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A Turkish Store in Kreuzberg Signals Progress in Integration (March 2005)

A reporter describes how a Turkish newspaper store in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood became successful only after its owner started catering to the needs of his German clientele. The author views the small store as a model of pragmatic integration.

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Tacettin Akgül’s Store

At first there were only cigarettes. Cigarettes and newspapers. And illustrated magazines. Spiegel, Stern, and Superillu. A large pile of BZ, two smaller piles of Morgenpost and Tagesspiegel, two even smaller piles of Berliner and Die Zeit. And then also taz. Two or three copies. That was enough to cover the demand for dailies on this street.

This is Eylauer Straße, gray even on this sunny day and soiled by dogs, situated at the edge of Kreuzberg just before the bridge to Schöneberg. A nameless street, known to no one except a few residents and the mailman, not to the taxi driver and not to the most ardent Kreuzberg patriots. Restaurants that opened up here quickly closed down again; hair salons, bakers, let alone delicatessen shops, have hardly a chance of survival on this street. Only Holst am Kreuzberg, the Hertha soccer club bar, with the slot machines, the bad music, and the five characters at the bar is still hanging on. And the small newsstand. You can sell newspapers and cigarettes anywhere.

But newspapers and cigarettes can also be had at the other end of the short street, and that’s why Tacettin Akgül did what so many of his countrymen had done before him: he drove to the fruit market, bought fruits and vegetables, and draped apples, pears, and tomatoes in the most picturesque manner possible next to the door to his shop. Perhaps it was the bland 1950s building across the street, or the lot next door, which has lain empty since the war, or all the dogshit, which didn’t go so well with the vegetables; perhaps it was the fact that soon thereafter, two hundred meters down, a competitor opened up his doors and sold apples and pears for only half of what Mr. Akgül was asking: Aldi.* Had he offered his apricots, “the best apricots ever eaten in Berlin,” in Bergmannstraße,** there probably wouldn’t have been a single one left. Even at a price of 3 Euro. On Eylauer Straße, however, even Berlin’s best apricot didn’t stand a chance.

And so he came up with something else. Cleared away the fruit crates and set up a refrigerator with butter, gouda, milk, Mettwurst sausage, ham, and yogurt. Stocked a shelf full of noodles and tomato paste, jams and Nutella. You know, the kind of stuff that the people on Eylauer Straße eat. And the people on Eylauer Straße were nearly all Germans. With five-liter buckets of Turkish yogurt, garlic sausages, and flatbread, Mr. Akgül would have quickly gone out of business on Eylauer Straße.

But it is not only the selection of goods that is German. The tone in Mr. Akgül’s small store is also German. It is the defiant humor of the Berlin pensioners with their sayings, the charmingly brash style of those who buy canned beer, the complaining and critical tone of those who are now somehow living “from support” and are still here on this street. They all have much to tell, and since hardly anyone still listens to them other than the baker, the newspaper vendor, and the tavern keeper, Mr. Akgül also talks. He talks, no matter whether he’s selling a book of matches or a case of champagne. He prefers to laugh, make jokes. What else can he do if he doesn’t want to be glum? “Three hundred sixty Euro,” he says and pushes the pack of Camels toward the customer.

* Aldi is a popular discount grocery store chain based in Germany – eds.
** Bergmannstraße is a major shopping street in Kreuzberg – eds.

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