The Walkers of Kadıköy

From left Yüksel Karabekir, Gültekin Karlıdağ, and Süheyl
Açıkel on a morning walk along the Marmara shore.
Every morning in Kadıköy, on Istanbul’s Asian side, a group of retirees meets to walk along the shore. They go twice from the fashionable Moda Club on the tip of the “Moda Nose” peninsula to the dock from whence local sea pilots are dispatched to navigate container ships through the Bosporus. The group coalesced around a retired architect, Gültekin Karlıdağ (79), who became a regular walker a decade and a half ago, shortly after a paved, level path was put in along the shore. Since then, as many as seven other men have periodically joined him on his morning walk, among them a retired naval officer, a heart surgeon, an insurance salesman, a wealthy businessman, a lawyer, a physicist, and a mechanical engineer. They have a code: the walk begins promptly at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 8; one walker is always required to join two others if they approach from opposite directions; and members of the group occasionally wear matching purple shirts. Topics of discussion include politics, diet, and health.

I interviewed the walkers one morning after their walk and joined them on their rounds a couple of times thereafter. Since the interviews were conducted in Turkish, they are not appended here. Instead, I have drawn on our conversations to elucidate how Turkey’s past, its politics, and its possible trajectories can be read from the lives of these walkers and their daily ritual.

Karlıdağ feeding the strays.
Though not aligned with any particular party, the walkers are all “Tayyip karşı,” which is to say opposed to the policies of the former Turkish prime minister, now president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose AK Party has been in power in Turkey since 2002. (It seems that referring to unloved leaders by their middle names is a global linguistic phenomenon of our time; there is “W.” for G. W. Bush, and Putin’s detractors call him by his first and middle names, “Vladimir Vladimirovich,” a form of the diminutive connoting not so much endearment as belittlement.) When Erdoğan introduced free public transportation for seniors, Karlıdağ started using the money he saved on ferry and bus fares to buy “sosis” (hotdogs) for the hundreds of stray cats that live among the seawall rocks along the shoreline path. “If there is a heaven and hell—which I don’t believe there is—but if there is, I will go to heaven on their prayers.”

"Ayşe Hanım" feeding strays.
The morning walk begins with Karlıdağ’s feeding of the strays. Yüksel Karabekir (80) says that if he sees the cats out on the rocks along the shore, congregated around small handfuls of dried cat food and sosis, it means Karlıdağ has passed that way recently. Though he may be the first to feed the cats, Karlıdağ is by no means the only “kedisever” (cat-lover) on the roundish peninsula known as the Moda Nose. Others bring water in plastic dishes or jugs, and leftover table scraps after the day’s meals. By evening, a shoreline stray sniffs twice before making off with anything short of fresh, raw fish parts. Within an hour of Karlıdağ’s first feeding, a recently retired health worker whom they call Ayşe Hanım (Ms. Ayşe) comes along with more bags of food and sosis, as well as supplies to treat the cats’ various injuries. When an otherwise healthy-looking tiger cat appears with green puss oozing from one of its eyes, Karlıdağ informs her of its whereabouts as they pass. 

"Lost cat" sign (with cat). 
The name Kadıköy translates as “Village of the Kadı” (or Ottoman official, akin to a judge). But a better name for it is “Kediköy” (Village of the Cat). Karabekir told me that municipal workers in other parts of the city are in the habit of bringing their own strays here, because they know the inhabitants are predisposed to care for them. It is not uncommon to see tens of cats at once, lounging on the roofs of parked cars, in doorways, or on ledges. In an area with so many strays, “lost cat” posters taped to lampposts, or a sticky note in the vitrine of the cash exchange reading “Seeking a good home for a kitten” have a comical resonance.

