Report from Helmut Matt

„Advantages of an EU-membership for Turkey and for Europe” - Shouldn’t that rather mean "pros and cons"? This was my first thought after the announcement of the new topic for the essay competition of the "Voice of Turkey" for the year 2005. The fact that many German-speaking listeners thought similarly, seems to be the reason for the quite small number of the contributions, which reached the German-language section.

No, I couldn’t imagine, that TRT meant it that one-sided. So I decided to find out exactly. A full EU membership could cause both, advantages and disadvantages for all sides. So I started to write a contribution for an essay competition of the "voice of Turkey". Before I came to the real point of my essay, I tried to describe the problems and disadvantages resulting from a European Union membership.

It seamed, that the TRT jury thought the same way. On the early morning of July the 25th I received an unexpected and highly surprising phone call from Ankara. Ufuk Gecem, head of the German section of the "Voice of Turkey", told me at the phone that I was one the winners of the essay contest of this year. A two-week round trip through Turkey should start in early September. Seven further winners from Romania, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Pakistan should accompany me. What I didn’t know at that moment: After sharing two wonderful weeks in Turkey eight strangers from different parts of the world would be true friends.

At Istanbul International Airport Hüsseyin Bol from the German section of the Voice of Turkey already waited for me in the reception hall. An air-conditioned bus brought me to the nice hotel in the centre of Istanbul, where I was to bring the following tree days. Members of the different foreign language sections were already waiting there to welcome the eight winners. Engin Asena, head of the Foreign Service of TRT Radio, in Germany well known and popular for her DX-program, already expected me and gave me a hearty welcome. Together with her deputy Nurettin Turan she was responsible for the Organization of the trip.

Can anyone escape the true magic of the city at the Bosporus? Istanbul is a real jewel – probably the most beautiful town I ever saw in my whole life: A poem singing of stones, water and flowers as well as a busy city in between two continents – historical glory, young and fresh beauty and dynamic activity assemble to a symbiosis of ancient times and modern life.

Our program started with „Miniatürk“, an open air museum with models of the most important and most spectacular buildings of Turkey. The famous bridge over the Bosporus, accessible for pedestrians, was my favourite there.


trt001.jpg (67812 Byte)The Sultan-Ahmed-Mosque is like a dream out of 1001 nights. For its blue domes and the dominance of blue colour in the ceiling paintings also called the “blue mosque”, it was built by the famous architect Mehmet for Sultan Ahmet I between 1609 and 1618 and is still one of the most remarkable masterpieces of Islamic architecture. Next to it, behind palms and beautiful gardens, the Hagia Sophia reminds the visitor of ancient Christian times of the city of Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia was built I the 6th century. Around 323 A.D., under the leadership of Emperor Constantine I, the first church was built here. After being destroyed twice, the Hagia Sophia was rebuilt under Emperor Justinian around 530 A.D. Once coronation church of the Byzantine emperors, the Hagia Sophia became the main mosque of the Ottomans after the ottoman conquest; since 1934 it is a museum. It is the oldest witness of Byzantine dome church architecture. Before the building of the St. Peter cathedral in Rome it was the largest church of the world. Particularly impressing are the beautiful and well preserved paintings and mosaics from Christian times. The Centre of the Hagia Sophia is the powerful dome. The four minarets originate from the ottoman epoch.

Quite close to the Hagia Sophia is the Topkapi palace. With its beautiful collections of selected bone china, paintings, clothes, jewels and weapons from the ottoman epoch, it is one of the world’s most precious vaults which state the indescribable wealth of the Sultans. Erected under the leadership of Sultan Mehmed II, just after the conquest of Constantinople, the Topkapi Palace was home and residence of the Sultans for centuries as well as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire.

The picturesque gardens of the Dolmabahce Palace looked marvellous in the bright morning sunshine. Just next to the Bosporus, this magnificent castle was built under the influence of the European baroque epoch. Finished in the middle of the 19th century, the palace was the residence of the Sultans and as well the last home of Kemal Atatürk. It’s very remarkable, that the rooms are all connected directly without any corridors. Only the Sultans private rooms and the harem are separated by a very long corridor. Beautiful stucco- and gold-ornaments decorate the ceilings, precious paintings, sculptures and wonderful lights, among them with 4.5 tons the world’s largest chandelier, create a very solemnly atmosphere.

A really mystical atmosphere prevails in the underground cistern, built in 542 A.D. by the roman emperor Justinian. The illuminated columns, arches and sculptures, reflecting in the water, look like a charmed, sunken world from ancient times. With a size of 9000 m², the cistern served the water supply of the whole quarter including Topkapi palace and Hagia Sophia over the centuries.

The covered bazaar with its nice oriental touch really fascinated me with all its colours, sounds and its exotic enticing smells. Customers find an amazing variety of different products, ranging from simple souvenirs for tourists up to beautiful handicrafts and pieces of art. A very special attraction is the Egyptian bazaar, a section of the covered bazaar with all different kinds of spices and sweets.

