Christoph Schäfer

The occupation of Gezi Park by several hundred people in 2013 sparked the biggest protest movement in Turkish history. The drawings and notes below circle this event, which marked the beginning of a historic turn. So far, almost nothing has been achieved. The character of this movement, however, heralds important news for emancipatory movements worldwide.

Istanbul, July 2013: We have to keep an eye on the small car back there—they shoot with rubber bullets, Jakob warns me about the white Land Rover at the end of the pedestrian street, 600 meters away. Around us, people are shopping, Istiklal Street is crowded like Spitalerstraße on a Saturday. I would not have seen any threat in the car—seconds later it is speeding through the street, just missing the shoppers unsuspectingly oozing out of Saturn Media Store. Jakob quickly pulls me into a side street, behind one of the mall’s post-modern columns. Just in time—the armored car has already arrived, stopping at the corner of the street. Plockplockplock–plock-plock rubber bullets are firing into the alley. A hauntingly quiet clicking at eye level. Then it drives on.

Only minutes before we had been sitting in a generous, sun flooded working atmosphere in Fuat’s living room, working on drawings, buildings and websites, looking at the Bosphorus. Relatives of a member of the Gezi protests, who had died of his injuries, had called for a rally today. As always, ever since Gezi Park had been evicted, the park and neighboring Taksim-Square were blocked by a massive police force and the demonstration was violently broken up shortly after. Unlike here in Hamburg, the following-the-police hunt is filmed with tablet computers, and streamed live on the internet. It is hard to tell who is here for the protest and who is here for other reasons. Just a few are wearing black, the protest is wearing dresses, skirts, jeans and knows no age. The police make no distinction either, and treat everyone equally badly. Of course there are agents everywhere. But they can be recognized easily, their faces do not shine with joy.

Image 1. Christoph Schäfer, Bild 5, Bostanorama exhibition (February 20-March 21, 2015), Selekta Studio, Hamburg, Germany. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Gezi Park, 6 weeks after eviction.

Gezi is an earthquake in the collective unconscious. Göksun has placed me in front of her on the lawn. In her washed-out flower dress she radiates a fascinating overdose of femininity and masculinity all at once. It is an ontological revolution, she continues. The brutal eviction of the Park (130,000 shells of tear gas throughout the country) happened six weeks ago, and I have missed occupygezi. Before her inner eye, pictures of those two weeks are stronger than the pictures of the now, that is pacified by concealed violence. Third day of the occupation: we were 40 people, the police came at dawn, beat us up, burnt down the tents. Before noon we were 60, we wanted to sleep for one, two hours after what had happened and then think about how to proceed. At 4 in the afternoon, suddenly we were a thousand, and from then onwards more and more came. We were ten thousands by evening—it was overwhelming.

Bülent owns a pharmacy at Taksim square. We are supposed to meet at the Gezi Teagarden. At first I go to the big one, where I had at least five teas with Fulya and Murat during the Gezi-protest-concert. Now the chairs are gone and I ask a man in the pavilion where the tea garden is. Closed, he says, thanks to Tayyip. Eventually I find Bülent in the other tea garden.

The pharmacist had stood under the excavator, wanting to tear down the first tree. I know exactly when that was, because I took a photo of the standing excavator two minutes later. He is a member of the Green Party and one of the kind that was last seen in Germany in the early eighties: active in grassroots initiatives, brave, street smart, relentless and taking the streets, when it matters. Until Gezi we were just a club, actually not a real party. Now it’s different. We think about forming an electoral alliance with the BDP. After all it was an MP of the Kurdish party, who had first stepped in front of the excavator holding up his parliamentarian ID—without success. A few days later, in the occupied park, Öcalan flags hung next to Turkish national flags of the kemalist CHP. However, in the center—the LGBT tent—they were those of the lesbian-gay-transgender groups.

Micro political accuracy

More and more people of the initiative show up, most of them older than thirty, and I get an idea of the brave, bourgeois wing of the protests. A woman participant had dwelled on Park Fiction, St. Pauli the year before. Plain-clothes cops sneak around, but nobody is impressed. Three young football supporters pass by, two wearing a Beşiktaş, one wearing a Fenerbahçe jersey. They shout Çarşı’s political, sarcastic slogans. Istanbul is indeed United—supporters of all clubs allied against the regime.

Tea with Çarşı

St. Pauli, December 2014: Glasses of tea steaming in front of us, we are talking some Turkish, and a bohemian barber in a black vest, with round metal rim glasses, a grey ponytail and a three-day-beard is snipping the hair of a customer. Shortly before Christmas, Nagi and I sit on an elegant sofa in the new Barber shop Çarşı on Silbersackstraße. Çarşı is the coolest opening of the year and very close to Reeperbahn. The place is so good that I forgot what was here before, even though I passed by daily. Outside, one of those programmable LED-signs from China is blinking and pumping. Inside, it has glossy black wallpaper with white stripes on the walls, a plain sofa in the corner with a coffee table in front of it. Choosing its name and colors, the shop took a stand. 98% of the neighbors do not understand the symbolism of the colors, and I would not have a clue, had I not been to Istanbul shortly before and after the occupation of Gezi Park.