Kadıköy is not the only part of the city where remarkable concern is shown for strays. In Fatih, where Karlıdağ and Karabekir both grew up, and from whence they migrated to the upscale neighborhood of Kadıköy known as Moda, the municipality builds wooden houses for strays, marked with the municipal insignia. Yet Fatih is otherwise the polar opposite of Kadıköy in almost every respect. Fatih is relatively poor and run down, and its inhabitants tend to be much more conservative and stalwart Erdoğan supporters. In earlier times many of its inhabitants were Greeks and Armenians; these left or were driven out in successive waves from around the turn of the century up through the 1960s. Some of the houses stayed empty after their departure, but most have accommodated the steady stream of migrants to Istanbul from Anatolia.

A municipal cat house (Fatih Belediyesi Kedi Evi) in Fatih.
The shifting demographics in Fatih were part of the reason why upwardly mobile middle class Turks evacuated the area in the 1970s, many of them moving across the Bosporus to Kadıköy. “A lot of our friends from Fatih came over to this side,” Karlıdağ says. Here, the streets are wider, the houses newer, the pace of life more relaxed, and the politics more liberal. (Karabekir interjects that there are also plenty of hospitals and pharmacies, making it all the more attractive for retirees.) Not only professionals have made their homes here, but also artists and intellectuals, some of whose politics tend towards the harder left. Last winter, intense demonstrations against the Erdoğan government took place just a kilometer or two from the shore path in connection with a corruption scandal, and it is no coincidence that the favorite of the Turkish left, Selahattin Demirtaş of the Peoples’ Democratic Party—an ethnic Kurd and human rights
The Demirtaş election rally in Kadıköy on August 3, 2014.
lawyer—was enthusiastically received by a very large crowd in Kad
ıköy on August 3 of this year. Demirtaş ran against Erdoğan as an independent candidate (Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu) in the first ever election for the Turkish presidency on August 10. He won only a handful of districts, mostly in eastern Anatolia where Kurds are concentrated, and even in Kadıköy took just 6 percent of the vote (the majority of Kadıköy residents voted for İhsanoğlu, and just over 20 percent for Erdoğan, whereas in Fatih, more than 54 percent voted for Erdoğan).

Civic and political engagement is as much the essence of Kadıköy as are its cats. Even the extension of the shoreline path around the other side of the peninsula last year provoked opposition from some Kadıköy residents who felt the plan called for too much cement and too few trees. On summer evenings along the shore, hundreds of people of all ages lounge on the grass with blankets, beer and snacks. Some play tennis or basketball, push strollers along the path, take bee-bee gun shots at rows of balloons or eggs set up along the shore, or set “wish lanterns” adrift over the Sea of Marmara. Others come with guitars or books, and a few even with dogs that are distinguishable from the numerous docile strays by their collars and the conspicuous absence of a municipal ear tag indicating they have been vaccinated by city vets (as all strays have). Some of the strays with longer fur have even been shaved to keep them cool during the hot summer months. Karlıdağ has a few favorites among these strays, too, and occasionally throws a handful of catfood and sosis to them and the scruffy-looking black and grey “karga” (a variety of crow) that otherwise peck at packaging pilfered from the path-side garbage bins.

Crows (and cat) feeding on cat food thrown by Karlıdağ.
A resident of a less well-to-do part of Istanbul recently told me that strays can hardly expect such treatment in some of the outer suburbs, where the atmosphere is much more dog-eat-dog. But here in Kadıköy, park workers have even set up and maintained an informal stray dog village complete with row houses, concealed behind the public restrooms. Animal empathy has gone so far that it has even become the object of a socio-artistic satire. In a city where police recently rounded up thousands of Syrian refugees from abandoned buildings where they were congregating and bussed them back to camps near the border, the contrast with treatment of strays in this well-to-do neighborhood was not lost on a pair of artists, Evren Üzer and Otto von Busch, collectively known as Roomservices. They nailed a birdhouse to a tree overlooking the sea on the Moda Nose—one of the most prized pieces of real estate in all of Istanbul—with a long perch extending from both sides. The house is UN-sky-blue, and the side is painted with the acronym “UNBRD,” which stands for United Nations Bird Refugee Dialogue, a spoof of internationalist-humanitarian-speak. A bird with the signature United Nations spangle of stars is painted just under the entrance hole. The UNBRD, the artists explain in thick grant-proposal-ese, is an “agency of reconciliation which invites communities to imagine, discuss and manifest the restoration of hospitality of urban environment for birds, in order to recall a common and shared heritage of hospitality.” Needless to say, there are no actual birds living there.

