Ayşe Teyze’s potato chips ad puts Aegean town of Birgi on the map

Ayşe Teyze’s potato chips ad puts Aegean town of Birgi on the map

Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Ayşe Teyze’s potato chips ad puts Aegean town of Birgi on the map

Most of Birgi’s old houses, which were close to collapse, are being restored. So the result is a pretty looking little village. The photo right shows famous Ayşe Teyze. Photos by Wilco van Herpen

It’s been 12 years since I visited Birgi in İzmir’s Ödemiş district for the first time. I was making a program for state broadcaster TRT at the time and we were filming in Birgi. At that time, Birgi was a highly neglected place. Most of the potentially beautiful old houses were close to collapse. There was just one old konak (mansion), the Çakırağa Konağı, and that was about it.

When I visited Birgi last week, I was pleasantly surprised. It does not always happen that you can see such progress in a place but the mayor of Birgi, Cumhur Şener, has put a lot of effort into getting things right in Birgi. Nowadays, Birgi is a lively place, especially during the weekend. People from all over Turkey have started visiting Birgi, and Ayşe Teyze (Aunt Ayse) might be one of the reasons. Ayşe Teyze became famous in Turkey because of an advertisement she made for a big potato chips brand in Turkey. With her Aegean dialect and spontaneous laughter, the advertisement became a success and, because of her, Birgi became more popular.

That and of course the fact that some people slowly started to restore the old buildings. You know how it goes. Once some people start buying and restoring some of the houses, a place becomes like a magnet. More people come in, want to buy and the result is a pretty looking little village. Of course, just buying and restoring is not enough; you also need to work on the infrastructure.

HDN Electricity system

Birgi is one of the few “old” places in Turkey where a big portion of the electricity system is hidden underground. I have visited so many places and every time there was the same frustration: Electricity and telephone cables run everywhere (even in a place like Safranbolu). Of course, there is still a lot of work to do in Birgi, but this cute little place has slowly become an open-air museum.

Sometimes, when a place becomes very popular, it changes the character of the people living there, but not in Birgi; when I walked around, I met so many nice, open and warm people. One of them is Yaşar. He fell in love with this gorgeous place the first time he visited it. Not long after, he left hectic and stressful Istanbul to start a new life in this peaceful little town. He opened a café opposite the Aydınoğlu Mehmet Bey Mosque and started growing tomatoes, cucumber and other vegetables. For an outsider, it is generally quite difficult to fit into a place, but I think he managed very well. He knows Birgi like nobody else and tries his best to make Birgi even more appealing.

Incidentally, the mosque is beautiful both inside and out and has very special features. The shape of the roof is not the one we generally see with mosques in Turkey, and once you get inside the mosque, there are so many details to see that it might be a bit overwhelming at first. Don’t panic, take your time, and look at all the details. If the imam is in the mosque he can tell you all about it.

Locals real heroes

The real heroes of Birgi are, of course, the local people. They give character to the place with their clothing and the way they move around. While walking around Birgi, the people greet you everywhere with a friendly smile and ask if they can help you. While walking around in the backstreets, don’t be shy in asking for a glass of water; people are pleased to offer you a glass of water or even tea.

The colorful clothing of the women gives Birgi an even more nostalgic look. They wear a şalvar, a wide, puffy kind of trousers. Those trousers must be quite comfortable because I once bought some for my mother and she always wore them while working in the garden.

And then there are the men. For youngsters, the favorite method of transport is the old-fashioned moped – no modern scooters as we see them in all the big cities in Turkey; no, nice old-fashioned light mopeds. But the best thing is the way older men move from one place to another. For shopping, for going to the tea garden or for just going to work, they use the tractor. In their suits or working clothes, they race from one place to another.

This place gave me hope; hope that not all places will be sacrificed for “modern” houses or shops as I have seen so often in Turkey. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do in Birgi, I am sure that that will also get done. k HDN