Der Hof im Spiegel

Der Hof im Spiegel; The Courtyard in the Mirror (2001)

This is a collection of short stories and texts, dedicated to Özdamar’s father, and to the writer John Berger and the poet Can Yücel.

The title story, ‘Der Hof im Spiegel’; ‘The Courtyard in the Mirror’, describes the narrator’s life in Düsseldorf, her telephone conversations with her mother in Istanbul, as well as her mother’s funeral and her attempts to come to terms with her mother’s death. The narrator has installed three large mirrors in her apartment which reflect the courtyard and the flats opposite. This has made her home seem more like an Oriental apartment block, in which neighbours live extremely close to one another, ‘nose to nose’ (pp. 25-26). In the flat opposite there is an old nun who leaves breadcrumbs on her window sill for the birds, and who reads Alice in Wonderland. The old nun’s light is reflected in the narrator’s kitchen mirror. The narrator looks into her kitchen mirror when she is on the telephone, and she tells us that all the dead people she knows now live in this mirror (p. 24). The mirror serves as a memorial place for her, as a mnemonic device: it makes her happy because it enables her to live in several places at once, thereby connecting the past with the present (p. 31). When her mother dies she realises that her mother was an orphan who was raised by a stepmother. For a time she speaks to herself in her mother’s voice which has become the voice of a stepmother (p. 31), but then she has a dream which enables her to ‘normalise’ her mother’s voice (p. 32). After her mother’s death she starts phoning the poet Can Yücel, her friend who lives in Istanbul. She tells him that she is living in the mirror now (p. 42). The narrator’s kitchen mirror, which reflects both the people who have died and her actual neighbours, exemplifies the way in which past and present coexist for her.

The second text in the collection recalls the production of Özdamar’s play Schwarzauge in Deutschland; Black Eye in Germany in Frankfurt in 1986. The text is introduced with a quotation: ‘Ein Arbeiter hat keine Heimat, wo die Arbeit ist, da ist die Heimat’; ‘a worker has no homeland; where the work is, that is the homeland’ (p. 47).

The third text describes Özdamar’s second move to Berlin in 1976, where she sometimes visits the grave of Bertolt Brecht.

The eighth text in this collection is entitled ‘Die neuen Friedhöfe in Deutschland’; ‘The New Cemeteries in Germany’. This begins with a quotation which draws attention to the contradictory character of the word ‘Gastarbeiter’ (‘guest worker’):

‘Ich liebe das Wort Gastarbeiter, ich sehe immer zwei Personen vor mir. Einer ist Gast und sitzt da, der andere arbeitet.’ (p. 117).

‘I love the word “Gastarbeiter”, I always see two different people in front of me. One of them is a guest and sits there, and the other one works.’

This text reflects on the difficulties faced by Turks who want to travel with a Turkish passport, but also on some German prejudices about Turks. The text concludes with a quotation from a cleaning lady, pointing out that in the end we are all foreign guests in this world, and so perhaps there should be just one form of passport for everyone in the world (p. 124).

The ninth and final text in this collection is a speech paying tribute to some of the German writers whom Özdamar admires, including J. M. R. Lenz, Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner, Adelbert von Chamisso, Heinrich Heine and Bertolt Brecht.

This collection of stories and texts has not been translated into English.

Page references above in brackets refer to the German edition of Der Hof im Spiegel (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2001).

Further Reading in English

Jim Jordan, ‘From Guest Worker to Cultural Cosmopolitan: Evolving Identities in Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Short Story Cycle Der Hof im Spiegel’, Oxford German Studies 45:3 (2016), 330-48

Liesbeth Minnaard, New German, New Dutch: Literary Interventions (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2008), Chapter 3 on Der Hof im Spiegel, especially on ‘Fahrrad auf dem Eis’ (‘Bicycle on Ice’), pp. 69-105

Monika Shafi, ‘Open Houses: Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s “Der Hof im Spiegel” and Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde: Wedding-Pankow 1976-77’, in Monika Shafi, Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Contemporary German Fiction (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012), pp. 140-68

Further Reading in German

Dirk Göttsche, ‘Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Erzählung Der Hof im Spiegel: Spielräume einer postkolonialen Lektüre deutsch-türkischer Literatur’, German Life and Letters 59:4 (2006), 515-25