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February 2005

Turkish Delights

Discover Landwehrstrasse—Munich's answer to Istanbul

They’re not the contents of your average shopping cart: two cartons of Ayran, a bottle of pomegranate syrup with mysterious Arabic writing on the label and Superb, a Moroccan brand of spice powder. I make my way to the till, only to realize that I don’t have enough cash. “Not to worry,” says the Oasis supermarket cashier. “Bring the money another time—when will you next be in? In a month? A year?”

Only later, as I walk down the street, carrying my unusual purchases, do his words play over in my head. A year! I mean, I could just leave town, visit the land where Superb is based, take a trip along the Nile and then return to the shop and say “Here I am again. How much did you want for the pomegranate syrup?”

It may sound bizarre, but Landwehr-strasse—known as “Munich’s Orient” or “Little Istanbul”—is a world unto itself. Along this straight road, heading west from Sonnenstrasse towards St. Paulskirche, things work differently than elsewhere in the city. Not that it’s easy to spot the difference from a distance. There are no shops with signs screaming “import-export” and there’s not even a doner kebab shop—perhaps one reason why the proudly multi-culti “I shop at the local Turk” Münchner are more likely to be found round the corner in Goethe-strasse than here, where it’s really at. Indeed, where Goethestrasse is rowdy—a racetrack for tuned cars with speakers thumping, the pavements littered with piles of empty vegetable crates—Landwehrstrasse is small and intimate, though lively, nevertheless. Let’s start at number 3, Salon Deniz—a haven of male rituals, which has wistful music reminiscent of a Turkish bazaar playing through loudspeakers. Clumps of thick black hair fall to the ground, unruly curls are calmed with mounds of gel from a bucket and the smell of the salon’s own sweet lemony shaving lotion fills the air.

Moving on to number 22, there’s probably no one in Landwehrstrasse who doesn’t know, or at least claim to know, the beautiful Meryem Altuntas—a chemist who owns her own shop—a spotless, renovated place, with white shelves, jars in neat rows and not a speck of dust on the floor. And behind the counter is Meryem, a Turk, “one of them,” who made it to university and now rules this wonderland of cleanliness. Everyone greets her as she walks down the street, be it the cell-phone dealer, the greengrocer or a customer. She switches with ease from German to Turkish and as she picks up a few tomatoes for dinner at the Verdi supermarket, calls her husband, who’s in Frankfurt, organizing fittings for their second chemist’s shop.

Indeed, everyone who runs their own small business in Landwehrstrasse can claim to have made it in Germany and to have found their own niche in one of the country’s richest cities. The road, for all of them, has been long. Cahit Dogan, for example, the owner of “Deniz,” started out with a small hairdressing cooperative and now has salons spread across Munich. Fahri Yildiz serves Turkish specialties and the obligatory tea in the self-service restaurant “Kandil.” On the wall is a picture of three flags—the Turkish crescent, the Bavarian blue and white diamonds and the black, red and gold of the economic wonderland he dreamed of after leaving Istanbul.

Further along the street are shops, overflowing with wares, with flowery toilet brushes displayed next to prayer mats and glass knick-knacks and garish plates next to used cell-phones. Customers are Turkish, Arab, North African and women in long black robes and veils, revealing only their eyes. According to Meryem, many come from Dubai for medical treatment to Munich and as well as picking up designer goods at Chanel and Armani they find time to seek out a few more unique items, in Landwehrstrasse, such as rosewater or pistachio candy. And it is precisely this mix of exotic and Western lifestyles—the merging of the crescent and the Bavarian diamonds—that typifies Landwehrstrasse. Take the building that contains a sex shop on the ground floor, a tap-dancing studio on the second floor and, above that, a mosque. Indeed, back in Oasis, which belongs to the Tunisian Ibrahim Jeridi, a regular customer—an Italian who works in a Turkish pharmacy—drops by for a chat with the cashier, who himself is an Iraqi Kurd. This really is where two—or even more—worlds come together and live peacefully next to each other. <<<

This article appeared previously in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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