When my friend Çiğdem first told me of her plans to emigrate to Turkey five years ago, this did not come as a total shock, but I was nevertheless surprised. She had been commuting between Berlin and Istanbul for some time. And when she was offered a job as call centre manager in Istanbul, she decided to pack up and leave. At the age of 33, she started a new life. From this moment on, I accompanied her on her way. Through her, I discovered the hidden world of call centres in Istanbul and was fascinated by the »surrogate Germany« that existed right there in Turkey.

Telephone calls, orders, complaints, rude callers, verbal abuse, as well as flirts – all this in German – often made me forget that we were actually in Turkey. At the same time, this »surrogate Germany« became ever more defined by contrast to the Turkish world outside. I was particularly interested in how the two worlds met and touched. Which conflicts were carried from one world into the other and vice versa. How did their »Germanness« become apparent in their every-day lives in Turkey?

According to the statistics, appr. 40.000 people of Turkish origin leave Germany every year. In my weeks of research in call centres I met people who live in Turkey for all kinds of different reasons – but often not voluntarily. The biographies of Bülent, Fatoş, and Murat are in stark contrast with globalisation and its supposedly unlimited freedom of movement. In the case of Fatoş and Murat, it was their parents who decided on their behalf  that they had to return to Turkey; Bülent was deported five years ago. Only Çiğdem, the call centre manager, decided to move to Istanbul of her own free will.

Over the period of one year we returned to Istanbul again and again, spent time together – on and off camera – and developed an ever more detailed as well as complex view, not least of all due to Çiğdem´s own story. Her German passport offers her all the freedom that the others are forced to live without. For them, a return to Germany is impossible due to exceeded deadlines and legal requirements. Even a visit to Germany entails endless demoralising obstacles. Fatos‘ visa application for a two-week holiday in Germany was rejected twice, and no reasons were given. Repeated questions to the German officials led to the answer that her »willingness to return« was not sufficiently guaranteed. But how can a person´s »willingness to return« be assessed? The decision seems to be made on the basis of a person´s financial situation and whether he/she has proof of a permanent job.

What does it mean to have to live in a place against one´s will? What is the meaning of home in this context? Does it not seem anachronistic, absurd and cruel if a person who lived her life in Germany for more than 20 years now is not even allowed to visit her family? And what does this say about German society?

Parts of the biographies of four people slowly revealed a puzzle. I was confronted with situations and contradictions that made me laugh and amazed me. The every-day practice of German authorities in dealing with visa issues, borders, ethnicity, and the fate of human beings entangled in all of this often left me helpless – if it hadn´t been for the protagonists´ determination to stand up for their »right to home« or the rejection of such concepts, and their refusal to be disheartened by any setbacks.

Martina Priessner