There was also time for nice walks in the old town of Istanbul, a scenic trip to the Bosporus, long talks in tea rooms or bars as well as dancing in music bars and discos.

The days in Istanbul passed by very quickly. We enjoyed Turkish kitchen at its best in a traditional old town restaurant as well as in a romantic and nicely illuminated fish restaurant close to the Bosporus. Very often Raki was served with the food. Raki is clear and strong liquor with a fine anis bouquet, which looks like milk, after ice cubes and water are added.

It takes about 11 hours to drive from Istanbul to Izmir by bus and ferry. The refreshing winds blew nicely from the Aegaei Sea, when we reached the next station of our journey. It was Wednesday evening, when we arrived at our hotel close to the seaside. The sight was very clear and we even were able to see Greece far back at the horizon. In the hotel lobby Handan Saryhan, member of the German section of TRT waited for me. She accompanied me for the rest of the trip, while Hüsseyin had returned to Ankara after we left Istanbul.

Izmir is a very modern town, full of life and energy. After dinner I accompanied Handan to a nice bar with live music. A very talented young lady and her band sang popular Turkish songs and of course we danced till late at night. After a short night our TRT-bus brought us to the “house of Saint Mary”, the last homestead of the mother of Jesus Christ. Efes, the ancient Ephesus is just amazing. Even Heraclites dedicated his philosophical essay about the nature to the goddess Artemis of Ephesus. Founded around 100 B.C. Efes still provides a unique look upon life and culture of the Greek. Theatres, luxurious Baths and a huge library are witnesses for the over a millennium lasting prosperity of this town. Up to 200.000 inhabitants lived at this place. Beautiful Art, elegant columns, precious mosaics and above all the stunning Amphitheatre filled my heard with deep reverence for the impressive achievements of this ancient high culture.


trt003.jpg (74157 Byte)On our way back to Izmir we stopped at Sirince, a village built by former Greek inhabitants. The majority of today’s inhabitants live from tourism, wine production and the production of jewellery. From the Greek-Orthodox church, located on the highest point of the village, we had a scenic and picturesque view over the beautiful landscape panorama and down to the quaint village.  

The dinner with home made red wine in a nice Tavern under old pine trees was delicious. After food there was some time left to walk through the charming village and to buy some nice jewellery, pottery products or wine. Indescribably tasty peaches and figs were available at the little farmers' stands.


On our way to Antalya we stopped at Pamukkale. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to swim in the thermtrt05.jpg (59916 Byte)es, in which even Kleopatra frequently took her bath. The outstanding calcium terrace formation, now on the Unesco's World heritage list, are known as a geological miracle. Almost like in a world out of snow and ice we stepped barefoot through the warm stones, brooks and bassins down into a white dream of sun, water and blinding white stones. 

The view from a landscape of mountains, cliffs and gorges down to the Taurus Mountains, Antalya and the shining blue of the Mediterranean Sea is of real awesome beauty.

For the following three days we stayed in a TRT-own summer resort close to the beach: Three days of swimming in the sea, dancing in beach bar, trips to local attractions and good food in Turkey’s most popular holiday region.

The TRT Tourist Radio, a multilingual service for the tourists of the region, is also located in the TRT holiday resort. The service is available in the Mediterranean area on 92.1 MHz FM and can heard Europe wide on the Turksat satellite system. The program consists of international pop and dance music, live interviews and information about weather, culture and current events of the region. The multilingual News program is produced and transmitted life form the Ankara studios of TRT. The German service is of TRT Tourist Radio has two members, sharing the working shifts. After a friendly welcome by the Director of the station and a nice talk with tea and ice cream I had a German language live interview in the studio. I talked about the essay contest, my opinion about the Turkish EU ambitions and, of course, about my impressions of the trip.

The harbour and the old town of Antalya with its flowers, huge banana palms, narrow streets and colourful shops are very worth seeing. I also loved the excursions to two different cataracts of the Antalya regions.

Far smaller than Ephesus but also very impressive are the ruins of Perge, an antique town founded in the 11th century B.C. - Perge was the ancient headquarters of Alexander the Great in Pamphylia. The main eye catchers are the two bastions and the wide street just behind - a large number of columns is also very well preserved.

Just after Perge we visited Aspendos, one of the best preserved Amphitheatre of the antique epoch, where still spectacular theatre and opera performances can be seen. They were preparing the stage for “La Traviata” by Verdi, when we were there. From far up at the highest point there is a beautiful view over the whole huge building as well as over the panoramic scenery of the spectacular landscape around Aspendos.


