Part of the past occupation series: My predecessor in the asset management job had a penchant for all things Turkey and correctly predicted the constitutional court’s verdict on the AKP closure case back in 2008. So I kind of had to follow the country closely, also given the long-term EU convergence bet that is very popular in emerging market fund management. This resulted in three trips; all memorable and all quite meaningful given the institutional intelligence we had built over the years.
Looking back, I find that of all emerging markets I researched I perhaps gained the best insights into Turkey. This may be because I went on three rather in-depth work trips there and I had been there as a tourist twice (which helped in navigating Istanbul). More subconsciously, being from Berlin – aka the largest Turkish “settlement” abroad – may have helped to strike a personal connection to the place, its history and its politics
The real personal connection, however, developed during the three trips. Each time, I would meet a half German half Turkish analyst in Istanbul for dinner and drinks the first night and a professor in Ankara for dinner the night before my departure. These meetings gradually took on the spirit of friendship and were only partly about work. Both men knew their cities very well and taught me a great deal about them from their personal points of view.
In Istanbul, life inevitably revolves around the Bosphorus, Europe’s and Asia’s frontier. During the World Bank / IMF meetings in 2009, for example, investment banks would vie for top spots along the water where they would organise their private client conferences. The Dolmabahce Palace was one of these fancy locations. In the evenings, things would move on to roof-top restaurants in Beyoglu such as the 360, overlooking the city and water. At night, cheesy super clubs like Reina would welcome the hordes of bankers and fund managers.
Especially the latter places can be a bit bland and devoid of context in the company of investment banks’ sales staff. The more soulful places are never far though. When I visited with friends we spent a few hours in a nearly pitch black rooftop club, enjoying very decent deep house. The little light that shone came from the outside, courtesy of the immense city that spreads out over the hills beyond the Bosphorus.
Taking the ferry and discovering the Asian side of the city or crossing the bridge en route to Sabanci University was another great way of getting to feel the immensity of Istanbul. And although Sultanahmet is the playground of hordes of tourists from all over the world, it is worth visiting. Not only for the grand mosques and palaces, but also for small chaikhanas, little restaurants and old-school Turkish baths.
Crossing the Bridge, an amazing documentary by German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin, captures the spirit of Istanbul through its music. Zoom in to 1:15:00 for a great taster of this: the music, the city, the Bosphorus:
Despite it being held to be boring and administrative, I also liked Ankara quite a bit. It is big – almost four million inhabitants, and has the aura of a capital with wide boulevards and plenty of official buildings. Students are mainly living outside the centre in American-style campus universities. Ankara is less chaotic than Istanbul, but I found its inhabitants to be friendly and the food (especially local kofte kebabs) very tasty.
From here I always got the same flight back to Amsterdam, at 4.55am in the morning, doable after a long dinner with the Ankara-based university professor. Given the impossible time, I was usually the only passenger in the front, allowing maximum sleep ahead of going straight to the office. Just once, in June 2010, the back of the plane filled up to the last seat, and a rebellion sparked off on board. Passengers (mostly rather angry-looking Anatolian grandmothers) sitting in economy stormed the empty-as-usual business class. One particular old lady literally tried to rob me of my duvet. Needless to say, there was no sleep at all and very red eyes in the office.