“I Want You to Listen to My Story!”: An Afternoon with Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz

By Jade Frost

MutluAfter our class’ harrowing experience with the tour guide on Friday, I was particularly yearning for this session, because we had the pleasure of meeting Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz. When we all had shuffled into the room and sat down at the table, Ergün-Hamaz set the tone by saying, “I didn’t prepare a PowerPoint presentation with pictures, because I want you to listen to my story and my narrative. I read about the tour that you guys had, so I want you to pay attention to my story.” After hearing this, I was quite elated that our class was finally going to hear a narrative of Turkish people in Berlin that was not going to be misrepresented.

Ergün-Hamaz was born in the late 1970s in Berlin. Both of his parents came as guest workers from Turkey in 1965. He and his family actually lived in our cozy town of Wedding for a short while before they moved to a more predominately White area in Charlottenburg due to his father’s job with the civil service. This was an exception since there was a German law that mandated Turkish people to live in certain areas like Kreuzberg, Neükolln, and Wedding rather than areas that are predominately White. Ergün-Hamaz went on to discuss how he and his brother’s education was very different in their new neighborhood. The White teachers in Wedding often assumed that Turkish children were dumb and taught them the bare minimum. In their new neighborhood, however, the students received a more advanced education.

IMG_9250Their peers isolated Ergün-Hamaz and his brother, because they were Turkish. So, as he grew older, Ergün-Hamaz became interested in Hip-Hop. He said, “I liked Hip Hop, because it was a culture of resistance.” He talked about listening to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and watching Beat Street. His reasoning was not that Turkish people are the same as Black Americans, but that both cultures experienced oppression and developed a commitment to resistance. In Heinz Ickstadt’s “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” he states, “Turkish-German rappers (in Berlin and elsewhere) have indeed appropriated especially black cultural assertions of protest and of difference to articulate their own difference from a dominant and hostile German culture” (572). Along these lines, hip-hop in Berlin was a vehicle through which Turkish Germans could begin to reclaim Germany for themselves. Ergün-Hamaz, under the name Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla, even began to write hip-hop lyrics. While he no longer writes and performs rap, he continues to use Sesperado as a stage name for various other kinds of performance.

As far as the “dangerous 36 Boys” that our misinformed tour guide told us about, here is the real story. There was a young Turkish woman who was attacked and beaten in Kreuzberg by a Nazi gang. The Turkish community in Kreuzberg was enraged by this, and started to carry knives and baseball bats to protect themselves and their neighborhood. They wanted to send a message, “Don’t fuck with us! This is our neighborhood and we protect our own, so don’t think about it!” These groups weren’t formed to create tension within the community, they were formed to protect and keep their community safe. However, racist interpretations of these communities cause them to be primarily interpreted as extremely dangerous.

DiariesAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall, things changed. The problem was that Turkish-Germans were excluded from Germany’s reunification narrative. White Germans were telling Turkish-Germans to go back to Turkey, and would rant about the Turkish-Germans “taking” all of their jobs. In “‘We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow’: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11,” Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann claim, “With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a chaotic social environment and cheap labor from East Germany led to mass unemployment in the Western part of Berlin” (50).  During the same time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was published, and continued to skew the narrative of Muslims. This book, along with the end of communism, led to the scapegoating of Muslims. When 9/11 happened, the Turkish-Germans and Muslim community were under suspicion again. As Yurdakul and Bodemann point out, 9/11 “cast a dark shadow on all Muslims in Germany and at the same time paradoxically perhaps, intensified anti-semitism” (51). The Germany government sent records and files of all Muslims or people with Muslim-sounding names to the FBI.

Still, Turkish Germans have consistently resisted such racist efforts to dangerously misrepresent their history and culture. Along these lines, Ergün-Hamaz discussed his membership with Phoenix, where he began to participate in anti-racism and empowerment training sessions. It’s important to point out that these trainings do not necessarily teach people how not to be racist. Rather, they focus on how we are all racialized. For this reason and many others, Ergün-Hamaz said that we should be aware of the implications of using the term “people of color,” because it is important to not blanket other races experiences as the same. Phoenix’s work reminded me of Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti’s “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” in which they write, “The knowledge that mattered to them is tied to concrete experiences articulated within the context of thinking and acting in a community with others” (89). It is the knowledge the communities develop and disseminate that matter.

IMG_9256Now, Ergün-Hamaz has finished his Master’s degree and has written a book, Die geheimen Tagebücher des Sesperado (The Secret Diaries of Sesperado), which he wrote for the minority audiences who may be empowered by his experiences. He is also continuing his work with Phoenix. I am truly grateful to have listened to his story and to hear a narrative of the Turkish-Germans that was told with passion and complexity. It was in this session that it really hit me why we are here. Throughout this trip, we have listened to narratives about what it is like here from those who have been marginalized and oppressed. We are here to find these often hidden spaces and listen to these often hidden and silenced narratives.


JadeJade Frost is a rising junior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is double majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and English Literature, with the hopes of becoming a journalist or working at a publishing firm. She is involved with Black Student Union and The Cipher magazine on campus. Jade’s hobbies are reading, creative writing, binging on Netflix, going for drives, dancing spontaneously and hanging out with friends and family. She enjoys discussing topics such as Black feminism, women with disabilities, and social constructs. Her favorite TV Shows are Law and Order: SVU and Gilmore Girls, and her favorite movies are Love & Basketball and Mulan. Jade loves pretty much all types of music, but her top hits are “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah, “Video” by India.Arie, and “A Change is Gonna Come” covered by Leela James. Jade is excited for this course, so she can learn and discover new things.

