The Bridge of the Golden Horn

Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn; The Bridge of the Golden Horn (1998)

This autobiographical novel, which covers the decade from 1966 to 1975, is divided into two parts.

Part One begins in 1966 as the unnamed sixteen year-old narrator moves from Istanbul to West Berlin. Claiming to be eighteen, she gets a one-year permit to work in Germany as a Gastarbeiterin (female guest worker). The narrator lives in Kreuzberg in a hostel for women (Frauenwohnheim), which the women abbreviate to ‘Wonaym’. Opposite the ‘Wonaym’ in the Stresemannstrasse, Kreuzberg, is the Hebbel-Theater (p. 23). Another local landmark is the Anhalter Bahnhof, a ruined station which was destroyed by bombing during World War Two and which was last used in 1952. In Turkish, the same word can mean ‘offended’ and ‘destroyed’, and so the narrator calls the Anhalter Bahnhof ‘der beleidigter Bahnhof’; ‘the offended station’ (p. 25). The narrator works in a factory making lamps for radios. She wears a magnifying glass over her right eye so that she can see the thin wires of the tiny radio lamps, which she has to bend with pincers (p. 16). The new hostel warden gives German lessons to the women. He is an artist and a communist and he introduces the women to the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin and to the plays of Bertolt Brecht (p. 35). Later, the narrator takes German classes at the Goethe Institut near Lake Constance (in German, ‘Bodensee’, p. 108). Then she returns to West Berlin and becomes an interpreter in a housing block for women working for Siemens (pp. 109-10). On a visit to Paris she meets and falls in love with a Spanish student called Jordi. Unusually, this section is narrated in the third person (pp. 131-44). Later the narrator has a relationship with a limping Turkish socialist. Part One ends with a description of the student movement in Berlin and the fatal shooting of Benno Ohnesorg by police on 2 June 1967 (p. 170). This mention of German police brutality serves as a prelude to Part Two, which focuses on political struggles in Turkey from 1967 to 1975.

In Part Two the narrator returns to live in Istanbul to attend theatre school. She decides that she will never get married (p. 194) and she has an abortion (p. 199). She has her first orgasm with a Marxist intellectual who resembles an owl. Then she joins the left-wing Turkish Workers’ Party (p. 237). In May 1968, the mass demonstrations spread to Istanbul where the students occupy the universities (pp. 256-59). The Sixth Fleet of the American navy lands in Istanbul waters amidst student protests; on 17 July 1968 a student, Vedat Demircioğlu, falls out of a window during a police raid; he dies soon afterwards (p. 260). The narrator performs as Charlotte Corday in Peter Weiss’s play Marat/Sade (p. 262). She describes the left-wing demonstration in Istanbul on 16 February 1969 which became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ when right-wing groups attacked the demonstration and two students were killed. This led to the founding of the Marxist organisation Dev Genç (Devrimci Gençlik, Revolutionary Youth) (p. 296). In 1970 she performs in Ankara in a left-wing play about prostitutes; at the same time in Ankara, the THKO (People’s Liberation Army of Turkey) is formed. This is an extreme-left underground movement founded by university students Deniz Gezmiş, Hüseyin Inan and Yusuf Aslan (pp. 302-03). The universities are occupied and closed down by the police and the army. On 4 March 1971 the THKO, led by Deniz Gezmiş and Yusuf Aslan, kidnap four American soldiers. Later the hostages are released (pp. 306-08). Then on 12 March 1971 there is a military coup d’état in Turkey: the prime minister, Süleyman Demirel, is deposed by a military memorandum and replaced by Nihat Erim on 19 March 1971 (pp. 308-09). The THKO leaders Deniz Gezmiş, Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin Inan are captured by police (pp. 309-10), tried in July-October 1971 and executed on 6 May 1972 (p. 324). Meanwhile, the narrator lives in a student commune and starts wearing a ring like the Palestinian activist Leila Khaled (p. 311). She helps two Kurdish students who are on the run, but she and her boyfriend Kerim are arrested (p. 318). In prison, the narrator describes the torture practices used by the police (pp. 319-21). The narrator is released and she reports the voices of mothers of students who have been tortured and killed (pp. 325-26). The violence continues throughout the early seventies, and the narrator describes how many of her fellow students are massacred by the Grey Wolves, an armed neo-fascist militia (p. 328). Eventually she decides to move to Berlin and work in the theatre; she leaves Istanbul by train on 21 November 1975. The newspaper reports the death of the Spanish dictator General Franco, which occurred the day before.

By comparing German and Turkish experiences of May 1968 and the subsequent political extremism of the 1970s, this novel bears witness to a series of international political struggles, at the same time suggesting interesting parallels between recent German and Turkish history.

German Edition

Page references in brackets refer to the German edition of Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn [1998] (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2002)

English Translation

The Bridge of the Golden Horn, trans. by Martin Chalmers, intro. by John Berger (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007)

Further Reading

Elizabeth Boa, ‘Özdamar's Autobiographical Fictions: Trans-National Identity and Literary Form’, German Life and Letters 59:4 (2006), 526-39

Margaret Littler, ‘Machinic Agency and the Powers of the False in Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn (1998)’, Oxford German Studies 45:3 (2016), 290-307

Karin Lornsen, ‘The City as Stage of Transgression: Performance, Picaresque Reminiscences, and Linguistic Incongruity in Emine S. Özdamar’s The Bridge of the Golden Horn’, in Gender and Laughter: Comic Affirmation and Subversion in Traditional and Modern Media, ed. by Gaby Pailer, Andreas Böhn, Stefan Horlacher and Ulrich Scheck (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), pp. 201-17

B. Venkat Mani, ‘The Good Woman of Istanbul: Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn’, Gegenwartsliteratur: A German Studies Yearbook 2 (2003), 29-58

Susanne Rinner, The German Student Movement and the Literary Imagination: Transnational Memories of Protest and Dissent (Oxford: Berghahn, 2013)

Azade Seyhan, ‘From Istanbul to Berlin: Stations on the Road to a Transcultural/Translational Literature’, German Politics and Society, issue 74, vol. 23, no. 1 (2005), 152-70

Silke Schade, ‘Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Berlin: Linking Migration and Home in Die Brücke vom goldenen Horn’, Focus on German Studies 13 (2006), 21-33

Silke Schade, ‘Rewriting Home and Migration: Spatiality in the Narratives of Emine Sevgi Özdamar’, in Spatial Turns: Space, Place, and Mobility in German Literary and Visual Culture, ed. by Jaimey Fisher and Barbara Mennel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010), pp. 319-41

Ernest Schonfield, ‘1968 and Transnational History in Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn’, German Life and Letters 68:1 (2015), 66-87

Monika Shafi, ‘Joint Ventures: Identity Politics and Travel in Novels by Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Zafer Şenocak’, Comparative Literature Studies 40:2 (2003), 193-214

Monika Shafi, ‘Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation: Memories of 1968 in Recent German Novels’, German Life and Letters 59:2 (2006), 201-16

Beverly M. Weber, ‘Work, Sex, and Socialism: Reading Beyond Cultural Hybridity in Emine Sevgi Özdamar's Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn’, German Life and Letters 63:1 (2010), 37-53