My first day in ′Almanya′ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 31.10.2011
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My first day in 'Almanya'

DW's Baha Güngör came to Germany from Turkey - where everyone told him the Germans would be good to him - when he was a child. He remembers the long journey 50 years ago, and recounts how his life unfolded in Almanya.

Bahaeddin Güngör

Baha Güngör heads Deutsche Welle's Turkish Program

"You're going to Germany" - time and again, my teacher, my neighbors in Istanbul's Üsküdar district, our local grocer "Bakkal" Ahmet told me: "Germany is good, the Germans are our friends, Germans are good people." They all spoke well of the Germans and Germany: Germans are "friends", "brothers in arms", "industrious" and "disciplined." There were days when I could hardly wait to go to "Almanya" - to be reunited with my parents who had left for Germany three years earlier.

October 28, 1961 was the big day: my grandmother and I embarked on our journey to "Almanya." Saying goodbye to our neighbors had lasted for many days: I hugged friends and little children, respectfully kissed elders' hands - and couldn't understand why so many adults were crying. At the age of 11, I had no idea that we would not be coming back.

Journey to 'Almanya'...

Güngör and family 1961

Before leaving Istanbul in 1961

On the railway platform at Sirkeci on the European side of the Bosporus, where the Orient Express once chugged in carrying well-heeled travelers, people would wave farewell to relatives leaving to work or study in "Almanya." I was wearing a hand-knitted yellow sweater - a going-away present from a neighbor - with a v-neck that nicely showed my tie, which in those days was an essential part of a Turk's traveling clothes. We did not have a lot of luggage: two suitcases and two medium-size bags. Being a student, my passport read "etudiant" and I was allowed to carry 72 Deutschmarks and 50 pfennigs in foreign currency - certainly not a fortune.

…a one way ticket

Many people on the platform had brought large mugs, carafes, even small pails of water. It's an old Turkish custom to toss water after a train when it leaves the station, people hope it will make the journey as easy as water flowing in a riverbed. I still wasn't aware of what was happening. I waved endlessly from the train window, while my grandmother cried and I tried to comfort her: "Granny, we'll be back soon, please don't cry!" The train was not at all crowded. Many years later, I learned that on the day of my departure from Istanbul, Germany and Turkey were fine-tuning an accord to recruit Turkish workers for post-war Germany; it was signed three days later, the day of my arrival in Aachen in West Germany.

It was only when the train no longer moved along the Marmara Sea but turned inland that I suddenly noticed that we were rapidly moving away from Istanbul. Now it was I who wanted to turn back: "Granny, let's get off the train at the next station and return." Her answer brought tears to my eyes again and again over the next three days: "No, we can't do that. We can't leave the train before we reach Germany."

A taxi ride for sweets

Turkish delight sweets

Turkish Delight paid for the first taxi ride

After we had changed trains in Munich and Cologne, where we got a commuter train to Aachen, I had surrendered to my fate and drifted along. It was early in the morning and the people in the commuter train were grim-faced. They eyed us as if we had come from outer space. The women looked like what I later learned Germans call "Trümmerfrauen" - the women who cleared the mountains of rubble in the cities after World War II.

Black cars with humpbacked trunks stood in neat rows in front of Aachen's main train station. At the head of the line of taxis was a box that looked like a bird feeder, in it a telephone with a dial. When the phone rang, the taxi driver at the front of the line answered it, returned to his car and drove off. That's how the taxi exchange used to pass on tours.

My grandmother and I dragged our luggage over to the taxi stand, and grandmother showed one of the drivers a piece of paper with my parents' address. The man made the international sign for money, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together. But we didn't have any money left. I remember how the driver shrugged his shoulders and was about to turn away but my grandmother wasn't about to give up.

She grabbed his arm and reached into a bag with her free hand. She pulled out a small box of "Lokum" - a Turkish sweet - and offered the driver a piece. He took it, mumbled something and then pocketed the whole box as pay - for a stretch of less than two kilometers, what a rascal.

Learning German…

Güngör and classmates

Baha Güngör and his classmates in Aachen, 1963/1964

I entered year four at the Protestant primary school on Annastrasse. I will never forget the principal, Mr. Grossmann. When we were introduced, he warmed my heart by welcoming me in Turkish "Hoschgeldin, Efendi". He knew other Turkish phrases, too: "yavasch yavasch, efendi" - slowly, slowly, sir, - when I'd race through the hallways.

The Germans were good to me, just as everyone had said they would be. Other kids' parents would invite me for play dates. Maria "Abla"- sister - helped me with my German. She was a shoe sales lady who was married to a Turk.

She was a patient teacher and she also got me hooked on mouth-watering veal liverwurst sandwiches. I've loved veal liverwurst since those days - spread thickly on bread, just the way she taught me.

… in the movies, too

But what really taught me German was going to the movies.

I quickly learned songs from films, and Maria explained to me what exactly I was singing. Two or three times a week, I'd head downtown to the "Aki" cinema. Sometimes I would watch the newsreels, which were about an hour long, for hours - you only had to pay 70 pfennigs and could stay as long as you liked. People walked in and out of the theater all the time. I was fascinated by the football reports and the cartoons.

From student to teacher

Güngör and students

Teaching German as a foreign language

In just a few years, my German was so good that I was asked to help translate for Turkish guest workers, teach them simple German phrases for everyday life, but also translate at court or in police stations. In the 1970s, I taught adult evening classes: "German as a foreign language".

Yes, the Germans were good to me.

For many years now, I have been going back and forth between "Türkiye" and "Almanya". Istanbul is still my hometown, but my home is in Germany's Rhineland region.

Author: Baha Güngör / db
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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