Nagi and I visit the hairdresser to advertise the PlanBude questionnaire, which has been freshly translated into Turkish. We form part of the PlanBude-Team and organize the re-planning of the ESSO-Houses in the neighborhood.[1] The eviction of the ESSO-Houses a year before provoked a new expansion of the “right to the city” movement in Hamburg.[2] The walls of the building, which the owner had neglected for decades, were trembling. Just before Christmas, the police were able to evict the house within minutes. Spontaneous rallies against this expulsion followed the next day. On the 21st of December, a demonstration to link this incident with the Rote Flora and the protest against the treatment of the refugees of “Lampedusa in Hamburg” was attacked by the police right at the start.[3] In January, St. Pauli was declared a danger zone—and this deprivation of rights was in turn swept away by real life danger zone games and toilet brush protests, leading also to a new degree of self-organization under the label “St. Pauli selber machen” (“St. Pauli—Do it Yourself”).[4]

City without mystery, without history, without everyday life—gentrification not only destroys affordable housing but also this: the dive bars at ground level and in the cellars, shaped by hosts and guests, are replaced by pre-formatted catering with bar tables outside, mobile phone stores, kiosks, self-service bakeries, cup-cake vendors, poster galleries. In the dull street scenery slogans are mounted to the facades: Kiez, St. Pauli, Pauli, Reeperbahn, Hans Albers, conjuring a history, whose appellation, conservation, staging, even speeds up its own vanishing. In St. Pauli, like in many cities around the globe, the struggle for a right to the city has intensified, a struggle that is primarily about difference in the center, about the public character and accessibility of urban space also for foreigners and have-nots, the right to the appropriation and collective reinvention of the city for all.

Image 2. Christoph Schäfer working in Istanbul (2014). Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Spatialize your desire

It would hardly have been possible for PlanBude to open urban planning to the many, without the previous protests. People want to participate in what happens to their cities, the barber explains to his client, it is like in Istanbul, like in Gezi Park, where Erdogan wanted to build a mall. Even if Gezi was on another level in terms of intensity, quality and extent, and there, neoliberal reshaping is blatantly enforced with corruption, laws, disappropriation and armed state authority. In both places it’s essentially about spatialized resistance against the capitalist production of space. About resistant bodies. About places of imagination, collectively developed by everyday life. About urban space, that is made, altered, produced by action.

Like Beşiktaş market. Market is Çarşı in Turkish and since the early eighties supporters of the football club meet there. That is how they got their name. Çarşı is the leftist and the biggest supporter group of Beşiktaş—a football club, and an Istanbul quarter known for difference and non-conformity. Nowadays in urban development policies, hungry for events, the audience is intended as a background decoration for sponsoring and TV broadcast: roles are fixed. Not those of Çarşı.

Çarşı, her şeye karşı!—Çarşı is against everything. They proved that the anarchist-“A” in their name is not an idle threat when militantly helping occupygezi: They struck back at the advancing police forces and their water cannons, using a captured excavator. Çarşı’s intervention marked the first turning point of the Gezi protests. Now, as we sit here in the barber shop, 30 Çarşı stand trial—accused of having planned a coup against the government. That’s what they always say, comments the barber.

“Push Tayyip”

T-Shirt imprint on breast level, pink, 2013 [5]

2014/15: Unfortunately Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured his power even further. He survived Gezi and used the events to polarize society, the same way he used the wave of charges for corruption against his peers a few months later. He credits the charges to the Gülen movement, the Islamist mafia- and lodge-like organization that had once been his ally. Already in the autumn after Gezi, friends assumed that Erdogan had planned to operate as the Emir of a renewed Ottoman power and use the huge Turkish army as a major strategic force in the Middle East. Also, the rise of Isis would have hardly been possible without the covert support of the Turkish state. It is a dark time, shaped by power politics and regression. Considering the preliminary, violent victory of the suppression, moments like the Gezi-Taksim movement can quickly be underestimated and forgotten. But nothing would be more wrong.

A city, where tools are sold with a view of the sea, can’t be all bad.

Istanbul, February 2013: The bazar for tools is one of the best places in the world. It has spread into historic niches, an ottoman caravanserai from the seventeenth century and near-by houses that are in danger of collapsing. Every German DIY superstore is poor, compared to Perşembe Pazarı in Karaköy. Every tool in the world is offered, there are cheapest drillers and finest Makitas, burr attachments of all kind, a Jewish plastic merchant, axel bearings in all sizes, single ball bearings, enigmatic things made of rubber, milking machines, craftsmen producing springs by request. The technological knowledge of occident and orient flow together here. The connection to the informal economy is as present as the highly professional material of the most specialized companies around the globe. And the best part? The tool bazar is located directly at the Bosphorus. Around the corner, after some steps, the shady narrowness of the alley opens into a lawn with improvised tea and fish stands, with seats and a view of the water and the Hagia Sophia on the other side of the river. A city, where tools are sold with a view of the sea, can’t be all bad.

And, as with everything which is and should stay that beautiful, one knows there will soon be a dumb cruise terminal here. Soon jewelry will be sold to tourists in the old vaults and at the waterfront a hotel and the headquarters of some insurance company will be raised up.

Fatoş, an urban success story

These plans exist of course and authorities already planned to move Perşembe Pazarı in the early nineties: To Perpa. The twelve-story high, football pitch wide concrete building is located in Kağıthane, once a local recreational area for people of the metropolis. Inside I meet Fatoş. Wearing her headscarf and her white lab coat, she sits in the back of a store, which sells special, accurate polishing machines. Factories like Ford need those to finish off industrial molds. I have the monopoly for the import, Fatoş says, apparently enjoying the diversion our visit brings. The entrepreneur tells us about how she made her way in an all-male profession. She started working at the old bazar as a teenager, in the office of a Jewish merchant. He encouraged her, being in her mid-twenties, to take over the business. Meanwhile she runs various branches across the city. I did not wear a headscarf before, but since I have been on Hadj it is important to me. Do those informal possibilities still exist today? Could young people slip into a production like this? No, today written applications have to be sent, certificates shown. Actually that’s not our style. Everything is formalized, more and more like where you come from.

