Jewels of the East, hidden in the West


Last week, Wife and I decided on a whim to visit the Turkish quarter in Mannheim.

I had returned a few days previously from a long trip to India, and the first few days in Germany had seemed too quiet, a big contrast to the chaotic fabric of life in India. Imagine spending each day for a few weeks in a busy market, full of color and life, and returning to a monastery, where monks wore white and silence was the only sound. Even Wife thought things were unusually quiet: perhaps it was due to a short work-week (Thursday was a public holiday) that the Germans were all elsewhere, on a vacation.

Whatever the reason, we decided that the remedy was to get a taste of the East. But where? I suggested the Turkish quarter in Mannheim, a district we had discovered quite by accident while searching for an apartment last year. Wife concurred, and we set off one evening after an early dinner.

Paradeplatz, a popular square in the city center, was a pale imitation of itself, its energy ebbing with the daylight. The nearby Marktplatz was no better, and I’d just begun to wonder if we’d made the right choice when we turned a corner and, as if by magic, entered Istanbul.

In place of well-known brands and glossy designer shops we found windows with gold necklaces of intricate oriental designs, elaborate bridal costumes, hookahs green-blue-red, carpets, antiques, odds and ends. In one street commerce was thriving: a barber shop full of Turkish youth (this was at nine in the evening); cafes with low seats full of Turkish men and women eating, drinking, smoking the hookah; bakeries with all manner of oriental sweets, tempting us despite our full stomachs; a buzzing supermarket; kebab take-aways and restaurants.


Cars were parked bumper to bumper, motorbikes jutted out randomly, graffiti extolled the Turkish soccer team, posters offered cheap fares to Ankara. A car stopped mid road and the driver began what seemed like a leisurely conversation with a passer-by. A group of women in burkhas stopped at a jewelry shop window, while their men waited nearby, smoking and chatting.

Taking in these scenes, it struck me that what I’d missed was not only the noise, but the visual clamour of the street, ubiquitous in India and visibly absent in Germany. Except in such pockets: jewels of the East, hidden in the West.

2 thoughts on “Jewels of the East, hidden in the West

  1. I find the concept of national character very fascinating. Especially in these politically correct days when we are so staunchly against stereotypes. But stereotypes exist because people from a certain area (I will not say country because national borders are a fairly new thing) tend to have shared characteristics because of their shared heritage of lifestyles based on where and how they live. When you talk about majorities (and I’m not only talking about religious and ethnic majorities, but also of majorities of ideas and thinking, such as, say the middle class), you are essentially talking about stereotypes. Minorities always are different. That’s why they’re minorities.

    Much marketing research proves the same thing. For instance, when the Future Group launched the supermarket chain Big Bazar, the idea was to replicate street bazars as much as possible. So aisles are narrow so that people bump into each other, and products are scattered. Indians, apparently, find western supermarkets too sanitised for comfort and happiness. So even supermarkets have to be Indianised because we are like this only.

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