Karagöz and Hacivat find warm reception in Germany
COLOGNE – Anadolu AgencyGermany is not the most obvious place for Ottoman shadow theater to take root given its diminishing presence even in Turkey, but a number of Germans have fallen in love with the art thanks to two decades of effort by a father-and-son team of Turkish artists in Cologne.
“We used to play in Turkish at first; even Germans came to Turkish plays. They said that it looked very funny but that they did not understand anything. Then we decided to stage plays in German. We taught German to Karagöz and Hacivat,” said Erhan Köken, a 26-year-old in Cologne who learned the craft from his father, Ali Köken.
“Germans liked it so much. They want to learn about shadow theater. We are working with them together in the theater,” he said.
Ali Köken brought the art form to Germany, writing new stories featuring the funny adventures of Turks living in Germany and misunderstandings between the two languages.
“We have been performing in Germany since 1994. I opened the curtain with my own efforts and wrote new plays. We wanted the plays to be understood by people living here. When Germans began to come to see our shows, we started writing German plays. My son is also a good master; he is performing the plays only in German,” said Ali Köken.
Ali Köken said their curtain and characters were bigger than the standard ones and they used genuine leather and other matter that is made of special plants to produce the characters.
Ali Köken said he started performing the art in 1984 when he met late Karagöz master Mustafa Mert.
In their Karagöz and Hacivat plays, one character symbolizes the public and the other symbolizes intellectuals, said Köken.
In addition to Germany, they have also organized shows in other European countries, writing special dialogues for Turkish people living there, Ali Köken said.
“The major problem of Turks living here is language. We handle this problem. People here should speak German very well, and we have tried to show it in our plays. It is very funny that Turks use some German words when speaking Turkish here but they are not aware of it. We show this funny situation in our plays. We make fun of misunderstandings in the plays. Our viewers enjoy themselves with these plays,” he said.
Museum at University of Cologne
Köken, who established a cultural bridge between Anatolia and Europe with his son, said they had begun offering classes on Turkish shadow play in German classes.
“We have a museum in the Theater Department at the University of Cologne. There are Karagöz and Hacivat portrayals there. We’ve tried to introduce Karagöz and Hacivat to students coming there. Some young people are very interested in becoming a Karagöz master, but unfortunately, you need to spend five years to become a master. You can learn a business in three years but you need five years to do this. And it does not bring in too much money. The number of viewers may be low. You are working hard and sometimes cannot receive support. We don’t receive any support; we are trying to keep this art alive with our own efforts. We want Turkey and Germany to give us support, open schools to train new masters and show this art to other people,” Köken said.
He said he was hopeful about the future of the art despite technological developments that distracts from such art forms. “Everyone has a tablet and cell phone today, but Karagöz still finds its own viewers, which means it will find them in the future, too. But new masters should be trained. I am hopeful for the future.”
Interest exceeds expectations
Each show by the father-son team has two parts of 45 minutes each. In the first section, Erhan Köken stages Karagöz and Hacivat in German before Ali Köken stages the second half in Turkish.
Erhan Köken said he wanted to keep alive his father’s business and that Germans had been showing greater interest in the plays than he expected.
The Karagöz masters currently stage shows at Kulturbunker in Cologne while also staging occasional tours in Europe.