The city is a machine of possibilities.

Henri Lefebvre

Cities have an implicit knowledge. Istanbul-Constantinople-Byzantium has seen many empires and religions come and go. By its informal everyday life practices it relativizes dominant ideologies’ claim of solitary representation: whether under the banner of catch-up industrialization, neoliberal city planning or Islamist restriction. The metropolis is in danger of losing its intelligence—its density of contradictions and differences, the ability to make unlikely encounters more likely, the ability to create possibilities for its citizens to overcome boundaries set by tradition, religion and gender, to reinvent themselves.

Agoraphobia: Urban Transformation in Istanbul

13th Istanbul Biennial public program | Making The City Public, February 2013

Erdogan’s policy of urban transformation is characterized by the destruction of the informal sector under the banner of progress, while at the same time favoring monopolization and companies with ties to the government. Everywhere in the city there is expropriation, expulsion and demolition: In Sulukule it struck the Roma. In Tarlabaşı aside from the last Roma it was the Kurds, migrants and transsexuals. Have-nots coming from the Black Sea have to leave the Bostans of Yedikule, the ancient vegetable gardens in and around the city walls. In Beyoglu craftsmen disappear. In the Gecekondu-Quarters the pretense is: danger of collapse in case of an earthquake. [6] The urban middle class fights against the conversion of Gezi Park and Taksim square, with the support of the chamber of architects. The protest of the Gezi-Taksim-initiative is designed so cleverly that initiatives from German cities could learn from them. But none of them succeeds. But, as Erbay Yucak, lawyer for the suburban informal settlers, as well as math professor Betül Tanbay from Taksim platform point out: There is no space for negotiation.

If resistance operates that cleverly and with that much determination and still success is not in sight, an explosion is possible. Also for another reason: hedonistic everyday culture, mischief, lust for life and the style on the streets and at night, obviously contradict the policies, guidelines, laws and remarks of the government. While the government seems to be from another world, another time, young people are dancing to the same music, drinking the same drinks, openly pose on Facebook, know pretty much everything and visit their contemporaries in Europe or the U.S. The ideological call of social media—Be creative! It depends on you!—resonates in their consciousness—as the promise of an autonomously created world. A huge discrepancy exists between this world and the officially decreed immaturity. I think that is what Germany might have felt like in 1967, shortly before the emergency laws were issued. Tick tock.

6 weeks before the explosion.

It’s the 13th of April 2013 and Gezi Park is enclosed by metal fencing, only accessible through tiny holes. The goal is obvious: site fence politics, so the park won’t be used and will be forgotten even before it is destroyed. Now it is a trap that can be closed with a small number of police.

Taksim platform has organized a protest concert. Established political bands play their songs, the older ones in the crowd know the verses and sing along. In Hamburg 1500 people would not be a small event, but for my Istanbul fellows that is too little. It’s not too many young people, but families with children, nobody is wearing black, night life dresses sparkle under the coats. There is a slack line installed between the endangered trees. Everything is relaxed—until Tahribad-ı İsyan enter the stage. The 17 year-old rappers from Sulukule turn up the heat—and make connections between the demolition projects throughout the city. They are called Destruction2Rebellion, Fulya tells me. Some brought tents, on the quiet, people are talking about an occupation.

Postponed, for today.

The revolution takes place in my absence.

It’s impossible to cover the events between May 27 and June 16, 2013 here—look for countless reports, photos and videos hashtagged #occupygezi or #direngezi or watch three hours of videos by videoccupy on

Reinvention of the public sphere

Hamburg, June 15th 2013: I sit with friends of the Rote Flora, already drinking our third beer, when we get the news that the police are clearing Gezi Park. At 8:16 pm a video still travels the world via twitter, showing police forces, who set the tree of wishes in Gezi Park on fire. At that point we decide to rename Park Fiction St. Pauli Gezi Park. At one o’clock in the morning, Margit has the idea to call for a collective photo shoot. At 6 pm the following day, 250 neighbors, Rotfloristen, guests of Golden Pudel and supporters of FC St. Pauli stand on the palm tree island. Afterwards a spontaneous demonstration moves to the Turkish consulate, there uniting with another demonstration to move on to Schanze chanting: Her Yer Taksim, Her Yer Direniş and rudely insulting the Turkish prime minister. Our picture is online at 6:15 pm. In the following days it travels social media and is seen 66,000 times on Facebook alone. Afterwards there is not a week without action in the park. Justus’ and Daniels’ tea cart becomes a political platform. Turkish associations arrange a protest concert, Ergün and Erkan stage a critical-solidarity Rakı flash mob at safe distance, Nils and Woldo create Gezi Park Hamburg buttons. One of them finds its way to the piano of the Taksim pianist, who just returned to Germany and decided to play a spontaneous concert in the park, drives up with a tuned VW Scirocco, pushes the piano into the center of the park and plays until late at night. Davide Martello’s appearance is moving, even though a considerable number of musically spoiled Hamburgers are not enthusiastic about Beatles songs performed in a Richard Clayderman kind of style. Still there is a twinkle of what must have happened in Gezi Park before: the gathering of bodies in a space that charges the now stale notion of the public with passion and reinvents it. Referring to the early American revolutionaries, Hannah Arendt called it public happiness: The pleasure of collective enjoyment, of self-organization. The power that emanates from differences acting collectively.

