In spring, Berlin’s boat people are the city’s answer to the American groundhog or the Japanese cherry blossom. But it’s different for this Turkish immigrant.
The warm weather encourages many to spend the next few months on their barges on the Spree River in Berlin. It’s a tidy mix of well-heeled retirees, wealthy spendthrift kids, and vagabonds like Cahit Aslan who has nowhere to live, no health insurance or a bank account.
Cahit brings a kind of eccentricity to this privileged corner of Berlin. While most around it have homes and live the floating lifestyle only during the warmer months, Cahit’s is a more permanent existence, rain, shine, or snow. Focusing on the peripheries of society, he is really disadvantaged.
Born in a small Anatolian village of Kangal in Turkey, the 60-year-old lives on a boat he named after his Turkish grandmother “Oma”, the German word for grandmother.
Cahit’s rusty dream boat is moored almost permanently on a small patch of grass in the leafy suburb of Rummelsburg in Berlin, but its roots are deeply rooted in its ancestors.
âYou know, when a boy turns five in my village, they give him a dog, a gun and a horse, I had all three,â Cahit said. TRT World.
“My father was the first generation of ‘Gastarbeiter’, we moved to Germany when I was nine, almost 50 years ago, the welcome we had then was very warm, because we were here to build the country, there was only a small opposition at that time on guest workers coming from Turkey to Germany.
âGastarbeitersâ or guest workers from Turkey came to Germany after WWII to help rebuild the country’s devastated infrastructure and provide essential labor for its industry.
Cahit’s siblings and parents painted a typical picture of a âGasarbeiterâ immigrant family.
âMy father was illiterate. I taught him to read and write, then he became a bus driver. Life was not bad, but before my father died, he told me: ‘Cahit, go home, it will never be your home, it will never be your people’, he said. declared.
Most Turkish Germans would find it hard to disagree with Cahit’s father, as the warm welcome to many cooled off decades ago. The two communities often live in a clear, self-determined segregation.
The global rejection of the wider community for several decades has led many members of the Turkish diaspora to live together. The concept of Turkish quarters in most German cities is still very much alive.
The words of his dying father have resonated throughout Cahit’s academic, personal and professional life.
âThe schoolchildren didn’t even accept me in Wuppertal (a mixed neighborhood). I was the only dark-skinned child in school and faced detention even though it wasn’t my fault, âCahit recalls.
He dropped out of school and became a musician: âI also started to move paintings, books and musical instruments from West Germany to East Germany, it makes me feel better. brought in a lot of money at the time â.
Years later, his girlfriend convinced him to take professional architectural training, which led to his 25-year career in sustainable architecture.
âI used the construction techniques of my village, I used organic materials for the first time here in Germany,â he says.
âI did a good job at work,â he said, adding that he couldn’t shake off the constant racism he faced in everyday life.
It was a brutal racist attack that could have made Cahit give up everything and seek acceptance elsewhere.
âI was attacked by about 8-10 racist guys, they wanted to kill me, but I defended myself and I was seriously injured. I lost my sight in my left eye for a year.
But it wasn’t just this attack, but a life of rejection and ostracism that pushed him to a cold corner. âIt’s the way they look at you, you can see the hate in their eyes,â Cahit said.
A new chapter in life
During his last job as an architect, his client not having enough money to pay him, he offered him a boat., Cahit accepted and thus began a new chapter in his life.
“I never looked back at my previous life and thought to myself that I miss her so much. I am now surrounded by people who respect me. I have over 15 years of experience in the boat life, I built a community, I lived in Barcelona where the people were much nicer, I have friends there, I have friends here in Berlin, âhe says.
Acceptance was difficult for Cahit. He is supported by the investments his father made in Istanbul’s real estate market. Cahit’s sister manages the investments and pays her her share, which amounts to nearly 1,500 euros each month.
Much of this goes to the four different heart medications Cahit takes each day, the rest is spent on food and drink.
“It’s too much for me, I don’t need that much money, but my sister is worried about me so she sends it to me every month, maybe if she sends me less. ‘money I would party less,’ says Cahit.
Source: TRT World