. But there, every day, the peace hung even more in balance: there wasn’t enough money, Recep couldn’t find work, and Maria’s parents, who lived in Offenburg, never liked their son-in-law. Eventually the household peace lost its balance altogether, and flung itself off the roof, fell to the earth, and gasped for breath one last time. You could only see the white in its eyes and then it died, in a quite unchristian fashion, without hope of resurrection. When Recep moved back to Turkey, Krishna Mustafa found new friends in the Waldorf school, all of whom were not allowed to drink Coke.

Third Chapter, in which we get to know Emre, Krishna Mustafa finds a mosque, and he takes refuge in a gun shop
Translated by Nathan Korth

You’re funny, Emre says and laughs. You really thought that Isa gave you a ticket to meet with the president?[1]

You’re funny, Laura always said that too, at first. We laughed a lot together, not just at the beginning, we laughed a lot for 16 months, and then she suddenly realized that I still hadn’t found my identity, and we broke up. I looked at Emre on the screen, and in the background there was my bed. The bed that I had spent so much time in with Laura. With Laura, every weekday and every time of day could be a Sunday morning. I wonder if Emre and she will cross paths. Surely.

Emre studies German and English in Istanbul, and is currently doing a semester abroad in Freiburg. We were neighbors when we were kids, and always played together while my mother was at work. We got back in contact over the internet when we were both 15. At first, Emre wanted to take his semester abroad in Berlin, but we thought if he came to Freiburg we could spend more time together. Then Laura broke up with me, and I felt I needed to go to Turkey to search for my identity. So we traded rooms, and now he’s in Freiburg a while before the semester starts.

How are things over there? I ask.


After Istanbul and London it’s like a village, he says, you can go everywhere by foot, but it has everything you expect from a big city. Alcohol is cheap. And organic vegetables. I’ll eat well and drink a lot of beer: that much is certain. When you go out alone, nobody gives you funny looks. I already found a couple bars that I like. They seem really ‘in’, but nobody there is pretentious or dresses up too much. It’s almost as if there’s no nightlife for the rich in this city. Or you don’t see the rich people’s wealth. And everyone always says “I see”. Did you notice that? “I see” when you understand something, “I see” when you don’t understand something, “I see” when something is different than expected, “I see” when you want to give someone shit, “I see” when you’re surprised, “I see” when you’ve forgotten something, “I see” when something comes to mind, “I see” when you don’t believe something, “I see” when you believe something, “I see” when you want to be ironic.

I see.

Yes. You all say that incessantly. Like a magic word or something.


It’s true!

I see, it’s true. You’ve established that.

I do believe I have.

I’ll keep that in mind.


After talking to Emre, I finish building Aya Triada and then decide to go to the mosque. In order to avoid another train wreck like the search for Starbucks, I pick Sultan Ahmet, the ‘Blue Mosque.’ That’s the one all the tourists go to—I’ll certainly be able to find it.

It was hot. The hottest summer in years in Istanbul, Emre said before I left. Hot like the door hinges of hell. My dreadlocks feel like fuel rods dangling from my head, so I go to a hairdresser and have them cut off. It would be hard to separate them from you, Rabbit always said, but it was really quite simple. I only want to keep my beard, and don’t let the barber shave it.

When I come outside, it seems a little less hot to me, but then the sun starts burning my scalp, so I buy one of those little white caps, like believers often wear.

There was a long line at the tourist entrance to Sultan Ahmet. Without the dreadlocks and with the cap, I simply used the other entrance for worship; nobody was in line there.

I can’t pray, nobody taught me how. I only know that you fall on your knees, sit down on your heels, put your forehead on this carpet, turn your head to the left and right and at some point hold up your palms. I want to give it a try. I start standing up, and move my lips a little. That feels good. It seems as if God is nodding approvingly. He understands every language, not just the ‘true’ one. Then I fall to my knees and lay my forehead on the floor. At first, while standing, it had smelled like foot sweat; but now it’s as if everyone’s foot odor has been collected for centuries and made into an essence. A tiny drop would be enough to make a whole sack of coffee unfit for consumption.

