Monday, August 31, 2009

aimee und jaguar

A few days ago, I was cycling back home from work, at a rather unusually slow pace and in a much missed feeling of appreciating my surrounding. It was a warm summer evening. I cycled through small streets and alleyways opening up to main roads passing by families and strollers looking at them from a slightly elevated view. It was then I realised I missed traveling across the city on an overground train observing the life on the streets from the perspectives of buildings.

Then I missed taking the S-bahn in Hamburg between Sternschanze and Altona or in Berlin cutting all the way from the east all the way to the west. Observing the people in the train, reading their newspaper, talking to their friends, thinking about getting back to their homes. At the same time, I could see people walking when we approached stations, taking a left turn into the small street with that man, or taking my child into my lap like that woman. Contrary to what many people think, I never lived in Germany, maybe for that reason, I always attached myself into those stories that I could so easily observe or create. I have rarely taken an overground train in London, especially in the evening. Only when I lived for a few months in Streatham Hill, last winter, I would take a train from Farringdon, swim through the endless estates of South London, gaze upon the misty Brockwell park through a winter evening's fog. A few days ago, I felt I missed cruising over the city, watching my fellow citizens...


On another evening, I came upon a film called Aimee and Jaguar at the Prince Charles Cinema, a central-London favourite. I went home and downloaded it, to go back to it this morning. It is years 1943-1944, Berlin. Aimee married a Wehrmacht soldier at the age of 20, and has 4 kids from him. Her husband is away at the Eastern front, trying to keep hold of Berlin against the Soviets. Aimee seeks re-vitalisation in her life and enjoys small gifts from a flirt with another army general.

Jaguar is a Jew and she is working under disguise at a Nazi sympathetic newspaper assistant editorial. She is in love with words and poetry, and an adventurous, almost a carefree lady who is bitterly sarcastic at the unfairness of life, yet tries to secure an escape for herself and her close friends from Germany at the height of the Jew hunt by the Gestapo and the SS.

Ilse is Jaguar's girlfriend and she provides shelter for Jaguar until one evening when Ilse's communist father decides he will not be able to help a Jew hide in his house when he realises that Jaguar is a lesbian and that his daughter Ilse is in love with her.

Jaguar seduces Aimee, who is at first skeptic but is in search for a 'new feeling' after having been deprived of love that was never there through her marriage with Günther. Aimee seeks new friendships with Jaguar and her company, Ilse is more and more frustrated at losing Jaguar to Aimee and is worried that Jaguar will throw away her chance to escape Berlin, incapable of leaving Aimee behind.

The love between the two women grow when Jaguar finally reveals to Aimee that she is a Jew, and Aimee, in whom a deep insecurity has been embedded, draws closer to Jaguar, possibly succumbing under the responsibility of being the wife of a Nazist soldier, added to her tender emotions to Jaguar and the emerging chance of 'taking care of someone' she loves.


Berlin, 1943-1944, the city is rapidly being destroyed. Once the dreamland of Germania, the city is under constant mist, smoke, smell of burned flesh, blood, mortar and explosives. Everyone is dressed in brown, even the most exclusive hotel gatherings have a darker shade of grey overcasting the golden glamour. The city looks fatally beautiful even in its destruction. A beauty under depression, or the beauty of the depression. Ones who created the metropolis are now causing its total destruction. None stranger than Deutsche Bank (the funders of the research project I am working for) have sold the golds of the Jews to traders to 'neutral' countries, none stranger than my home country, Turkey, to provide more funding to the fascist regime and its army, the Wehrmacht. Those, who made, destroyed and re-made Germany.

A romantic ideology, suppressed by contemporary Germans for decades, one that created the 'fatherland's soul, its philosophy and its rich cultural heritage; that has recently been borough back to drama by films such as Aimee und Jaguar and many others. Aimee und Jaguar is an impressive, touching film about a real story that took place during one of the most cruelsome events of the recent past, is being told by a cast and crew that is dominating the contemporary German cinema industry with its familiar directors, producers and actors. Juliane Kohler (Aimee) was Eva Braun in der Untergang, in which also Ulrich Mattes was cast in a much more significant role as Goebbels (the SS who arrested Jaguar in Aimee und Jaguar, a 1999 production). Johanne Wokalek (Ilse) is Gudrun Elssin in the recent der Baader Meinhof Komplex, in which Martina Gedeck (Ulrike Meinhof) made worthy of her performance previously in das Leben der Anderen

Familiar faces, and familiar feelings. A warm Sunday morning brought back memories that I had just recently been missing of places that I associated with. Stories that once were, long forgotten, now re-lived. Traumas re-visited, coldness re-shivered for. I felt like I did the anticipated city-gazing over the rail tracks, following Aimme and Jaguar's love that was a fable, glimpse of a possibility in the impossible.

24-31 August 2009, London.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


As Niyazi watched the sun set over the Princes’ Islands, the sea of multiple storey concrete apartments merged into the perspective. With no formal planning or architectural education, the Kartal representative of the Platform for Istanbul’s Neighbourhood Associations was now speaking a language that could bargain in the negotiations with the Kartal and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipalities, as well as the landowners and a UK-based architectural office on behalves of his 10,000 fellow residents of Hürriyet neighbourhood, located on the hills behind Kartal. He knew most of the residents, who settled through mass migration in the 1970’s, fought hard to obtain “amnesty registry” for their illegally constructed houses, started off as single-storey houses, now turned into multi-storey extended family and relatives living spaces[i]. Now, he was part of the negotiations during the development of the famous Kartal redevelopment project. Soon, Niyazi’s perspective could alter completely, overlooking a wavy sketch of glass and steel towers with a luxurious yacht marina on its tail.

