In my neighborhood in Wilmersdorf the black-and-white photocopied portraits in memory of the ten foreigners who were killed cold bloodedly on 19 February in Hanau by a gun wielding neo-Nazi terrorist had hardly been up a day before they were scratched out and defaced totally.
Elsewhere around the city one finds the pictures similarly vandalized. And so goes the memory of one of Germany’s most grievous post-Wende hate crimes.
It makes one wonder how deeply rooted is the xenophobia in Germany – even in a liberal city like Berlin – that led to the Hanau massacre.
In the early to mid nineties, following on the heels of reunification, Germany saw a distressing succession of murderous neo-Nazi attacks that ruined the newly reunited country’s hard-fought credibility around the world. In 1992 arsonists set fire to a house in Mölln, killing three Turks. One year later in Solingen, five more Turks were killed in an arson attack. Altogether 184 people have been killed in right wing attacks in Germany since 1989.
What have we learned, if anything, from the spate of racist attacks in the nineties? Where is the outcry from the German public, with regards to Hanau? Where is the alarm expressed by foreign ambassadors and newspaper editorialists, which one remembers so well on the occasion of Mölln, Solingen and Rostock?
And perhaps most importantly – where is the outcry from young German Turks themselves? Why haven’t they raised their voices to express their displeasure at the voiced opinions of right-wing “geistiger Brandstifter” – intellectual arsonists – like Thilo Sarrazin, who is able to publish a hateful, islamophobic diatribe – Feindliche Übernahme(Hostile Takeover) – with complete impunity.
This is precisely what Erci E. wants to know, and also why his critical Facebook posts have not been liked and reposted, falling apparently on deaf ears.
Is the third generation of Turks in Germany so well-integrated that young German Turks don’t bother to raise a voice in protest against racist motivated right wing crime? Or are they simply too much tied up with social media to care? Erci E. wants to know.
Erci E is a Turkish musician from Berlin, who is known by most Turks here in Germany and in Turkey as the beat-maker, rapper and co-founder of Cartel, the first Turkish rap group to make it singing rap songs in Turkish.
Taking their inspiration from the attacks of Mölln and Solingen in the 90’s, Cartel gave voice to a generation of Turkish youths, who had been born in Germany, and who encountered every-day racism, barred from entering discotheques, called “kanaken”, a racial slur similar to “dago”, “wop”, “nigger” by the public at large, while being confronted with the slogan “Türken Raus!” (Turks out!) daubed on Berlin walls.
Not only did Cartel win over Turkish youth in Germany, giving them a message of hope, but they achieved a phenomenal and unexpected success in Turkey, where they played to sold out football stadiums.
Erci E (short for Ergün), as beat-maker, was the only Berliner. The others were made up of crews from Kiel and Nuremberg. In addition to Turks, the group consisted of a German and a Jamaican. After going platinum in Turkey, and spawning a whole slew of Turkish rap acts and artists, the group disbanded almost as suddenly as they had formed.
Erci E went on to embark on a successful solo carrier, creating some infectious tracks, characterized by Turkish language vocals offset with arabesk hooks and samples. At the moment he is at work on a new song, which he declines to tell me much about, save that it’s inspiration lay in the latest attacks in Hanau.
Over the course of the last ten years I met and interviewed Erci E three times during my research on Turkish hip-hop, and always found him outspoken and enthusiastic, willing to experiment and a great source of knowledge pertaining to Turkish music.
What were your first impressions when you heard about the shooting in Hanau?
It hit me really deep. It brought up old traumas that I didn’t even know that I had. These were just normal young people. Germany’s children who were killed like flies. The pain of the boys who survived. What they said. The terror in their faces. It was the same terror in the faces of the Jews in Nazi times that we know from old films. A mother with two children died. A pregnant women escaped through a window, didn’t die, but the child died. And then it all came to the surface. That we are fair game. That’s the crazy thing. Anyone can be shot at any time.
And this coming while the wounds are still fresh from the NSU killings, where one feels there might have been a cover-up.