I stay down there, keep breathing calmly. Foot odor really isn’t as nasty as people always think. I lay with my forehead on the ground and think about God. He surely doesn’t have anything against foot odor. After all, he invented it. But perhaps he thinks this method of praying is funny. He sees everything, nothing stays hidden from him. When I pray in the direction of Mecca, he also simultaneously sees me from behind, like I’m sticking my butt out at him. I don’t know if he approves of it, always just seeing necks and butts.

I stand up, mumble to myself some more, fall on my knees, forehead on the ground, stand up again. I do this a few more times. It’s hot, and I had already been sweating before I exercised. Now my blood is flowing, and that gives me an idea.

I lay down with my back on the floor, arrange my feet at my bottom, put my hands by my ears, and lift myself up into a bridge. We did that a lot as kids (thousands of times) and Laura always did that at yoga; surely God won’t mind. I’m offering up my heart to him in place of my neck and my butt. I’m making a bridge between this world and that invisible world.

That sort of bridge was exhausting—when I come back down I’m out of breath. I get up, sit on my heels, and wait until my breathing calms down.

Rabbit said that in the West people always insist that Islam means “conquest” in Arabic, but the people who say that generally don’t know any Arabic. He explained to me that Islam means ‘devotion.’ Rabbit studied Arabic. I had tried to give God everything that I had to offer, but when I come out of the mosque the sky is dark and there is a wind blowing that makes me feel like my whole body is being blow-dried. This time, I had downloaded a city map on my phone so that I wouldn’t get lost anymore and so people couldn’t send me in the wrong direction. I go back in the direction of the Eminönü neighborhood; I want to take the bus home from there. On the way it starts to rain, at first just a little, but then it quickly starts pouring and I duck in the next shop to stay dry.

It was a gun shop, with rifles, pistols, and knives. I look at the rifles; it was interesting what was so freely sold here. Not that I understand anything about them – except that there aren’t any air guns here. I take one from its bracket and strap it on, because I want to see what it feels like. As a kid I wasn’t allowed to have any toy guns, not even made of wood. I wasn’t even allowed to briefly pick one up in a store once. And now, I take the next one and try it on too. This one seems to nestle better on my shoulder. The third one I try is a little too heavy. The fourth fits best in my hand. I look in the mirror to see if it suits me as well as it feels. I think I look dangerous with it, and start to laugh.

It keeps raining even harder. I look out the door. Bodies of water flow down the street. It doesn’t look like it’s raining, it looks like air-drops are falling into a sea.

Sixth Chapter, in which Krishna Mustafa goes to the German community’s summer festival, his burial cloth is blessed, and he tries his second bar of Turkish dark chocolate
Translated by James Margard

I searched on the internet for activities that wouldn’t attract tourists. Tourists mostly want to do the same thing on vacation that they do at home, only more so. They want to drink more, party more, watch more TV, eat more, have more sex, and do more of nothing. But they also want to see the landmarks of the city, the museums and the ruins and all that. I think those kinds of places are called “tourist magnets.” But perhaps the tourists are themselves magnetic. They’re all mutually attracted to each other. And it’s there, where they now doll themselves up for the camera, that famous buildings were once erected. Then the tourists take pictures there, with themselves included. They already know the buildings from pictures of course, and know there are more than enough (thousands of) pictures of it already, but none with themselves.

If you want to learn more about the forest, do you ask a tree or do you ask a bird? asked Isa. I figured it was a rhetorical question. A tree cannot see its roots. And a bird can’t see the roots of a tree, either. Isa forgot about the moles and the earthworms, the earth and the water.

The German community in Istanbul organized a summer festival in Nişantaşı, which is not far away from me. Everyone with a connection to Germany is welcome. And that festival is being held today. Sometimes it seems like life is made of Legos. All of the pieces fit together.

Sometimes life is also like a piece of broken glass that slid way behind the kitchen cupboard. All the pieces that could fit together are already in the garbage. And nevertheless you have something that brings happiness.

As a child, I occasionally went with my grandmother to the community festivals for her church in Offenburg. There were always older women who talked about how big I was. The other children had glasses or a tank top, were fat or quiet, and everybody but me had a Tamagotchi.

Here the children have more iPads and smartphones, here the parents are younger, everything looks so amusing. I wander around a bit, and before I can say anything to anyone, a woman speaks to me in Turkish and asks me what I’m doing here.

I’m new to Istanbul, I say in German, I was curious to see this festival. And what are you doing here?