Image 3. Mini-Pudel Saloon built on the site of the destroyed Pudel Club near the Park Fiction site in Hamburg (2016). The Park Fiction Archive will be stored in this space. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Revolution and Public Happiness

Hannah Arendt

This culminates in a test match between FC St. Pauli and Beşiktaş Istanbul on July 12th, 2013. Sisterhood has produced Gezi Park Fiction St. Pauli t-shirts beforehand. The stadium is crowded with Gezi banners, slogans, penguins. Flares are lit, the game stopped, waves of mutual appreciation surging back and forth between the supporters of St. Pauli and the Çarşı, who had come from all over the country and abroad. Subsequently a spontaneous demonstration starts towards Gezi Park Fiction, where Booty Carrell and Erkan—not quite as spontaneously—have already set up a sound system, banging minority beats. I have put up the big pastel drawing 532 A.D. and give a short speech on it, translated by Erdogan (from GWA, the local community center, no relation to Tayyip). The video activists from videoccupy, who have travelled from Istanbul, are filming and interviewing. The team, financed by FC-St.Pauli-coffee-solidarity-groups is particularly interested in the resistance of Lampedusa in Hamburg, who can, at that point, still count on the support of the church.[7] In the previous weeks the St. Pauli church, located amidst Park Fiction, had become the focal point for support from the neighborhood.

There is dancing into the late night, and one can only tell where somebody else is from which records they are able to sing along to.

532 A.D.: Istanbul United

Holbaek, February 2013: For my six-week seminar in the Danish Kunsthojskole I take with me piles of literature about the histories of Istanbul and Turkey. I am especially interested in the history of the Nika riots. Not anticipating something similar might soon happen in the same city, I create a large pastel drawing of the events:

In the Roman Empire there were two competing groups of chariot racing fans: the greens and the blues, in the drawing depicted as hairy beings. On the 13th of January 532 A.D., a unique event takes place: both fan groups unite to demand freedom for two of their members, who have fled from the state’s henchmen into a church. As the autocratically reigning emperor does not meet the demands of the supporters, they start rioting and make the capital of the East Roman Empire stand still. Their password was “Nika” (νίκα) and they beat several legions—and bring the Roman Empire to the brink of collapsing.

Like today’s VIPs with their stadium lounges, the emperor has his own stand in the hippodrome, directly connected to his palace. In the age of panem et circenses, the audience leaves its passive role, forms an alliance—and almost overthrows the regime.

Here the constantly underrated audience speaks.

Gustav, “Neulich im Kanal” (Recently on the TV) from Verlass die Stadt (2008) [8]

I made this drawing half a year before occupygezi, but the events in Istanbul show an intriguing resemblance—in the course of the peaceful, violently suppressed protest against the autocrat Erdogan the Çarşı took the Gezi-Taksim-movement’s side and formed an alliance with the fans of Fehnerbace and Galata—”Istanbul United“. The way in which Ultras or Çarşı reject the outdated role of the passive spectators and figurehead, and how they bring political and emancipatory contents into the stadium, making them arenas of the public sphere, marks a change of premises, much like the struggle for Gezi Park does—from consumer to producer. Appropriation and collective redefinition, Park Fiction writes on its website, one day after the game.

You made alcohol illegal. Now people have sobered up.

Graffiti in Istklal Street, June 2013

Istanbul, end of July 2013: five weeks after the violent eviction of Gezi Park by the police, I am back. First I walk through Istiklal Street. On the way there and in the shopping street itself all the walls, facades, site fences and shutters are repainted with grey color. What must have been going on underneath the paint, graffiti full of sarcasm and irony, got around quickly. I didn’t have any idea Turks could be that funny, a Turkish friend tells me.

Now we are sitting in a backyard garden, having dinner.

I came back with a plan and a theory. The plan: talk to as many people as possible and write it down as precisely as possible the next day—and to draw. As I talked to most people in English, this text now continues in this language. (i.e. the original, not the translated version you have been reading, is largely written in English starting from here)

Can you imagine another country, where people eat together as a form of protest?

Can you imagine another country, where people eat together as a form of protest? The lady next to me smiles while we indulge in shared food in a public Iftar [the meal that ends the day during Ramadan] in Yeniköy Park. More than three hundred people have gathered, an hour away from Istanbul center by metro and minibus. More than half of the participants are women, of all ages, skin colors, with headscarves or with hair bleached blonde, in jeans, beautiful summer dresses or Istanbul United T-Shirts. Gezification continues.

If we cannot congregate in Gezi Park, we meet in other parts of town, a Lady from Besiktas explains. The Iftar is a continuation of the protest-fasting-breaking-meal in Ramadan, in which the Anti-Capitalist Muslims had first called believers and non-believers to join, two weeks ago in Istiklal Street.

Schaffer Image 1 Public Iftar

Image 4. Christoph Schäfer, Public Iftar, Bostanorama exhibition (February 20-March 21, 2015), Selekta Studio, Hamburg, Germany. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Unlikely encounters

Some travelled here by 75 Cent Minibus, others by foot from the neighborhood, and a couple arrived in a brand new Range Rover: but it’s not only the tactics, the impressive size, the differences of class and faith that come together here, that constitute the Gezi Spirit. Rather, it is a new type of moving, of action, which marks the deep change that is announcing itself in the Gezi-Taksim-movement: its power is rooted in everyday activities, which people place in political contexts.