Ignorance is Never Bliss: Our Turkish Tour Experience

By Meredith Bower Street ArtDisappointing is, without a doubt, the best way for me to describe our experience on today’s Turkish Berlin Tour. Fortunately, our class readings have given us insight on the lives of Turkish Berliners in the past and present. My favorite is “’We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow’: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11” by Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann, which opened my eyes to the fierce racism that Turks experience daily in Germany. It has gotten to a point that, as Yurdakul and Bodemann point out, “leaders in Turkish immigrant associations stress the similarities between the racism against Turks and anti-Semitism” (45). Scarier still, this racism is quickly shrugged off by many Germans. Turkish rights are simply not seen as important. Yurdakul and Bodemann further explore this in their comparison between treatment of German Turks and German Jews. They address a “double standard, tolerating Jewish practices while opposing Turkish ones” and how this “is another reason why Turks have associated themselves with Jews, and ask for equal recognition in public space” (57). After our readings, I hoped to explore these issues even more, and had numerous questions lined up—mostly regarding the aggressive stereotyping that surrounds the Turkish community. Unfortunately, my questions had to go unanswered, as the tour took an unplanned turn and ended after only thirty minutes. Rather than addressing and problematizing the hurtful narrative that Heinz Ickstadt describes as the “fantasy” of the “‘bad, bad Turk,’ a mean tough, deceitfully clever with his knife—in any case, potentially a criminal” (572) in “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” our tour guide actually played into this stereotype. He warned us “not to be afraid” of the surrounding residents in this predominantly Turkish part of Kreuzberg (a neighborhood we have been to multiple times and in which we have never had any issues). Though he did speak briefly of the migratory history of Turkish communities and how that created major identity crises within the community, I felt as if he treated the original Turkish status of “guest worker” as though it were something the Turkish ought to thank the Germans profusely for, because it was the Germans who “saved” these people from “disaster.” This standpoint is extremely privileged coming from a white, German male, and obviously does not consider the theories and politics of those who actually experiencing that hard, treacherous labor. Stop RassismusFurthermore, his narrative focused primarily on violence and “street gangs” that he claimed were mostly influenced by American hip hop narratives, such as the films Colors and Menace II Society. There was no mention of any resistive and/or generative aspects of the Turkish community in Germany. Rather, Turks were portrayed as a nuisance. And sadly enough, this seems to be a typical mindset. As Jin Haritaworn points out in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” the “post-migrant population” is represented as “unassimilable and disentitled” (71). Haritaworn further explains how the Turkish community is viewed as a bunch of “homophobic Muslims,” people who “cannot handle diversity and present an urgent threat to it” (71). Therefore, they take the blame for most homophobic hate crime taking place in Germany. Because of this, the tour came to a dramatic close as Heidi and all of us cringed when our tour guide laughed and told us he could not take us into a T-shirt shop run by a former member of the “36 Boys,” because “we would probably get stabbed.” At this point, Heidi intervened and the next twenty minutes consisted of her strictly (and intellectually) informing him just how offensive his tour had been. He was shocked at Heidi’s accusations, though he did listen to the criticism and even began taking notes on what Heidi was saying. Despite his attempts to understand, the deed had been done, and I was incredibly saddened by how he constructed the Turkish community. Had I not had any previous knowledge about the Turkish community here, including Kreuzberg, I may have believed that the community is erratically violent and that Kreuzberg is an area that needs to be avoided at all costs. In reality, however, I have not seen or experienced any cold-hearted aggression from a Turkish person (and we live among Turkish folks in Wedding). I have also thoroughly enjoyed spending a few of my days and nights in Kreuzberg. The major issue at hand here is, as Heidi addressed with him, his perpetuation of extremely dangerous ignorance. Unfortunately, his tour company assigned him to lead this tour when he knew nothing of the topic. Our tour with him was the first “Turkish Tour” he had ever done. From the very beginning, he spoke of using Wikipedia as his source of information in order to build this tour. It should go without saying that an entire community and its history cannot be whittled down to a single Wikipedia search. Fuck Ur SexismAll of the emotions, experiences, issues, and viewpoints that should be discussed when teaching about Turkish history, culture, and politics cannot be quickly jotted down in a notebook at the naïve request of your supervisor. Accurate, complex narratives demand passion and intellect, and clearly there was none within this man who declared to us that Turkish history is “boring.” Today was a spot-on example of how racism continues to be deeply intertwined into society. To be clear, the racist is not necessarily the blatant asshole on the street shouting derogatory terms. Many racists today are the ignorant (and sometimes very “nice”) ones who do not care enough to educate themselves. It is necessary to stop this, because without an awareness or acknowledgment of their ignorance, skewed narratives, such as the one we experienced today, will continue to be shared, learned, and maintained.


MeredithMeredith Bower is a sophomore at Colorado College from Dallas, Texas. Though her major is undeclared, she loves to take courses in Feminist & Gender Studies and English. She is also planning to take prerequisite courses for Nursing School. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, and participates in a weekly ballroom dance adjunct. Her ideal meal would be pepperoni pizza with a Diet Coke followed by a big scoop of gelato. She loves sleeping in late and cuddling with her cat, Lola. Alongside Lola, she also has another cat named Izzy and a dog-named Molly. Fun fact, she is also a certified vinyasa yoga teacher. Meredith is extremely excited to be in Berlin and cannot wait to start exploring!