I am the chairwoman of the Bridge, she said.

The Bosporus Bridge?

No, the organization. Don’t you know it? We want to establish a link between the countries, the people, the cultures, and the languages, therefore we use the name Bridge.

Ah I see, how long have you lived here?

In October it will have been 44 years. A long time to have lived between two cultures.

You can speak excellent German, I said.

One doesn’t forget it that quickly. And do you know how long you want to stay here?

Hopefully about half a year.

What will you be doing here?

I am searching for my roots.

There are no roots, she said. Life is a bridge for us, always driving back and forth until you run out of gas. You never arrive.

I never felt like I was going back and forth. And I don’t have a driver’s license either.

But I want to know what’s under the bridge, I quipped.

Homeless people, she said. Under the bridge there are always the homeless, who no longer have a home, who fell down under the bridge. We, we are lucky, she said, as she took a sip of her champagne.

And my soul spread its wings out wide, flew through the quiet country, as if it were flying home, my mother always said. I’d like to ask what it would be like if you took the ferry to the other side, or flew, instead of going over the bridge, but she waves to somebody that she knows, asks me to wait a moment, and then disappears into the crowd.


Tenth Chapter, in which Krishna Mustafa goes to the farmer’s market, sees Nesrin again, and undresses in a train
Translated by Kristen Datta and Sabrina Walker


In Germany, if you have dreadlocks, you’re systematically policed. For a while there, I was going to Basel pretty regularly—that’s in Switzerland. Laura has friends there. I always got checked on the train. On the way there and the way back. My German ID didn’t make any difference—they always searched me thoroughly. The police also always checked to see if I’d hidden anything in my hair. After the third or fourth time, I just stopped bringing my backpack along, so they’d get through everything quicker.

I always asked, What are you looking for? and they said: Narcotics. If they’d just gone to Rabbit they would have found a whole ton—but of course I never snitched on him. They never believed me when I said that I don’t do drugs or smoke or drink. I always had to get off the train with them and go to the police station in Basel or Freiburg and get completely undressed. I didn’t think it was that bad, because I had to get off at that stop anyway, but Laura was always annoyed by it. She talked with the officers and said that it was intolerable and racist and that they were only doing it because I had dreadlocks and because my skin was so dark. She really got worked up about it and demanded the officers’ police identification numbers. Then she wrote letters, but the answers she received always said something about random searches and relevant border-police experiences.

I’m more laid back about it than Laura. After I understood that they were going to check me no matter what, I just undressed in the train as soon as I saw the police come into the car. The sliding door opened, the police came inside, and I took my sweatshirt and t-shirt off, then my shoes, socks, pants, underwear—it all went pretty quickly, and then I just sat there, naked, in my seat, and gave them my ID. Then they just had to check my hair.

You sat naked in the train?

Yeah. But they threatened to write me up for indecent exposure, and then Laura yelled that they were the indecent ones, not me. After that, I just wore swim trunks on the train. That’s perfectly legal. Before we got on the train, Laura put my stuff in her backpack and I stuck my ID in the waistband of my swim trunks. Then I didn’t have to completely undress. And because I knew that they were going to search my hair, I made a little treasure hunt for them, so that they’d have something to look forward to. Little toys from Kinder Eggs, chocolate candies, toy soldiers, coins. Sometimes they searched so sloppily that they didn’t even find anything. But when they did find something, they weren’t very excited. They didn’t even want to take it with them. Not even a chocolate candy. “I hid them especially for you, you can keep it,” I said, but apparently they didn’t want any milk chocolate and told me that if I continued to insist, they’d consider it attempted bribery.

I would love to see that report, Laura had yelled: The accused attempted to bribe the officers with a chocolate bon-bon.

After a couple of months, eventually all of the officers knew me and didn’t want to see my ID anymore. I achieved a lot more by wearing swim trunks than Laura did by writing down the police officers’ ID numbers and cussing them out.

Esra just stood there and stared at me.

Mustafa, she said, do me a favor. This isn’t Germany: be scared. Above all, be scared of the police. Watch out for yourself and don’t always do what you think is right.

I think that Esra was a little scared for me, which was why she said that. I think that Laura was never scared for me—she was only annoyed with the police officers. But nothing ever actually happened to me. Everything always turned out okay. In all of the countries I was in.