After all these cultural events and pretty nature excursions there was still enough time for swimming, chats in nice beach bars and dancing till late at night.

trt07.jpg (59343 Byte)There was a very special surprise waiting for me in Antalya. Ufuk Gecim, head of the German section of the „Voice of Turkey“started her Antalya holidays one day earlier than originally planned, just to meet me there. Ufuk is well known and very popular among her German audience for featuring the weekly “Mailbag” program. Young, charming, smart and very open minded, she was very good company and we had an excellent talk.

The pleasant evening with a little snack at a beach bar and a nice long walk along the seaside went by way too fast. I hope we will be able to continue our conversation very soon - perhaps at a listeners meeting in Germany.

On our way to Kappadokia, the next step of our journey, we stopped in Konya, ancient religious centre of the Ottoman Empire. There we visited the Museum of Mevlana Dschalal ad-Din Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi-Order of whirling dervishes. Mevlana was a very important thinker of the Sufism, the mysticism of the Islamic world. The central power in the Sufi philosophy is love as a deep affection for god. The rose symbolizes the steps to love in the Sufi world: The thorns are the law, the shaft stands for the way, the bloom is the truth and the perfume is the consciousness. The Sufism is also famous for its symbiosis of poetry, stories, music and dance.


trt009.jpg (53766 Byte)We had the pleasure of watching a so called Dervish dance the same evening at a public performance in a pretty cellar restaurant in Kappadokia. There was folk dance, belly dance, modern dance and waltz too – the audience had the chance to participate in almost all parts of the program. Not to mention, that there was delicious food like lamb casserole, Böregi, and several other specialties…and of course the tasty and fruity vine of the region. Kappadokia is said to be the best vine region of Turkey.

Kappadokia has a landscape of exceptional, absolutely breathtaking beauty. I never before saw such a magic, mysterious and magnificent place on earth. The rocks reminded me of oversized mushrooms or giant fingers looking up into the sky – the churches, chapels and houses, carved into the mountain face, appear like oversized honey-combs. “Fairy Chimneys” is the name for these unique stone figures. Water, wind and erosion have “modelled” them in a period of thousands of year to what they are now. Several underground villages and towns were built before the Christian era. Christians of the second century B.C. tried to hide in the caves and to escape their enemies. I think, more than any other place on earth, Kappadokia has deserved to be on the Unesco's World heritage list: No book, no photo, no description can express my true feelings, when I experienced Kappadokia.



The final stage of our journey was Ankara. Our bus reached the Turkish capital in the evening of September 14th. Ankara is a modern city with huge business districts, shopping centres, embassy buildings and parks. The Atatürk-Mausoleum is for sure the most important and most impressive building of the “modern” Ankara. Visitors should “invest” at least two or three hours to get a first impression of the life and work of the great statesman and founder of the Turkish Republic. Jülide Ayik from the German section was an excellent guide. I was amazed by her cheerfulness and charm, well known by the frequent listeners of the TRT Live broadcasts. I was impressed by her great knowledge about life and work of Kemal Atatürk. A huge number of exposed pictures, writings, documents and very personal remains show his individualism and great accomplishment.

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The TRT-guesthouse is very comfortable and directly connected with the studios and editors offices as well as the film studios of TRT Television. We could move between our rooms and the offices as if we were members of TRT. We could speak with all stuff members and visit all foreign language sections and gained an excellent insight into the daily radio life.

After we had arrived in Ankara, Jülide and Ünal welcomed me very cordially. After dinner Jülide showed me the room of the German section and took me then to a studio, where she, together with members of the English, French, Greek and Russian section, had to speak the news for the TRT Tourist Radio in Antalya.


trt13.jpg (55803 Byte)On the second day I also met the other members of the German language Section of the “Voice of Turkey”: Hakan Ören and Firat Isbir. They were all very nice and friendly and I felt like a member of a new family. Of course I also stepped in to the offices of other foreign language services, especially those, whom I had met on the trip. I had very nice conversations with Ainur Mayemerova from the Kazakh section or Kamuran Baban and Imran Uppal from the Arabic and Urdu section.

After and interview with Engin Asena for the German DX-program I was invited as a participant to the life broadcasts of the German and the English section.

There was also an official reception at the office of the General Director of TRT and the Director of TRT Radio. The eight winners could talk about their impressions and feelings and there was also some time left for personal conversation. Each of us was honoured by a large portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in a wooden frame.

Of course we also had fun hours in Ankara. There was a big dinner in a gourmet restaurant in the city and, on the last evening, we had a very nice dinner in a traditional restaurant close to the TRT building. We were especially honoured by an ensemble playing classical Turkish music. We didn’t sit on our chairs for long that night, but in spite of the music and dancing the atmosphere was somewhat subdued as the hour of parting drew ever closer. Saying farewell after such amazing days is especially hard. What remains are many wonderful memories of the experiences, the beauty of the country, seven new friends from different countries, and the endearing companions of the “Voice of Turkey”. I will truly miss my new friends. I’m sure there will be a reunion.