At the Iftar, the conversations flow gently from politics to the personal, from descriptions to reflections. But it’s the presence of the personal that marks the difference. People brought mostly home cooked food. Everyone here in the park is an expert, contributing what they can do best: opposite me a lady has grown everything in her own garden, another one to the left explains to us her recipe for cooking unprocessed raw rice, the most tasty, aromatic rice I ever had in my life.[9]

Hedonistic reinvention of the public sphere

This shift of context, this going public of private activity, creates the inviting atmosphere of the Gezi Movement. Istanbulites don’t treat collectivism as an issue of party politics or trade union organizing–but in a fashion, that extends the closeness, complexity and intimacy of friendship circles. In no time, I, the foreigner who missed his appointment, gets invited into the Iftar, gets seated and minutes later we are in a lively conversation that reminds me of the type of exchange you would have, when a good friend invites you to his house for dinner with a carefully selected round of interesting people.

The delicate woman I talk with first turns out to be an architect. Quickly we share stories about Hafencity and Galata Port, Mega Turbo Gentrification in Istanbul (which she is ashamed about), and real estate corruption. The most knowledgeable critics of urban policy, and the abilities necessary to change things, meet right here.

Istanbul is re-inventing togetherness in multifaceted ways, is redefining common in a joyful way, full of love, knowledge and courage. There is a lesson to be learned from this, for emancipatory movements to evolve around the globe.

A political garden story

I have a theory about why it is Turkey and Istanbul, of all places, that is destined to pioneer this innovation:

As a form of un-political escapism, urban Turks developed a hedonistic culture in the Ottoman Empire, because the governing layer was sealed off and did not allow even the slightest form of participation or discussion of public affairs: the ranks of administration, army, and government alike, were recruited from children, taken away from Greek or Armenian minority families, raised and educated by the state–an army of Clone Warriors, if there ever was one.[10] In contrast to Medieval and early Renaissance Europe, where a public sphere and democratic elements developed and were struggled for gradually with the emergence of cities, this development did not happen under the Ottomans. Their Government was defined by an iron ceiling, impermeable for citizens or lower aristocrats. Thus the thesis, people developed an apolitical attitude and a strong hedonistic culture, an everyday life, where earthly pleasures were enjoyed in big family and friendship circles.

Image 5. Christoph Schäfer, Hedonism, Bostanorama exhibition (February 20-March 21, 2015), Selekta Studio, Hamburg, Germany. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Istanbulites developed a specific garden type corresponding with the needs of these citizens. Informal and close to nature, the Ottoman Garden is different from the symmetric, axial, cross-shaped garden pattern, that spread with Islam from North India to Morocco. The Bosphorus garden, in contrast, is made of lawn or meadow, some loosely spread trees, a spring or edged well–and a sea view.[11] City dwellers used to form groups of families and friends and commuted from the city to these gardens. The groups would not interact with the other groups, and spent days enjoying nature, food and the company of friends and family:

The use the Ottomans made of space was essentially static and contemplative, yet varied (here you sit, you sing, you eat and relax). The family or group, an ideal, unexceedable social circle formed a self contained and anonymous presence in space (although this fixedness set itself in motion with coaches or boats) and did not entertain relationships with the other groups nearby. The slow pace of movement, the “settledness,” the common life, the silence, the joy of peace–all that, in turn, influenced the perception of space. The walk turned into a trip to the countryside; whole families or groups of friends occupied a locality for hours, sometimes days, and put up their tents there. For this reason the number of walking paths and lawns in Istanbul increased considerably. Mostly they were natural meadows at the coast of the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus and the surrounding hills.[12]

All these gardens disappeared in the late nineteenth century.

The autocratic structure of the Ottoman empire was inherited by the Turkish Republic to a considerable extent. And leftist oppositional forces in Turkey reacted, accordingly, with a rather harsh breed of western ideologies and ways of public speech. Is it a wonder, then, that a whole generation turned its back on politics, and devoted their lives to going out, video-games and Facebook conversations instead?

Now this generation has taken to the streets and to the few remaining parks, and it has brought back, activated (and altered) forms of sharing and common-ness that used to be restricted to the private realm.

Going Public

We had to go public, a 19 year-old student from a private university tells me. We are educated, we are learning all the time, we speak more languages than the president and his government–and he treats us as if we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t accept to be told how to live, who to marry or not, how many children I should have. I accept girls attending university, or wearing headscarves, if it is her decision and she wants to preserve herself for the one she loves. But I don’t accept someone telling me if I am allowed to drink or not.

Turkish people don’t have the problems with alcoholism that the Scandinavians, the English or the Germans do. We meet in the streets, we talk and have a drink and have fun, it’s Mediterranean culture, a young guy tells me.

Leave your flags at home

At the end of the Iftar an Anti-Capitalist Muslim gives a speech. The architect with the pony-tail translates parts of it to me: We have to abolish flags, leave them at home. This is about coming together, everyone, and we have to struggle together.

The Anti-Capitalist Muslims are central figures of the protest, and people listen to them carefully. One reason—the long period of repression against religious people, who eventually formed a large part of the AKPs (Justice and Development Party) electorate. Consequently, it is the Muslim critics of neoliberal politics, who the government fears most—and attacks fiercely. Islamic Banks try to get their books banned. Neither are their views compatible with old school Kemalism. But things get moving, views change and thoughts shift.