Eleventh Chapter, in which Emre and Rabbit express different opinions, Revolution gets confused with Retweet, and Krishna Mustafa gives an interview

Translated by Ted Ma


I switch on Facebook chat.


good day.


we would like to ask you a few questions regarding the path that you have now chosen for yourself.

Go ahead.

you’ve lived in germany for many years, have blended-in well here, took the college entrance exams here and are studying social pedagogy.[2] nothing in your profile hints towards the step that you have decided to take. what was your motivation?

I wanted to search for my identity.

what do you mean by identity? do you mean for the most part your religious identity?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t know, I’m just kind of searching for my roots. I wanted to experience more about myself, about my origin, about my father. It’s funny, you’re together with yourself for the entire day, but then you still want to discover something else. As if you’ve been keeping something secret from yourself.

so you believe that this side of you was already there, but you didn’t live up to it?

Yeah, maybe. So, I’m still searching for this side of me.

and what do you anticipate will come from finding this side of you?


love from god?

No, the love from a woman.

like in paradise?

No, why in paradise?

because it’s forbidden to you here

Yeah, but only at the moment.

so, women were promised to you?

Not directly.

but sex does play a role?

What kind of a question is that supposed to be? In every brothel people shut the door behind them, but in public people always talk as if they know no shame, is my answer. I got that from Rabbit.

so do you believe that we are too permissive?


was that maybe the reason to go? the moral depravity of the west?

No, that was not the reason. I went because of pain.

because you felt that you were not accepted here?

Not loved.

are you angry about that?

Yeah, maybe a little bit. Because I had the feeling that everything was going well.

and how were you accepted there?

Very warmly. I have two roommates, with whom I get along well, and people on the streets are all very friendly, you can talk with anyone.

and your roommates think like you?

No, they are totally different.

when are you moving on?

Move on? I only just got here, I’ll be staying another few months to learn.

so you are in some sort of a training camp?

Yeah, if you wanna put it that way.

and where in istanbul are you being trained, are you allowed to talk about that?

All around here, in the entire city.

of course you don’t want to go too much in detail, i understand. do you get the impression, that turkey is becoming increasingly Islamized?

No, if anything, the country strikes me as Christianized. There’s a church on every corner, Christmas lights are lit throughout the entire year.

what is your view on erdogan?

He’s really funny. And what he says is certainly the truth.[3] That’s what Muhammad Ali always said: My way of making a joke is to say the truth. Ali was the son-in-law of Mohammed, did you know that?

no. do you occupy yourself often with the prophets? is that a part of your training?

Yeah, maybe. I prayed at Sultan Ahmet as well.

are you happy with islam?

I think so, I was happy in the mosque. Because I presented my heart to God.

do you see yourself as a god’s warrior?

God’s warrior? God is almighty, why would he need someone to fight for him in a war?

but you believe in the almightiness of god?

Otherwise you can’t call him God.

are you ready to die for him?

God doesn’t need anyone to die for him. He’s not a general.

has someone taught you how you should answer such questions?


do you find that the cause you’re being trained for is correct?

Maybe you just have to do it sometimes, in order to balance things out.

do you believe that this terror is sacred?

I wouldn’t call it terror.

what then?


thank you very much. could you send me a picture of yourself where you receiving your training? preferably one with weapons.


only if it’s not too much trouble. so that we have exclusive picture materials. of course, we don’t want to get you into trouble. thank you very much for the conversation!

Sure thing, I respond. I sit there afterwards and look through the chat. I don’t quite understand what he wanted. Which magazine was he from now? He didn’t even know where the capital letters were hidden on the keyboard. I thought he wanted to know about my relationship crisis and the thing with my search for identity, but he was more interested in God than in Laura or me.

Thirteenth Chapter, in which we can read the entire Article, Rabbit advises Krishna Mustafa to take legal action, and Nesrin wants to know what is going on in Germany
Translated by Brandon Cummings and Hannah Kelley-Watkins

Mustafa F. was a typical young man from a liberal household. He was the kind of person who grew his hair in dreadlocks, studied social pedagogy, and seemed well integrated. What drives such a person to sudden religious fanaticism? What drives young people like him to leave their lives in Germany behind and go beyond Turkey and into Syria, to support their brothers in arms in the battle against the infidels? What drives young men to jihad, to holy war, to risk their own lives? What drives someone out of their socially progressive environment straight into the arms of a terrorist organization?

