Turkish coffee around 1975

11 Mai 2020


Today I was supposed to take a train to Berlin. I have postponed my trip for the third time. The following few days, I am working from home to fit the current global crisis and its motto: stay at home/work from home. However, the subject(s) of my investigation planned for Berlin are meant not to work from home, and in the process, many of them will not come back home.

While reading John Berger’s „A Seventh Man“, the documentary essay published in 1975, I was hooked with a photo detail. It shows a skill that I have recently learned to do: preparing the ‘original’ Turkish coffee for one person. I thought, at least this, I should know how to perform to get closer to a sense of displacement that previous generations of migrant workers – in this case from the former Yugoslavia, or, Bosnia to be more precise – have tasted. It is a part of detective inquiry regarding my mom’s father, Nikola, who has spent his last years of life as ‘gastarbeiter’ in West Berlin.

Coincidentally, his time in Berlin corresponds to the period that John Berger went to collect the materials for his essay about migrant workers in West Europe. There are some further coincidences and parallel histories with other personalities spread throughout different moments of this and the last century, but also other epochs. Perhaps too many of it. There are layers of family affairs to be recovered and reconnected as a part of cross-border memories… specifically, in Nikola’s case, they are at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, just as the skill of making a solitary Turkish coffee.

Thus, today I am ordering the raw materials I have collected during my pre-research during the last four seasons between the Netherlands and Banja Luka (in Bosnia) before my departure to Berlin.

Berger’s collaborator & photographer for ‘A Seventh Man’ was Jean Mohr.