The UNBRD house.
The bird house notwithstanding, there has been relatively little new construction in Moda and Kadıköy over the past few decades. This is another feature that sets it apart from other areas of Istanbul, a city whose population has grown from less than a million to over 14 million since the walkers were born. Almost no one is a true “Istanbullu” (Istanbul native) anymore. The city now sprawls in a seemingly never-ending ribbon of high-rise apartment buildings stretching along the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. Most of the buildings in Kadıköy are no more than four or five stories, and the newer construction is obvious for its incongruity. Both Karlıdağ and Karabekir spoke disparagingly of the Double Tree Hilton that dominates the nighttime skyline with its garish rows of blue lights (another inhabitant has called it “the ugly black glass freak” of Kadıköy). As an architect himself, Karlıdağ disapproves of the proliferation of high-rise apartments around the city, emphatically declaring that the projects he and his wife—also an architect—have worked on were “serious” by comparison. These projects included parts of the famous Beyazit Square in Fatih and the twenty-year-old Sabancı University.

Like many Turks who participated in the fast-paced internationalization of the Turkish economy, in the early 1980s Karlıdağ’s work took him outside the country. He spent three years working for a Turkish construction company in Libya, then in the midst of its own population and housing boom. Although the walkers in Karlıdağ’s group are ethnic Turks, the international geopolitics and trade around Turkey over the past half century color their life stories. The walkers regularly encounter and greet another older man walking his dog, an Iranian artist who left Iran following the 1978 Islamic Revolution. Karabekir, who graduated from the military academy on the nearby Heybeli Island in 1955, became part of the Turkish navy as it was being integrated into NATO. He spent ten months in Philadelphia in 1962 while the ship he was on was undergoing repairs following an accident. In 2003, he worked for a private shipping company, Cenk Group, transporting semi-trucks up into the Black Sea to Ukraine, from whence they were sent west into Europe.
Karlıdağ feeding strays with Karabekir (right).
In a tea garden overlooking the path below and the sea beyond, Karlıdağ and Karabekir talk about the outdoor cinema that used to be up the street, and the times when there was no path along the shore. They don’t agree on everything. On the subject of soccer, Karlıdağ is a Beşiktaş fan while Karabekir is for Galatasaray; and whereas Karabekir follows the advice of the Turkish-American television personality “Dr. Oz” (Mehmet Öz), Karlıdağ is unimpressed by him. Yet once the topic turns to politics, their views seem in perfect harmony. “We are not satisfied with this system,” Karlıdağ says of Erdoğan’s Islamicism. “The fanaticism, the backward sliding—Istanbul wasn’t like this. No one wore headscarves or turbans in Istanbul back when we were young.” Karabekir comments on how the Erdoğan government has “paid” (given scholarships to) women from rural areas and lifted the ban on headscarves at state universities. This has meant social and geographical mobility for many young women in Turkey, but Karabekir believes that “once they go in on that compromise, they can’t get out.”

By 8:30 a.m. the sun is high and the air hot and heavy. A middle-aged woman in shorts and a T-shirt walks by with a golden retriever and greets the walkers. Karabekir pets the dog’s head before the woman moves on. “She belongs to a later group,” Karlıdağ says. “We generally don’t meet them.”

Special thanks to Linda Case for her editorial input. 

The Life and Career of Miklós Müller--June 3, 2014

These interviews are the fifth in a series of profiles on the lives and work of participants in the New York Hungarian Table, which meets for lunch once a month in Morningside in New York City. This installment features two interviews with Miklós Müller.