Yes. They killed ten people over the course of ten years, across the country. And Germany hasn’t cleared it up. It’s highly unsatisfactory. And it makes you think: is there an institutional power, which is demonically evil and operating across Germany? Why have the dossiers been designated secret for 120 years? What kind of message is that? What is that supposed to mean? That means we’ll open it open when all those concerned are dead. That’s what it means. That means I can’t trust the authorities. They can dispose of the documents and say, “they’ve disappeared”.
One can say that German xenophobia has reared its ugly head again.
Which no one likes to hear of course. Germans don’t like that. I am someone that has in principle, empathy for Germans who are worried about the numbers of foreigners in their country. I’m not the one who swings the “Nazi cudgel”. It’s totally ridiculous to call everyone a Nazi who says “There are too many foreigners in Germany.” You should be able to say that. And to think that. And not be afraid. It’s bad when you ostracize them, call them old fashioned and retrograde — Nazis, in short. Because then they go off and join the AfD. You have to extend your hand to them, and if they tell you that, then you have to say it’s not so, that these numbers won’t change your life, then you can win them over. But don’t shout over them. Don’t try to silence them. This culture of not discussing something, there’s a lot of that here in Germany.
The Turks in Germany are hardly a homogenous group. There are Alevis, Sunnis, Kurds, Laz, Armenians, Turks, religious, non-religious etc. But when something like Hanau takes place, does that bring the Turks together?
Of course. I feel connected to everyone who died. There was a Bosnian among the dead. And someone who was from Poland, and who was actually a Roma. It is totally clear. It doesn’t even play a role. It never played a role. It’s political bullshit. That is the special thing and the nice thing about the people, about Turkey – that they still stick together. And that had already been commented on by Germans in the Ottoman Empire. That despite the fact that they come from different ethnicities, they act as one people. I think that is worth protecting.
You are someone who has been involved in the hip-hop scene in Germany for more than 30 years. What’s with today’s generation of Turkish rappers in Germany? They don’t deal with serious subject matter anymore, like Cartel did. It’s all about material things.
Exactly. But that’s the way it is all over the world. Everything that I liked about hip-hop is no longer there. Therefore I don’t feel as an MC or a rapper representative of hip-hop. Or just the old-school style.
Because these interesting themes…
The interesting themes. The culture. This mix of hip-hop with graffiti, DJs and break-dance. It’s not relevant anymore. It’s all about ego. But it has a lot to do with major labels. Because kids want stars. And if they have talent then all the more. And the major labels have the whole thing, from “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash. And when the big companies realized, “Oh, this rap thing is reaching a lot of people!” – it’s the same thing with other musical directions – when they get involved, then they take all of the culture out of it. And all of what was left was instinct – “I have the thicker gold chain. I have the fatter car. I have more women.” Suddenly it was all about that. Although back then there was De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers. A lot of these bands. That was real hip-hop. They had philosophy, spoke of philosophical things. Now it’s, “I’m stronger than you”.
It’s too bad that there are no artists who are presenting the real issue of today.
Yes, because it is no longer cool. And now some kids were knocked off, and what’s missing is the online outrage from my countrymen. Why don’t they share what I wrote on Facebook, and make some commentary. But I’m not some do-gooder. It just brought up some old feelings. I’m like “Still? Still we have to go through these emotions?” Lives were taken for no reason. Young people who never did anything to anyone. That has to move everyone in this country. If they died in a train crash that would be one thing. It wouldn’t be so dramatic. But that they died because of their heritage is terrible.
Back to Cartel. Cartel had a message. It was “Come together whoever you are and unite against the racists.” Is that how it was?
The inspiration for Cartel was various things. Artistically to create something which didn’t exist before. But the idea was Turkish language rap music, which many liked. There was a demand for it. It didn’t exist before. Why not Turkish? Why not Turkish motifs? And so on. That was the one thing. And then this was the time of the right-wing attacks in Mölln and Solingen, which were on a scale previously unheard of. In the past there was nothing like it. That a whole family was torched. And this went into the inspiration of this project. As an energy. As something to resist.
So, was Cartel political?
