BERLIN - At the end of Oranienstrasse in the Berlin borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Gürkan runs a tailor shop. The 41-year-old conservative Muslim, of Turkish origins, is all for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan"s taking a hard-line stance against demonstrators in Turkey, who began their protests over development plans in central Istanbul's Gezi park.
"He has made Istanbul a lot greener," Gürkan says of Turkey's Prime Minister and former mayor of the country's largest city. "And when Koç University cut down 80,000 trees there wasn’t a peep out of anybody!"
For days the brutal unrest in and around Istanbul’s Taksim Square has been making world headlines. But what do the three million Germans of Turkish origin make of the protests in Turkey? Gürkan lives in the heart of the Turkish community in Germany: Berlin-Kreuzberg. And he believes the demonstrators are vandals and anarchists.
"These people are not democratic," he says.
A kilometer away, on Oranienplatz, Erhan sells Turkish specialties at a kebab stand. He says that when Erdogan first came into office, he did a lot of positive things, but that now many people are disappointed that he hasn't delivered on promises to make Turkey more open. "But for example he called the demonstrators çapulçu – stupid peasants – and that didn’t go down well at all."
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Demonstration in Kreuzberg - Photo: Montecruz Foto
A few meters away, shaven-headed Selçuk, clad in a Jamaica soccer jersey, stands waiting for the bus. The 25-year-old, who is unemployed, gets irritated when asked about the demonstrations in Turkey. "It’s all media propaganda! They want to see an "Arab Spring" situation down there. It’s ridiculous, the whole thing’s about a park, what the hell for?" he says as the bus pulls up and he boards.
Days of kings
Doran, a 40-year-old newsstand owner, doesn’t share that opinion. "Erdogan is a dictator, we need to get him out of office," he says.
He says Turkey's "days of kings are over," and doesn't believe the Prime Minister's pious proclamations are even sincere. "It’s all an act," Doran says. "The man doesn’t have a heart."
Standing in front of Doran’s kiosk are Gamze and Hilal, 16 and 17 years old. The girls are high school students, and bit more circumspect about what’s going on. "I didn’t have anything against Erdogan, but he’s gone too far. Now it's not about trees anymore; it's about toppling Erdogan," says Gamze.
Hilal believes, however, "that there is the question of what comes afterwards." Erdogan did a lot for the economy, "but now he’s ruined everything." The girls add that being for or against Erdogan is, they believe, to some extent a generational conflict.
Some of those questioned tried to skirt the issue. "I’m happy to be in Berlin. Things are bad down there but I need to focus on my life here," says 19-year-old Aslanid, a student and freelance photographer.
On Adalbertstrasse, taxi driver Hüseyin is leaning against his car. The heavy-set 38-year-old is very interested in politics. "Erdogan is a fundamentalist, an Islamist who wants to introduce Sharia law," he says. So the demonstrations are really about saving secularism.
"Taskim was just the last straw," says Hüseyin. "It’s unconstitutional. They should ride around on camels if they want things to be the way they were back in the days of the Prophet. The Prophet was more advanced than these people are."
Café Kotti at Kottbusser Tor is where Turkish intellectuals meet. Journalist Mehmet Uluisik is sitting at a table enjoying the warmth of a midday sun streaming through the window and sipping a Weissbier (white beer). "As an atheist I’m of two minds," says the 54-year-old. "I was for Erdogan’s AKP party and against the Kemalist military dictatorship."
But things have changed now. Erdogan’s attitude and manner are dictatorial, he says: "He issues rules about how I’m supposed to dress, how I’m supposed to behave, how I’m supposed to eat."
The deputy head of the Turkish community in Germany, Hilmi Kaya Turan, is also here. The 52-year-old says cautiously: "That little green space on Taksim Square was a welcome pretext for many young people to vent their anger at Erdogan."
Turan just spent nine days in Istanbul: "These are not anarchists. After demonstrations they even cleaned up after themselves, picked up cigarette butts -- and they held vandals back," he says. Turan says he hopes that Erdogan will "find the path towards dialogue."
On a nearby square in the Turkish heart of Berlin, some protesters have erected a tent from on which floats a banner that reads "Taksim is everywhere!". Süheyla, a 22-year-old student, is painting posters. She says: "This is pure facism. You can compare Erdogan with Hitler. Some people here side with him, but about 80% of all the Turks in Kreuzberg are against him."
Denis sits in the sun a few meters away. The 25-year-old student says that the new limits on alcohol risk being only the beginning of an imposition of piety on the population. "That’s why they’re protesting," he says. "The Turks were never very religious. Erdogan’s approach isn’t relevant. Turkey is a secular country."