Müller is Professor Emeritus of Biology at The Rockefeller University where he has specialized in the field of human parasites. In addition to his scientific work, Müller has also written on the Soviet biologists Trofim Lysenko and Olga Lepeshinskaya, and on the history of biology in East-Central Europe during the postwar period. 

The interview was conduced on June 3, 2014 in New York. Special thanks go to Ph.D. candidate in History at Cornell University, Máté Rigó, for his assistance in cataloging the interview. To download an audio file of the complete interview, click here.

Interview Themes

00:00 Introduction, academic career
01:00 Family background; father was an architect
02:00 Family life in Buda
03:00 Ancestors came from Saxony to Hungary in 1870s
04:00 Hungarian spoken at home
06:00 Father worked for ministry in the 1940s
06:30 Káplár utca, Budapest family home occupied by Russian troops
08:00 Siege of Budapest
09:00 Loss of father as a generational experiment; Müller’s father dies in February 1945
10:20 Interest in microscopes, chemistry, astronomy during his teenage years
11:00 Science education in the 1940s
13:00 Came to USA in 1964
15:40 Father tells him on his death bed to start learning Russian
16:50 No discussion of politics at home
18:40 Teaching assistant at the university in Budapest
19:00 Interpreter for Soviet visitors at 23; Digestion inside unicellular organisms as research topic; Many Western publications by early 1960s
22:00 1963 - Receives invitation to a conference in London, which garners invitations for research visits to the West
23:00 Left Hungary for professional reasons
24:10 Participation in the 1956 revolution
24:30 Hospital in 1956, Polish blood shipment
26:00 Operations during the revolution
29:00 Soviet science and pseudo science
30:00 Visit to Soviet scientific institutes in the early 1960s, secrecy, crowded living conditions
34:00 Socialization at the Soviet academy
37:00 Changes in Russian science research; reduced funding
40:00 The moving of the Hungarian academy from the prestigious castle hill to the outskirts
42:00 Hungarian academic research
46:00 Interest in art, European School, Árpád Mezei, Hungarian abstract painting
48:00 Aesthetic experiences, the importance of patterns, symbiosis between artistic and scientific interests
54:00 Novelty of scientific and artistic production; his scientific research and innovation
56:00 Lysenko and Soviet, “absurd” biology
59:00 Ideology and science, creationism
1:01:00 Structural shifts in scientific research from a cottage industry to billion-dollar projects
1:04:00 Scientists and a lack of interest in big questions; technocratic approach to science 
1:09:00 Scientific community in America; Nobel prize recipients
1:14:00 Paul Nurse; contemporary politics in Hungary
To access the interview, click here

Interview with Małgorzata Mazurek--May 15, 2014

Interview with Małgorzata Mazurek, who was recently named the first Polish Studies Chair at Columbia University. Interview conducted in New York on May 15, 2014. Special thanks to Máté Rigó, Ph.D. candidate in History at Cornell University, for preparing a time-stamped inventory of the interview.

Mazurek is the author of three monographs in Polish, including Waiting in Lines: On Experiences of Scarcity in Postwar Poland (2010), The Anthropology of Scarcity in the GDR and Poland, 1971-1989 (2010), and Socialist Factory: Workers in People's Poland and in the GDR on the Eve of the Sixties (2005). She has also written several reviews, contributions to edited volumes, and articles in English. To access the interview, click here.