We were able to chat with Mustafa F. online, and he is currently located in an ISIS training camp in Turkey. In order to protect his contacts in Germany, he kept the details confidential. Mustafa has indicated that women and sex were promised to him. Not only in Paradise, but here on Earth as well.

Not only does Mustafa believe the western world to be liberalized and permissive, but Turkey as well. He describes the country, which is moving ever closer to Islam under President Erdoğan, as too Christianized. He views the acts of terror committed by ISIS as a hardship necessary to attain a new world order under Sharia Law.

At first glance, nothing in the life of this young man, who went to the Waldorf School in Freiburg, would hint at the path he chose. But a quick Internet search helps connect the dots—Mustafa F. is a rapper. He has released a few tracks, primarily concerning women and marijuana, which have remained in the hip-hop scene.

The most obvious similarity between the hip-hop types and jihadists is in their gestures, mannerisms, posture, and embodied masculinity. Both propagate the same ideal of physical prowess and grit—a cult of harshness and hierarchy. These aesthetic similarities extend to the details of apparel and accessories: both ISIS militants and gangster rappers wear the same watches, the same Ray-Bans, the same camouflage bulletproof vests. The Jeeps, presented as status symbols in hip-hop videos and ISIS recruiting videos alike, are insignia of technical armament and invulnerability. Both ISIS fighters and hip-hoppers fashion themselves as stony, cold-hearted, and merciless. It is really interesting when one compares their enthusiasm for posing: In pictures both jihadists and gangster rappers like to point their weapons at the camera.

In our interview, Mustafa F. reported he had left Germany out of distress, but that seems to be a lie. How can anyone see our free, democratic system as distressful? The path from hip-hop to Islam is not far, and he did not want to betray the names of people who pursue it. Germany is full of hatemongers who use false promises to entice young men to the battlefields, where unimaginable atrocities reign. The barbaric acts committed by ISIS in the killing of non-believers far surpasses anything we experienced under Al-Qaida. In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists.

Today, young men such as Mustafa F. travel through Turkey to Syria in order to support their brothers in arms. How much longer are we Europeans safe, when such seemingly normal young people live in our midst?

Who wants to be labeled racist or Islamophobic? Who wants to be pigeonholed as a Neo-Nazi? We would love to believe that Islam is a religion of peace and that Islamic terrorists aren’t Muslims, but barbaric murderers. That’s not the case, but it is safer to say so.

The beheadings in Iraq and Syria force us to re-evaluate Islam. Like Christianity, Islam also has a central figure standing next to God. But Mohammed isn’t a hippie like Jesus. Mohammed is a warlord, a man who uses extreme violence and genocide to achieve his goals. Such a religion is a hindrance to the path of integration in a modern, secular, and Western society. We must ask ourselves how we can prevent people like Mustafa F. from coming in such close contact with it. We must ask ourselves whether, under the guise of tolerance, we’ve not nursed a serpent at our breast for too long. A serpent that has now turned against the West and threatens all of our freedom.

And we can’t say we didn’t see it coming. Anyone who has read the Quran knows it’s a collection of tirades from a hateful Mohammed. It’s slanderous to market these abhorrent passages as proverbs or as the absolute word of God. Hate speaks through Mohammed. It’s no wonder Islamic fanatics becomes terrorists. Violence and revenge saturate Mohammed’s teachings like nothing else.

If someone owns slaves, rapes little girls, advocates for genocide and war, he can’t exactly call himself a Buddhist, a Christian, or really anything else—he remains a slave driver, a pedophile, or a mass-murderer. And Mohammed was all of that. If a mass-murderer founds a religion, what else can you expect from this religion but genocide?

Mustafa F. is not an isolated case. According to data from intelligence services, more than 400 people from Germany have already traveled through Turkey into Syria in order to fight against the infidels. If we want to prevent young men and women from winding up in the clutches of the Salafists, we must consider measures far stricter than the revocation of passports. Could we at least dare to openly consider ideological and religious concepts such as jihad and Sharia Law unlawful, as they are incompatible with our idea of universal human rights? We cannot permit our notions of tolerance to be shattered by a religion of intolerance.


