Text Gerlind Hector Photos Peter Lorenz
Hagia Sophia, the Princes’ Islands, Topkapi Palace – if you take in all of Istanbul’s classic tourist sights, you’re guaranteed to sleep like a log in your hotel bed every night. But the beautiful city on the Bosphorus has so much more to offer, including a dazzling art, club and cultural scene that brings together the best of Europe and Asia. Not to mention its boundless sources of inspiration.
When the muezzin replaces your alarm clock by calling to prayer at five o’clock in the morning, when the air is scented with sandalwood and when every day heralds a whole raft of creative adventures, then one thing is for sure: you must be in Istanbul! The megacity between orient and occident has a unique charm and cannot be compared to any other metropolis in the world. “Like a mix between Cairo and Milan. Or perhaps New York and Kabul!” as Antony Doucet, marketing manager of the luxurious House Hotel, succinctly puts it. This beautiful city on the banks of the Bosphorus, which has been the Frenchman’s chosen home for several years now, frequently elicits envy amongst his circle of international friends. After all, Istanbul truly is a melting pot of cultures: the national art and creative scene has its reasons for choosing the city as the centre of its creativity. It feels like there is a new hotspot or a cool store opening every other day – and the hip district of the moment changes every few months.
There are stores and cafés here that refreshingly stand out from the crowd.
Currently booming is the Karaköy district, the neighbourhood below the historic Galata Tower, one of the city’s many clearly visible landmarks. Erected in the 14th century by the Genoese, the tower dominates the northern end of the Golden Horn, the seven-kilometre-long bay of the Bosphorus. Long queues of tourists form here during the day, all patiently waiting to take in the unique views across to the European and the Asian parts of the city. Karaköy is home to stores and cafés that refreshingly stand out from the crowd of run-of-the-mill international labels and chains that are the same the world over, whether in London, Lyon or Leipzig: like the no-frills vegetarian restaurant Lokanta Helvetia for example, or a small store like Aphorm, run by a young Turkish jewellery designer and her sister, which offers handmade fashion, accessories and interior design of the highest quality. Typical Turkish elements are cleverly combined with influences from the western hemisphere. Individuality in combination with national traits are a major factor here, and young fashion designers, artists and architects in particular are taking the time to examine their cultural roots.
Typical Turkish elements are cleverly combined with influences from the western hemisphere.
In this way the country’s often tense political situation – topic number one amongst well-educated young Turkish people – is dealt with creatively. The new conservatism and image of Turkish identity presented by Ankara is met in a more playful way in Istanbul. That’s one reason why traditional craftsmanship is experiencing a big revival and doesn’t just stop at epicurean pleasures. On every street corner you will find freshly pressed pomegranate juice, börek, bulgur and baklava being served up, especially in the newer, younger cafés. Greeks, Persians, Romans…they’ve all ruled from this city with its unique position on the banks of the Bosphorus – which has been one of the most important trading routes since antiquity – making the passage from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea possible. Currently, of course, it is mainly curious tourists who are taking Istanbul by storm and bustling around the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. But those who take the time to go off the beaten track and get to know the people and the country behind the main tourist attractions will come across pure inspiration. And will soon start planning their next trip.