The first day of police attacks against the park, my sister went. I had to look after my little brother. She came back at six in the morning and only when we saw on twitter and Facebook . . . did we get an idea, of what was going on. I wanted to go the next day, and talked with my Mum. “As a mother”, she said, “I want you to be safe, I care for you and I should tell you to stay home. But as a citizen of this country—you have to go.” That was like “Wow!” to me—if she says that, there is really something serious going on. (. . .) I don’t like violence and never threw a stone at the police. But when I arrived, barricades were everywhere, cars were burning . . . It was necessary. Without the damage, no one would listen to us! I am thankful for that! We had to go public.

Her words resonate in my mind. Going Public is active, is a different concept than The Public or Public Opinion, that stale, sterile, bureaucratic concept inherited from the Romans, forever linked to state power and the emergence of private property. All around the globe, the private–public-couple-cum-opposition has structured our spaces, our lives, our thinking, our desires. Wherever it came, it attacked and erased the practice of the commons.

Mobile phones and connected struggles

And here is yet another Turkish word we will have to learn: Müstereklerimiz means “Our Commons,” and that is the name of the most innovative and cleverly intervening group in the movement. They continue in other places—on his smartphone a video activist shows me photos of an action the day before. One thousand Müstereklerimiz travelled by boats and yachts to Yassiada, an island near Istanbul, that the government would like to transform into yet another tourist resort. Now still a nearly natural place with beautiful Yale and Kösk, wooden houses that were for centuries the common secular building type around Istanbul.

The activists organized a forum with the local homeowners and tenants. The owners claimed to be the most important voice, but with the forum, a shared platform of exchange and resistance was built between owners and tenants.

One guy explains his job at a scientific institute to me. I am a scientist in surveillance technology. With our satellites, I see everything, I can see ten meters deep into the ground.

Potentially, all the knowledge is there, in this park, coming together over homemade food. These people could take over the whole bakery and run it any time. And they would change it fundamentally. Assuming that she works for the state, I ask a woman, aren’t you afraid?

We all used to be afraid three months ago. But not any more.

Pots, pans and stuff

2011 Prime Minister Erdoğan gives a speech. Progress must not be held back by this archaeological stuff, those clay pots and pans. The “archaeological stuff” Mr. Erdoğan referred to in his speech is perhaps the most amazing archaeological discovery of this century in Istanbul: the remains of the first inhabitants of the city were found under the ancient harbor of Byzantium. These remains proved that Istanbul has a much longer past than anyone had expected. In addition to the discovery and excavation of some thirty Byzantine ships, precious and unique wooden and organic remains dating back some 8,000 years were uncovered. These finds proved to be revolutionary in changing our understanding of the deep past of this magnificent city, wrote archaeologist Dr. Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir in the Hürriyet Daily News from May 1, 2011.


he felt uneasy and it dawned on

the emperor

 that the city might have

 a logic

 of its own

 and that this logic was different from

 his logic

 that of the state

 the nation

 the ideology

 the empire.

 I am 8000 years old

 states, nations, religions, ideologies, systems and empires

I have seen them

 come and go

 and fall to dust

 he hears the houses whisper.

 But when he

 escorted by his minions

 drives through the streets

 the whisper in his ears starts to sound like a



Istanbul is a city of aliens (mom, am I barbarian?)

Little aliens are everywhere around Istanbul, yellow sculptures of extraterrestrial foreigners with antennas on their heads. This celebration of the foreign as part of the city is the present of a cell phone company. The aliens are the expression of the unconscious recognition of the excursus The Stranger by Georg Simmel—it’s the presence of the stranger, who defines the city as a city.

The real strangers, with bodies made of flesh and blood, live outside the city walls at first. Those people are formerly called barbarians—and it’s them that curator Fulya Erdemci wanted to put at the 2013 Istanbul Biennale’s center of attention. The title is a question by Lale Müldür: “Mom, am I barbarian?”. The barbarians of today live in and from the ancient Roman city wall: Of all German newspapers it’s the right wing Die Welt, that wrote about the destruction of Yedikule’s bostans first. Bostans are small farmers’ vegetable gardens. In Ottoman times they met the need for fresh vegetables for the whole city. After traveling a hypocritical world, the journey of Voltaire’s hero Candide ends right here in these gardens. Today migrants work the land, most of them moved here from Samsun on the Black Sea over the last decades. They plant the gardens with lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, like it has been done for centuries. Together with Aleksandar Shopov I visit the farmers, who water their fields with traditional wells and have created a little paradise under fig trees. The gardens are a secret paradise, a giardino secreto, at least as impressive as the baroque vegetable gardens of the Château de Villandry. But no one except for the farmers themselves, their daughters, whom we meet hunting for birds with an air-gun, and a handful of researchers know about this mother of urban gardening. Its secret beauty will only be discovered when it’s too late. When the AKP will have replaced the gardens with sport facilities for the new middle-class, when the neighboring land will be sold off to a real-estate developer with ties to the party.[13] The surrounding city wall will then be rebuilt and falsified with forged, computer-milled stones, transformed into a decontextualized, solitary, sublime monument. It won’t recall any life, just the mythical victory of the Ottomans over Constantinople in 1453. Some kilometers further on from the gardens, Erdogan has already dedicated a bloody, late Wilhelmine style panorama to that victory.