Interview Themes

00:00 Family background, family politics 
03:00 No family connection to the opposition (Solidarity)
07:00 Family experience of WWII, ancestors represent all social groups of interwar Poland
13:00 Partial Jewish ancestry, peasant Catholic ancestry, Polish Jewish experience of WWI
15:00 Experiences of Jewish grandfather during and after WWII; land reform
16:20 Grandfather arrested when using a fake Polish identity; Mazurek is a Polish-sounding family name adopted during WWII
20:12 Postwar retribution
24:00 Grandfather becomes a journalist after the communist takeover
30:00 Grandfather gets a job at Metalexport as a translator
35:00 Experience of 1980s and 1990s as periods of constant change
40:00 Schooling, experience at a private school, interactions with students of liberal and anti-communist backgrounds
45:20 Parents are scientific researchers and academics, organic chemistry and geology; relationship to the Polish Communist Party; father’s fascination with banks, currency and economy
51:54 Elections of 1989
55:20 Jan Gross’s Neighbors as a radical censure in Polish intellectual life
1:00:20 Impact of Gross’s book, Positive phenomena in Polish-Jewish relations, confronting the past
1:04:50 Accidents in Polish history
1:08:20 Gross, Polish-Jewish relations as an institutionalized relationship
1:12:00 Experience at university; sociology, MA thesis
1:17:00 Trends within the new generation of Polish historiography; Move towards studying communist Poland within the context of European history and the legacy of WWII
1:19:00 Different perspectives on ECE history between different academic environments (USA, Poland, Germany, historical sociology)
1:23:00 Training in sociology, university experience; Sociology as an intellectually challenging course of study; Habitus of more traditional history students vs. sociology students in 1990s Poland
1:30:20 Columbia Chair of Polish History
1:34:00 Experience of switching between disciplines, importance of language skills
To access the interview, click here.


András Körner with his father, the modernist architect
József Körner (1907-1971) in Budapest, 1946
These interviews are the fourth in a series of extended profiles on the lives and work of participants in the New York Hungarian Table, which meets for lunch once a month in Morningside in New York City. This installment features two interviews with András Körner about his upbringing in Hungary and his work as an architect and as a historian of Hungarian Jewish everyday life.

Körner has written several books, including A Taste of the Past: The Daily Life and Cooking of a Nineteenth-Century Hungarian-Jewish Homemaker, a detailed and engaging description of domestic life in a Hungarian-Jewish household based on extensive interviews with his mother, his great-grandmother's recipe book (recipes included), and an array of other sources, as well as Körner's own illustrations. He has also written a biography (with audio recordings) of the Hungarian bauhaus artist and architect, Andor Weininger, titled The Stages of Andor Weininger from the Bauhaus to New York, as well as two books in Hungarian; A Reluctant Jew: Essays and Stories, and a social history of Hungarian Jewry, How Did They Live? The Everyday Life of Hungarian Jews, 1867-1940. He is currently at work on a second volume which will present additional aspects of the everyday lives of Hungarian Jews over the same period. 

The interviews were conducted at Körner's apartment in New York on March 11 and 25, 2014. Special thanks go to Ph.D. candidate in History at Cornell University, Máté Rigó, for his assistance in cataloging the interviews. To download the interviews, click here