We entered the fray as hip-hop kids, not as a political band. That was never the intention. There was the issue of feelings of national identity among people like us who were born elsewhere as the children of Gastarbeiter. If you are far away from your home then, sure, you have feelings for your home. Then it’s all a bit nicer. Far away – it’s like a Turk in the US as well. He has his little flag although he normally wouldn’t care about national sentiment. The distance is responsible for that a bit. And when you are attacked, you band together. There was the theme in “Araba yok”. A little reflection on the Turkish factory worker, who spent his last Pfennig on a fat car, but could hardly afford to pay for gas. Those were some of the themes. Social criticism. TV. The ubiquity of TV. Televizion was the name for the song. We had – Sen Türksün – was the name of the song. It was about the fact that the people who live here some extent don’t know who they are because they are caught between two cultures. And since the message is: You mustn’t forget where you are, because then you can open yourself to others. That kind of stuff was in it. Party, yes, of course, but also a little bit of national pride and “We are who we are, and we won’t allow ourselves to be tread upon.”
Do you think the AfD will one day rule Germany? And if so, what future do Turks here have?
That’s a good question. I only know that we are in a bit of a difficult situation. In my generation my parents came and my generation, the second received something about Turkey from our parents. We tried to carry both. To learn German, but also honor our traditions. The generation after us, they are even more lost. We lost the original even more. And the latest generation even more. If it doesn’t matter at all where you come from then you can’t grow.
For some years now, there has been a veritable “wave of return” among Turks of your generation. How do you account for this?
It is very easy to have the feeling that you are not needed in Germany. The worst thing is that as a young person you hardly have any chances here. That applies to everyone who lives here, including the Germans. And as someone who comes from somewhere else, you’re naturally quick to think of returning.
Do you want to spend the rest of your life in Germany?
I’d leave tomorrow. I can really imagine it. I have a new flat in Istanbul. Not “go, and not have anything more to do with you anymore.” I have the feeling that Germany hems people in. Here you are under safety glass. It’s maybe not as safe as it was. But you don’t really live. You exist. You shouldn’t stick out. You have your health insurance.
But you can’t really live.
Can’t really live. But there are problems. I don’t want to say they are good or better. The politics in Turkey is not really my politics.
Of course not. Of course it’s not my world. I can go to Portugal. It’s about another atmosphere that doesn’t cut you out. That is the drama. I don’t know if what is missing is philosophy. Or spirituality. Because if one had it then one would see that every living being was created by God. So. And this view doesn’t exist. Not everyone is like this. This idea: this is foreign. This doesn’t belong here. This open-mindedness. One feels one is a foreign body, and it’s dehumanizing…The problem is we are all – like me – too deeply dug on, rooted. What should I do with my daughter? Take her out of school? But I see that as destiny. Because the human being, doesn’t matter where he comes from, doesn’t have so much influence on his life. So, your influence on your destiny and your life is small. And you have to make good use of it. And that is religiosity. I learned that as a kid. Religiosity is when I don’t harm any other person in my sphere of life, and don’t steal five euro, and nor shall a send out any negative energy into the universe. And so I don’t need a beard and anything.
What is so great about Istanbul?
There nothing is certain, but you live life to the full. Here you don’t live to the full but everything is certain. And there is a certain lethargy. That is the difference.
I have the feeling there is more freedom in Istanbul, paradoxically.
There is. Here is always: “no”. Germany is always “no”. Do you have an idea? “Moment, first of all we have to get approval…” And this works its way into you after a while. And it stops you in your thought process. “Ah, it’s for sure complicated”. And in Turkey, it’s always, “Yes”. “You have an idea? Maybe we can work on it together?” But here: “Let’s take a sober look at this first.” This is not a critique on Germany, it is merely an observation after 46 years. I think my destiny is to fight it out here. And if it is the fight against the right then I have to fight it out here. We’re now working on a song on this subject – against the right. I already wrote the song, but now the time is right. I sing it with Xavier Naidoo. It’s a very nice song and Xavier sings in Turkish.
So it sounds as though you are fairly resigned to sticking around in Germany for the long term.
I have learned to be completely satisfied with my own position as a German Turk. Whatever is described as “being in between” has absolutely nothing negative for me anymore. It is something whole – its own place. I am German-Turkish – in exactly this order. And Berliner forever.