When the demolition company started tearing down the historic parts of the garden just a few days after Gezi, only a few young people came to stop the excavator. At the same time a mob of head scarf wearing women carrying clubs appeared to support the builders and police on behalf of the local AKP. Once again, the classic division was successful. Never before have I felt so much like an outsider here, Sevgi says, who had studied the wall for a decade and knows all its secret users.

That reminds me of a talk with Yashar in a Beyoglu Cafe, seven weeks before Gezi. In our tenant meetings in the Gecekondu the fingers flip fast pointing at the veiled women. “Hey, it’s you who has been voting for Erdogan“ and there it is again, the blame, the division. I call it the sick coalition—of students, seculars, some progressive minorities, left kemalists: If we cannot work together with pious Muslims, who had been suppressed for decades, we will not be able to stop the destruction of the city.

The Revenge of Pans, Pots and Stuff

 My mother told me: “I can’t come to Taksim square, I am too old for that. I will stand by the window with a pot and a wooden spoon and protest that way.” She also approached a policeman. “Son”, she said, “it could be your kids. Stop shooting at them, stop beating them up.”

Immediately after the eviction of Gezi Park, assemblies are formed in over eight quarters of the city. I visit the one in Beşiktaş, meeting in a postmodern reconstruction of a Greek theatre, at last unexpectedly fulfilling its empty promise of democracy. There is an open mike, tea and plenty of time. The panel is opened by an a capella group performing new capulcu songs about water cannons and resistance. Even though the panel starts an hour too late nobody was willing to shorten the artistic contributions: people are proud of their artists, delighted by the diversity of the movement and listen to the most abstruse contributions for at least ten minutes. In fact, most people are brief, knowing that this is a special moment and that the attention of the listeners is an inevitably scarce resource. This is a magic moment. Margit says: I have seen the women’s eyes, how they looked. Something happened there, something opened, something that will have an effect at some remote point and cannot be undone.

In 1972 Lefebvre considered the imagination of everyday life to be the force that could challenge the hegemony of the global. Those forces would meet in the squares, the streets, and the parks of the city. Those would be the spaces where the fight between the rule of the global and the power of the local will take place. The city as a production site of values gains importance. Eighty assemblies are a powerful statement in this context. During the weeks before and after Gezi the parks became platforms of exchange, spaces of collective reinvention of society. Gezi excitingly collectivized private daily practice and carried it into public space. This is a specification of the impending urban revolution—and an essential enhancement of the historic, by now blunt, weapon of the working class, the strike. Emergency brake and acceleration at once. We will have to learn to connect Beyoglu to St. Pauli, Tarlabasi to Kreuzberg, Esso houses to Kotti & Co, Schwabing to Marxloh, Liverpool, Sao Paulo, Copenhagen, Rio, Boston, Barcelona, Kiev, Tel Aviv, Billstedt.

Anyone is a philosopher

Back in the park with Göksun, we talk about the enormous number of people who take part in the protest wearing their normal work clothes.

It is intriguing: suddenly, everyone had a story to tell. I have realized: anyone is a philosopher. When more and more people came to the park, when it became increasingly crowded even though there was no space left, I realized: there is enough for everyone. For human societies the rule of scarcity does not apply. It had something religious to it—considering religion and relation share the same linguistic root.

Previously I thought, we are just a few, who notice the schizophrenia of this system and can’t stand it.

It is a lot of work, keeping up the professional facade.

Exactly, precarisation has advanced further than it seems. People have cracks going through their bodies. And now those cracks have broken open.

Since the 1990s, the work of Hamburg, Germany-based artist Christoph Schäfer has focused on urban life and the production of public spaces. He is closely involved with the group Park Fiction, which worked collaboratively to oppose the planned transformation of a section of the Hamburg harbor into housing and offices, and to establish a community park instead. The reclamation and advancement of public space required not only protest but also collective action within the community and the creation of platforms for exchange between people from different cultural fields. Schäfer also collaborates with the Hamburg activist network “It’s Raining Caviar” to work against gentrification, the “Right to the City” movement, and Occupy Gezi. His independent works have included the installation Melrose Place (2005-06) in Bangalore, India that investigates the influence of new media on urban processes and imaginations in that software metropolis, and Hoang’s Bistro (2005), which deals with Asian shadow cities in Leipzig. Christoph’s work was featured in the 2013 Istanbul Biennial. The essay presented here was first published by Spector Books (Leipzig) in conjunction with Christoph’s one-person exhibition Bostanorama, at Selekta Gallery in Hamburg in March 2015. During the exhibition’s opening Christoph was presented with the Edwin Scharff Award. We are grateful to Christoph for permission to reproduce his essay.


[1] Beginning in October 2014 PlanBude (“The Planning Shack”) began collecting ideas, analyses and opinions regarding a new central building complex in the St. Pauli neighborhood of Hamburg, the ESSO Häuser-Area (named after a popular gas station with 24/7 shop) at Spielbudenplatz. Housed in two containers, placed at the construction site, PlanBude offers a wide range of planning-tools, to allow all neighbors to get involved with the planning process. PlanBude was commissioned by the local administration of the Hamburg-Central district. But it is also a product of the rich landscape of protest and self-organized grass-roots movements of St. Pauli.

Make bottom-up funky: PlanBude’s aim is the organization of a credible process. Thus, the team developed a new concept and innovative planning methods: plasticine models in scale 1:500, a LEGO-model scaled 1:150, photo research, soundwalks, doorstep interviews, seminars with the local school, inspirational readings, events and questionnaires for all households in the community. Nearly all team-members live in St. Pauli, with expertise in the fields of art, planning, social work, pop-music and cultural theory.