Kartal lies in the southeast of Istanbul, stretching from the Marmara Sea in its south, with an elevation up to 500 metres towards its water and green reservoirs surrounded by the TEM highway to its the north. The district encompasses over 68 km2; decades of growth rates near 50% saw the population reach 427,156[ii] that consists of white-collar workers, small-scale tradesmen and industrialists. Like many other peripheral districts in Istanbul, it has grown immensely since the 1950’s with incoming migration into its heavily industrialised areas; and lack of implementation of development plans saw 85% of the housing stock made up of poor concrete material, many of which is illegal, and 25% of the population still live in gecekondus[iii].

It is connected to the rest of the city and beyond via the E-5 and TEM motorways, the suburban railway and the municipal and inter-city ferries from the Kartal pier. The planned Kadıköy – Kartal metro extension and the completion of Marmaray and upgrade on the suburban rail are aimed to make Kartal a major transport hub. With its close proximity to Sabiha Gökçen Airport and attraction areas such as the Istanbul Formula 1 track, the newly developing Pendik ‘silicon valley’, and Sabancı University, Kartal has become a natural candidate to be designated as a new sub-centre, a major tool of Istanbul’s de-centralisation policies. Creating a new CBD in Kartal aims to alleviate the pressure from the city-centre and its northern axis, whilst creating 100,000 new employment and affecting a grand population of 2 million in the region[iv]

Around 550 hectares of the derelict industrial area was part of an urban design competition, won by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2006. This regeneration plan, consistent with the city’s ambitions of bringing in signature architects, sits alongside one of the more ambitious projects in Europe, scale of which resembles the likes of HafenCity in Hamburg.

Kartal redevelopment project is championed by many as the first large-scale redevelopment project in Istanbul that involves all the necessary actors during its realisation: the respective municipalities, the landowners/developers, the master planners and architects; as well as the local residents. Initiated by the IMP, it has created its own landowners’ association, formed by some 26 main landowners who pursue negotiation via a designated urban negotiator whose job is to maintain the communication between the actors involved. The larger scale masterplan was approved by Kartal municipality, governed by an AKP Mayor prior to 2009 local elections, but the construction could not have started before 1/1000 scale, local development plans came into place.

In the meanwhile, Kartal, a district traditionally voting social-democrat, re-elected a Mayor from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in March 2009, ending the short spell with the AKP. This halted the ongoing process for the preparation of 1/1000 local development plans for the regeneration project until the lead actors have convinced the new mayor Dr. Altınok Öz. As of July 2009, the IMP representatives were hopeful to get the plans approved and the construction to begin by next year[v]. As the financial gloom has yet to dissolve, main landowner developers such as the Eczacıbaşı Holding is yet to confirm the start of the construction[vi]. It will take at least another few years of bargaining before the Kartal skyline changes, but what will remain will mark its signature as a new way of urban redevelopment in Istanbul. Until then, who will be the residents in Kartal in due time to see these effects, shall remain as a mystery.

[i] Interview with Niyazi Şahin, Kartal representative for the Platform for Istanbul Neighbourhoods Association, August 2008.

[ii] Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality

[iii] Kartal District Mayorship (

[iv] Zaha Hadid Architects, Kartal Masterplan Design Brief Document, 2006.

[v] E-mail correspondence with Mr. Özdemir Sönmez at the IMP, July 2009.

[vi] Interview with Mr. Mehmet İmre, the head of Eczacıbaşı Construction, July 2009.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2 wheels on 3D

Regent's Canal. For some reason, I tend to believe, is one of the more underrated features of London. It is beautiful to walk along it, even more so to cycle alongside it. You can see the changing city-scape of London from one end to the another whilst being close to the water at all times, a feature you will always miss if you are from a city like Istanbul.

Another summer's evening... A fine one, maybe a rare one in London's sake, as you rarely get 3 dry days in a row. This time, on my own. Just practicing the usual: rolling down the hills, taking care of the narrow pavement when a pedestrian comes across, bowing my head when a low arch happens to be own my way, and whistling for attention (because my bike bell is broken) each time I cycle through an overhead or a bridge that overshadows the canal. The scenery is as pretty as it can be. A Monday evening, by far the calmest evening on a London day, with a few passers by and lovers strolling down the canal, with virtually the rest of the way left for wanderers like me to take the most out of.

Housing estates of multiple storeys rise and sink on my left as the new developments by the canalside show their timber framing in elegance on the right hand side. Some textile workshops and abandoned factories go on a window-display, as I pay attention to roll down on my 2 wheels, a little tipsy, and shooting up to the stars.

Feeling joyful and happy, a rare notion for a London evening, recalling the last call of the pints at the bar with the pub quiz, of which I was only able to guess a few Oasis songs that made #1, that was the Question number 8. As my Danes stroll onto their usual 7th round of drinks in their Scandanivian style, I head home, passing by shiny road workers down through City Road, confronted by numerous churches, whose existence I only appreciate, and send a salute to their mid 2nd millenia glamour, and as soon as I find the Regent's Canal connection on my way, I make my way down into it.

K. had crashed my bike into a wall here severly injuring herself, only to fix the broken parts of my bike to make it even better than what it was when I gave it to her last year. As she is now ordering a new pint for herself with A., S., T., A2. and R. around, I think of sweet D. with whom I was just meandering through the same routes last night, making a short stop at a lovely pub for a burger and a beer before heading home.

The canal, presenting its unique opportunity to experience a different perspective of London, is a strong feature that reminds of the a lot that you can take out of this city... Well, only if it's not raining again as it usually does. And for rest, likes of D. and others make it an experience that one rarely appreciates, but should give its worthwhile justice.