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Society & Stories

“One day we’re going back!”

It’s no picnic spending your childhood sitting on top of packed bags and waiting to return to the homeland of your parents. At some point, the host country itself becomes home – and the alleged homeland a holiday spot. It’s not a bad thing. What’s bad is just the uncertainty.

Turkish Vocabulary

anne – mother
baba – father
oğul – son
memleket – home(land)

Back then, we all somehow almost believed that we’d end up going back to the memleket. My parents regularly patched up their homesickness with the mantra:

“One day we’re going back, one day we’re going back!”
“Er, when exactly, baba?”, I asked and pricked up my ears.
“One day, oğlum, one day…”, was always the answer.

Boom! From then on there was an unspecified date for an unspecified return trip to an unspecified home. At the beginning of the 80s, “one day” meant sometime in the 90s for our family. To us kids, that seemed like half an eternity. Our hearts began beating nervously when we imagined what Day X would be like. At the same time, we hardly noticed the fact that X was constantly being postponed.

At some point, though, the realisation dawned on me that baba and anne themselves had no real plan. Our return to the Orient turned out to be a Fata Morgana in the German desert. When I asked baba again in the mid-90s: “So, baba? Are we going back to the memleket, like you always said?”, he took a drag of his Ernte-23 and his face, tired and furrowed from the night shift, disappeared within a grey cloud of cigarette smoke. I still hoped for an answer while he silently gazed at the billows of fumes that were as much a part of our flat’s kitchen as the colourful wallpaper and the two sofas on either side of the rickety dining table. His words vanished into thin air – I would never get an answer to my question.

No Idea

The silence that followed the question about Day X summed up the psychological state of an entire generation of immigrants for me. All I wanted to do was shout so everyone could hear; everyone who had moved here, all across Germany, no matter where they had come from, where they were now and where they wanted to go tomorrow: “You came here, but you don’t have a plan!” Even if I didn’t really have the right to accuse anyone of anything, I was angry. Not because I desperately wanted to go to Turkey, but because we were cursed to live in a constant state of uncertainty. An uncertainty about where we would be tomorrow.

And so many went on, day by day and shift by shift, living and toiling as if they just wanted to get the time over with. Some quickly bought a Benz and a house on the Mediterranean or an apartment in Tekirdağ, Istanbul or Urfa, and over the years time passed . And with all the stress, some of them forgot either a little or completely to adapt to their new surroundings. Oh well, shit happens!

And then: With the first warm sun rays, like clockwork, all reason went out the window and euphoria took over, and everyone got all excited about the long-awaited holiday, back to the memleket, of course. But I didn’t want to have been born in Duisburg just by chance – for my parents, a foreign place – and watch my dreams go up in smoke like baba’s cigarette fumes and be left with a romantic idea of home that I ought to want to go back to. I wanted to finally belong somewhere and unpack my bags.


Germany is nice, too.

I was a little disappointed that nothing would come of the permanent vacation in Turkish paradise – beside a turquoise sea, with all the cows and sheep, goats and cats in the village of my kind aunts and funny uncles who welcomed us warmly every summer, where the sun never sets and the people laugh a lot – even if they’ve got bad teeth. Where everyone loves being around kids and people don’t treat their dogs better than the children- different from everything I knew from here, where Gina, Waldi and Lucky were sometimes more welcome than Emma, Lukas and Marie – we’ll leave Can, Ebru and Ayla out of picture just for once.

So, we continued living on Ottostraße in Duisburg – you know: Bronxloh – while baba continued slaving away in the steel plant and anne honed her cuisine in our flat’s kitchen. Not everything was perfect, but somehow it was good – except perhaps the toilet, which you could only get to by going out into the hallway outside. But I didn’t know anything else. That. Was. My. Home. Spartan, leaky windows, a Dutch cheesemonger, even, who shookus out of our sleep every morning at 5:50 with his Diesel VW van. I just thought: Germany is nice, too. Even if it’s a little bit colder … I’m talking about the weather, of course.

Allah’a emanet. (dt.: God protect you)

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