Local Knowledge: More than 2300 contributions came together. The results were presented in two community conferences. PlanBude and the administration negotiated these with the building owners, the real estate corporation Bayerische Hausbau, as a basis for an urban and architectural contest. Can St. Pauli be saved? Is it possible to build a new quarter, where the “Logic of St. Pauli” can be continued?

In Summer 2015, the contest has been decided, and the winner was an urban design by NL-Architects and BeL-Architects. The Design by the Amsterdam and Cologne based teams is a precise translation of the results from the PlanBude process—adding the programmatic and conceptual class and bite that one wishes for.

[2] The Esso-Houses on Reeperbahn, probably the most famous street in Hamburg, in the red-light district of St. Pauli, were a modernist complex from the early 1960s. Many of the residents had old rent contracts, their flats were cheap, and in the vicinity of the Reeperbahn a lot of subcultural venues, as well as cheap pubs were run. The houses took their name from the Esso-gas station, which was legendary—not for their petrol, but because they sold alcohol 24/7. The city sold the houses for approx. 4.5 Million EUR in 1996, and a Bavarian investor bought them in 2010 for approx. 19 Million EUR. The new owner tried to get rid of the tenants, without success. The tenants struggled for years, to save their ‘ESSO-Houses’ from demolition. In December 2013 a tremble was felt in the houses, followed by a forced eviction in the same night. The next night one thousand protesters took to the streets, followed by a 10,000 strong militant demonstration on December 21. The protest’s focus switched towards securing the return of tenants to a new building, and to gaining access to the planning process. The demand for real participation was formulated in a 400 strong district assembly in the Ballroom of St. Pauli Football Club’s stadium. From the assembly a ‘planning group’ formed, starting negotiations with the city, and developing ideas for a bottom-up planning process, the ‘PlanBude’. As negotiations slowed down, activist neighbors sped things up by starting a ‘parallel planning process’. A small caravan was parked near the construction site, making clear that the activists were able to organize an unauthorized planning process, should the city not give a free contract for an open planning process to them. Read the rest of the story in the previous footnote . . .

[3] “The context of the demonstration is the struggle of the group ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg,’ a group of about 300 refugees from Africa who had been working in Libya until the war. The refugees came via Lampedusa (Italy) to Hamburg. So far, the social-democratic city government of Hamburg ignores the rights and demands of these refugees. The future of the Lampedusa group is still uncertain. Hamburg’s city government wants to force the refugees to file individual applications for asylum. Those who complied had their Italian papers taken away and are being threatened with deportation. Some have already been deported. Therefore the majority of the Lampedusa group insists on a collective solution. Since they do not get any support from the city and are not allowed to work, these refugees depend on the solidarity of the people of Hamburg. According to the group ‘Solidarisches Wohnen’ (‘Living in Solidarity’), about 130 of these refugees found shelter in housing projects throughout the city.“ from the website of one of the organizing groups, the ‘Interventionist Left’ (IL)

[4] “Protesters adopted the toilet brush as a satirical symbol of defiance, after a video was circulated depicting a hooded man having a toilet brush confiscated by police, and also organized a pillow fight in St. Pauli. The list of items confiscated by police in the “danger zones” was described in a news report as ‘rather lean and whimsical,’ including not only a truncheon, clubs, and a pocket knife but also shawls and a plastic bucket. An unknown number of toilet brushes were noted but not taken from their owners.“ Cited in: “2013-2014 Hamburg Demonstrations,” Wikipedia,

[5] This expression is a play on the German term “pushup” (shorthand for a push-up bra) and refers to the desire to “push” Tayyip out of power. It was created by a Turkish protester in Hamburg.

[6] Gecekondu translates as “built over night” and refers to all types of settlements that started as informal squats, but became legalized in several waves.

[7] In April and May of 2013, about 80 members of the Lampedusa in Hamburg, a refugee group, had moved into the St. Pauli church, which is located in Park Fiction.

[8] Gustav is a Viennese singer. This is a quote from a song on her 2008 album Verlass die Stadt (Leave the Town). See

[9] One part rice, eight parts water, simmer at very low temperatures for hours, add butter and salt. Thank you, unknown Istanbul lady!

[10] “Without a structured aristocracy and a solid trade-bourgeoisie, the society of the Ottoman city mirrors . . . the instability of accumulation, the insecurity of individuals and families vis-a-vis an absolute state power.” Maurice Cerasi, “Der osmanische Garten im Spiegel der Landschaft des Bosporus,” in Der Islamische Garten: Architektur, Natur, Landschaft, edted by A. Petrucciolo (Stuttgart: Deutsch Verlag-Anstalt, 1994), p. 224. Translation by Christoph Schäfer.

[11] After the seventeenth century the cultural need that is satisfied by the formal device of the garden found an Ottoman solution, differing from those of other cultures. Pointedly, we could say, that there is no Ottoman garden. Even if we do not want to go as far as to accept this paradox, it is still legitimate to think that the Ottoman hardly invents or creates a garden. More likely he does something else—he removes, so to say, those elements from nature and his surrounding, which meet the same aesthetic and functional needs that formal gardens seek to satisfy (vistas, plants, spatial units).

[12] Maurice Cerasi, pp. 224-226.

[13] See: Boris Kálnoky, “Die AKP macht bedeutende Gartenlandschaft platt,” in Die Welt (November 7, 2013).­platt.html