Körner's maternal great-
great-grandfather, Eduard

Baruch (Baruch Ede, 1812-

1886), self-fashioning in the

manner of the Hungarian 

revolutionary leader of 1848,

 Lajos Kossuth. The portrait was 

painted by the Viennese artist,
Berthold Fischer in 1852.
March 11, 2014

00:00 Family background, traces back family history to early 18th century, Bohemanin Jewish origins of the maternal side of the family
03:00 Bohemian Jewry
04:00 German-speaking ancestors
05:00 Family portraits, collection of family memorabilia, clothes, socks, paintings
08:20 Paternal side: family living in present-day Slovakia; Merchants, teachers; Ancestors move to Budapest; Maternal ancestors move from Körmend, then Moson, then Győr; Maternal grandmother moved to Budapest
Körner's maternal great-
grandmother, Therese
Berger (nee Baruch, 1851-
1938) in 1870
10:00 Father is modernist architect József Körner; Before-WWII he could not get commissions for public buildings 
11:30 Father wins international architecture competition in late 1930s, but wasn’t allowed to transfer money abroad, so he gave money to a diplomat who absconded with it
14:00 András Körner was born in Budapest in 1940
16:00 Experience of WWII; Family moves to a “Swiss” yellow star house; Mother deported in November 1944 to dig defense lines in Western Hungary
18:30 Mother fears she would not survive; Issues of collaboration
21:00 Relationship with mother
Körner with his mother, b. Katalin
Halasz (1910-1991) in St. Wolfgang,
Austria in front of the Weisses Rössl
Inn in 1987.
22:00 Ambivalent relationship to Jewish origins while growing up
25:00 Holocaust memories in Budapest ghetto
27:00 Mother tells him of the family’s religious past
29:00 Encounter with his future wife at the European Forum in Alpbach, Austria in 1965
31:00 Dilemmas of emigration in 1956, grandmother
32:00 Distance from Hungarian community in New York
33:00 Childhood: how parents changed during WWII
34:00 Father’s chronic illness and labor service
38:00 Holocaust nightmares, dreams
41:00 Parents speak German and Hungarian; family archives in German (recipe books in German)
43:00 Mother’s role during the Holocaust; Oral history project with his mother; 300-page oral history memoir; Minute details of everyday life at the turn of the century
Körner's drawing depicting how
his great-grandmother kept
her purse under her skirts (it also
shows her monogrammed socks).
The young girl in the drawing
is Körner's mother, who was 
raised in part by her grandmother.
46:00 Impact of the oral history with his mother on his life
47:00 letters of his great-grandmother from 1870s; Book of letters
48:00 Recipe collection of great-grandmother
49:00 Recipe collection becomes the basis of his first book
52:00 Antiquated Austrian German
55:00 Importance of religious past of his family
56:20 Connection to Budapest Jewish culture
1:00:00 Assimilation as a problematic concept; Social circle of parents consisted of assimilated Jews
1:02:30 Used to regard Jewish milieu as a “self-built ghetto”
1:03:00 Dating experience in 1950s Budapest
1:06:00 Jewish identity politics in 1950s
The monogrammed socks
1:08:00 The experience of 1945 as a radical break in Hungary
1:09:00 Leftist political orientation in the family; Father prosecuted in 1932 for attempting to organize and exhibition on Budapest slums
1:13:00 Father was social democrat, then communist party secretary
1:15:00 Father refused to reenter the party in 1956
1:17:00 1945 experience; rape
Körner in 1947 or 1948
from when he attended
the primary school on
Sziget utca (now Radnóti
Miklós utca) in Budapest. 
To access the interview, click here.

March 25, 2014 (NOTE: the recording incorrectly gives the date as March 24)

00:00 Left-leaning family’s reaction to the 1950s
04:00 1956, Petőfi circle
09:00 Fear of arrests in early 1950s, packed suitcase
11:00 1956 experience of revolution, refused a machine-gun
13:00 Shootings in 1956
15:00: Hopes in 1956
Liebermann's luggage store in Lansing, MI,
1970, designed by Körner (with the owner's
initial lit up in blue on the facade).
19:00 Dilemmas of emigration after the revolution, caught twice on the border
25:00 Encounter with future wife; Jewish attraction to Catholicism
29:00 McCarthy era firings
31:00 Started practicing in Budapest in early 1960s
32:00 Experience of Kádár era
35:00 First travel to the West in 1963
39:00 Western border of Hungary as a strong boundary
44:00 Career in architecture
45:00 Career as a corporate architect
48:00 Drawing
50:00 Career chances in second half of the 20th century; “crushing of the souls”
52:00 Limited possibilities foster conversations in early 1950s
56:00 Hungarian expat community in New York
58:00 Writing books
1:00:00 Hungarian Table in New York
1:04:00 Issues of ethnic identification
1:09:00 Intreviews with his mother
1:18:00 Lack of historical writing on middle class women
Andor Weininger (left) with Körner, New York 1984
1:19:00 Jewish renaissance in Hungary
1:24:00 Preservation of goods by family
1:25:00 Material way of approaching history, István Szabó’s Sunshine
1:27:00 Ending of Sunshine: discarding remnants of family past
1:31:00 Grandmother preserves family heritage when emigrating to the US in 1946; Discovery of family relics
1:32:00 History of material objects as part of “History”
1:37:00 Bauhaus; book on Andor Weininger
1:44:00 Goals when writing the books
To access the interview, click here.