Twenty-Sixth Chapter, in which Emre sees the German obsession with order, Esra is still missing, and Yunus and Krishna Mustafa go to Kadıköy for a rally
Translated by Sydney McConnell and Nathan Korth

I still have to get a degree in trash-sorting here, said Emre. The Super found out that we weren’t sorting our trash correctly. And then Agneiska found out that it was my fault. I throw recyclables in the garbage bin and packaging in the wastepaper bin. Besides, the Super also saw me throw a broken cup into the glass bin. They don’t belong there. Did you know that?


It makes me crazy. It’s easier to learn future perfect or the hypothetical subjunctive than to learn how to sort the trash.

Yes, I said, maybe it’s like a language. If you learn it as a kid, it’s quite simple, but if you are already grown up, it might be difficult.

It’s even more nonsensical than the articles, Emre said, or the verbs: there are so few regular verbs, they seem irregular, and make the irregular verbs seem regular. How can a people, whose language has so many special forms and so many exceptions, be conquered so slavishly by rules? To me it’s a mystery, really. The Plunder (trash) is singular, the Plundern (trash) is plural. Although Plunder already means more than one. The Flunder (flounder), the Flundern (flounders). But it was das Wunder (wonder) and die Wunder (wonders). Now that truly is a wonder, that an N simply goes missing and it doesn’t bother anyone, there’s no outcry, we want our N, but that’s the rule, you can’t just leave out a letter and have it still be correct. It’s das Wunder, and die Wunder. But das Kind (child) doesn’t become die Kind. They have the kind of language, where every word can simply do what it wants, nothing has to stick to the rules. But no, I throw a yogurt cup into the wrong bin and all hell breaks loose. It’s as if the world is coming to an end, but it’s really warming up. Or we’re drowning in trash. Or else some sort of natural disaster will happen, because I can’t figure out what belongs in which bin. And the Super says if I keep doing it wrong, the bins won’t get picked up. Yeah, and then what? What kind of solution is that? They don’t even realize how absurd it all is. It’s just busy work. Everything is packed, shrink-wrapped, bagged, every fruit in the supermarket has its own packaging, so it doesn’t feel neglected or like they’re being groped. And not just the fruit, even the coffee is packed in capsules. And these designer guys who come up with it, they invent packaging, because it’s the packaging that counts here, not the contents. And then you keep people from bothering with the contents by making them deal with the packaging. And it’s like with the N, no one thinks it’s weird. If tomorrow you had to sort the yogurt cups by flavor, everybody else would do that too. Today you chuck all the ads into the paper bin, and tomorrow they come back into your house as more ads, but they’ve gone through an entire cycle that has to be just right. And these plastic bottles, if I had a little more money, I wouldn’t return these recyclable plastic bottles, I’d rather just put them in a bin. The right one for plastic, of course. There you are at a machine that won’t take your bottles, because the label is a bit wrinkled and the machine can’t read it properly anymore. Then you stretch out the label so it’s flat, again and again, you really have to be meticulously pity, so the machine can read it and then crush the whole bottle together with the label. That’s complete madness. They say the Germans are diligent. But really they are only diligent because they make work for themselves where there actually isn’t any. Instead they could try to reduce trash: that would be efficient. But they always just want to be effective and are only happy, when they can plan things. I yearn for the trash at home, believe me, I miss trash so much, I’m feeling homesick. Real trash, not just this sorting-out-the-recycling-into-all-these-different-bins-in-different-colors-with-different-types-of-trash crap.

Works Cited

Adelson, Leslie. “Against Between: A Manifesto.” Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration, 1955-2005. Eds. Deniz Göktürk, David Gramling, Anton Kaes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. (265-270). Print.

Özdoğan, Selim. Wieso Heimat, ich wohne zur Miete. Innsbruck: Haymon Verlag, 2016. Print.

[1] The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam. Male pilgrims traditionally shave their heads at the end of the pilgrimage and subsequently grow a beard.

[2] Isa gave Emre a ticket to see the Kurdish-Turkish comedian Yılmaz Erdoğan, who has the same last name as the current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan.

[3] Sozialpädagogik

[4] Krishna Mustafa is referring to the Kurdish-Turkish actor, poet and comedian Yılmaz Erdoğan, not to be confused with the Turkish president of the same name.