They were "guest workers" or cheap manpower for post-World War II Germany. Turkish migrants who arrived in the European country in the 1960s are now an inseparable part of Germany and account for the largest migrant population at nearly 3 million people. Metin Türköz, one of the first to travel to the country for work, looks back at his years he spent in Germany and how being far from home took a toll on him. The 82-year-old man hailing from the central Turkish city of Kayseri, today lives as a pensioner in Cologne and spoke about his unexpected side career in Germany as a singer popular among the Turkish community.
He quit singing a long time ago though he is still remembered by the community for touching their lives with songs about migrants and their plight. The more than 80 records he sang about being a stranger in a country he did not know anything about and longing for his family back home. His songs may sound alien for the new generation of Turks in Germany but Türköz gave the voice to the silent masses of the first-generation "guest workers." He was a young man in his twenties when he boarded a train from Istanbul's Sirkeci station to travel to Cologne. He was among hundreds who applied for Germany's recruitment program for migrant workers. "One day, the employment agency called me and others and told us to go to train station. They told us we were selected for work in Germany. Everyone was given a train ticket," he remembers that fateful day in 1962. His first memory of Germany is the night he arrived at a train station in Munich.
"There were about 1,500 workers and we were served soup at the station. Suddenly, someone shouted 'do not eat, it has pork' and everyone dropped their spoons at the same time and left," he recounts. Türköz started working in a Ford plant like many other workers from Turkey but he wouldn't stay as a worker for long. "One day, I found out that they were looking for someone to play saz (a Turkish string instrument) for a festival. My roommate knew I was an amateur player and he insisted that I should attend. I found myself on stage with a saz and started improvising," he recounts. With a tinge of his Kayseri accent, Türköz sang, "Alamanya, Alamanya, Türk gibi işçi bulaman ya" which roughly translates as, "Germany, Germany, you can't find workers working like Turks." He improvised more songs in front of a crowd of 1,500 people, to a standing ovation. It took only two days for his fame to spread among migrant workers and soon, he found himself in the office of Turkish record producer Yılmaz Asöcal. "Yılmaz paid me 50 [German] marks for singing a song, something much more than what I earned in a hour at the factory," he recounts.
His first record sold one million and Türköz started singing full-time with more records with songs about the lives of migrant workers. "It Is Interpreter's Mistake," "Mr. Consul-General," "Blonde Girl" were among countless songs he composed about the troubles migrants encountered and his popularity gained him the nickname of the "Turkish Bard" in German media.
He says although his popularity helped more people to be aware of migrant workers' problems, Türköz says the years in Germany was challenging for workers especially because of the language barrier. "I remember pretending to be a chicken to tell the shopkeeper I wanted to buy eggs because I didn't know a single German word. We had to hire interpreters, paying out of our pocket, so they could help us in daily life," he says. He still advises Turkish youth in Europe to learn the language first and have a vocation. "You are nothing but a blind man if you don't speak the language," he says.
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