A Synthesis of East and West
Published online by Turkish newspaper Hürriyet supplement "Kelebek", reporter Mesut Zeyrek caught up with Tarkan in Germany recently and interviewed him on his days in Germany as a young boy.
Germaner Tarkan Returns to his Childhood Days
In Germany for the filming of a television programme, Tarkan talked exclusively on many subjects, including his childhood and the first movie role he wants to star in. Becoming melancholic as he decribed his German years, he relived his village days where he was born and bred. He even remembered suffering from racist atacks: "At school the Germans looked down on us. Sometimes they'd say "Türken Raus" (Turks Out)."
Turkey's pop star Tarkan is our guest. In his room, on the eleventh storey of a luxury hotel in Gelsenkirchen where he's staying, we enter into a warm conversation. From his hotel room window you can see Schalke's famous Veltins Arena Stadium. Gelsenkirchen is below us. That famous, energetic child has been left at the hotel lobby, there's a serious guy in front of us. Tarkan is a child of "guest workers", a "Germaner"...Born in Germany, he returned to Turkey in his teens. And after going back he became famous to an astonishing degree. Our conversation constantly revolves around "Germany", "German nationlism" and his "tale of return". We ask the questions, "Germaner" Tarkan responds:
You spent your childhood in Germany. What benefits did that bring?
I was born and bred in Germany. I used to collect cards of artists from Turkey. Of course there was always Sezen Aksu. She was my pop idol. Very beautiful words, amazing voice. I used to listen to traditional alla turca, too. Zeki Müren was always playing at home. I even listened to Ibrahim Tatlises. Because in those days his folk songs were very popular in Germany. We'd even dance to his "Dom Dom Kurşunu" (Hunting Rifle) folk song. Of course alongside that I also grew up under the influence of Western music here. That's why it has an important place in my career today: the synthesis between East and West.
Did you ever feel left out as a child? Did you ever experience discrimination?
I never felt out of place in Germany. Of course there were culture clashes. At school Germans always looked down on us. They even said "Türken Raus" (Turks Out). But I didn't feel such a big difference. I never thought "We're different than them, are we less important?" I had German friends, we played together. I had great fun at German schools. My family wasn't conservative. We didn't reject German culture and keep to ourselves. We had German neighbours. They used to visit us often. My German friends would visit, too. There were Turks in the village as well. So I was brought up with the same degree of Turkish culture. We listened to classical Turkish music at home. We never rejected our heritage.
I'M A COUNTRY BOY TOO
Where did you live in Germany?
I spent my childhood in a small village called Alzey. It's a small place near Stuttgart. So, I'm a country boy. I could be considered European, really. I was born and bred in Europe, but I am Turkish. This is what I am. A merging of East and West, a synthesis. Because this synthesis developed naturally it reflects in my music, my stance and stage performances. It's even spread to my clothes, lifestyle. Of course all these dimensions are huge pluses for me.
How did your return to Turkey take place?
Moving back to Turkey was completely my father's decision. He made his mind up at the last minute. "We're going in three months time," he said. We're weren't expecting it. Caught unawares, I mean. I was just about to go into seventh grade, when we gathered up everything we had and returned to Turkey. And moved to some place called Karamürsel. Wasn't even Istanbul. If it had been Istanbul I might have got used to it easier. There were many things I didn't agree with there. We were like soldiers at school. Suits, ties, short hair, like military hair. I mean there were times I was really upset. There were times I'd look in the mirror and say, "What the hell is this? Why have I become ugly, what's going on?" Going to school that's what. Rules, taboos... The first few years I struggled badly. I was causing a stir in the village I was in because of my ways. People found me too laid back.
I'M MY OWN BIGGEST CRITIC
You were born and grew up in Germany. For that reason many German Turks look up to you. How does this make you feel?
I'm my own biggest critic. And that's why I don't see myself as something big. I've still got a lot to accomplish. Because I'm always saying, "You haven't succeeded yet. You've got to do better," I don't see myself as a role model. I'm someone who is always trying to do his best. My fans and admirers see this in me. I'm never happy with what I've achieved. Maybe it's this about me that moves them. My listeners and followers in Germany know this side to me. Maybe it's because of this that they love me.
You've been living in the USA for a long time. How's your connection with Turkey?
Turkey has and will always have a very special place in my heart. Don't let anyone think that when I become more famous I'm going to forget Turkey. Because I get real satisfaction from singing Turkish songs. I love Istanbul. I wouldn't give up the Bosphorus for the world. But I also know I have the potential to go further. I want to find my place in American and European music. My English album still has some way to go. And to tell the truth the time when my fame was at its peak in Turkey was very tiring. I mean I wanted to distance myself from the attention and the paparazzi. That's why America is useful. I escape there and walk the streets.
Other Turkish artists have reached the charts in Europe, too. But were forgotten afterwards. However you, rather than being forgotten, are becoming more well-known. Why do Europeans like you so much?
I attribute it to my growing fan base being younger. European teenagers relate easily to me. Clothes, image, style is very important. They see a more modern Turk in front of them. I'm not saying this in comparison to anyone else. The English album has been an important step in my getting heard in Europe. It's been easier to reach Germans and others in this way. Naturally, because they don't understand Turkish. So, I'm speaking to them in a language they do understand. Of course, they had really liked "Şıkıdım" and "Şımarık" even though they were in Turkish. And they'd memorised the songs. It's possible they relate to me because of my outlook on life, my stance. And the Turks here feel proud. For the first time someone from their culture is speaking to the Germans. This is very important to me.
They say you perform in the kitchen as successfully as you do on stage. Is this true?
Yes, once I'm in the kitchen I can cook anything. Maybe I'm boasting, but I can turn my hand to any dish. In my opinion the world's best cooks are men. Women might not like hearing this, but that's my view. From Turkish food I can make olive oil dishes. I can make the olive oil bean dish. I can make roast chicken, too. Plus, I like Italian cuisine. Especially Italian style pastas... I love homemade pizzas.
I DON'T WANT PARIS HILTON
Back in the day all celebrities would star in the movies. Recently this trend has seemed to lessen. Will we see you on the large screen, though?
I really want to star in a movie. I'm getting scripts. If I find a role I really believe in I'll do it. The type of movie has to be a romantic comedy for me to star. Like Hugh Grant type romantic films, you know? If such a film is done, it will be Turkish-European colloboration. I don't know exactly who my starring partner would be. Whatever I say would be silly at this point anyway. I want to star with a interesting woman, with some depth. Not simply beacuse she is sexy or has a beautiful body. Maybe someone with a Mediterranean connection. Not Paris Hilton, I mean.