German writer and poet Sabine Schiffner came to Istanbul for the first time in her life to find her friend Zeynep, whom she had last seen thirty-nine years ago. We met Sabine the day before she returned to Germany and heard this romantic story from her, which reminds us of the importance of processes rather than results.

Written by Çağla Vera

Edited by Sedef İlgiç

Translated to English by Işıl İlker

Sabine ve Zeynep © Sabine Schiffner

In the good old days, the photographs that captured our most special moments were preserved in albums. Every time we opened these albums, our memory used to be refreshed. 

German writer and poet Sabine Schiffner, who also uses old photographs as a basis in her writing practice, had a couple of photographs in her photo album, that were a bit more special than the others. In these shots taken in Germany thirty-nine years ago, two smiling young women could be seen: Sabine and Zeynep. Sabine, back then sixteen years old, had recently met Zeynep, who, in her own words, shared the same heart and soul. Zeynep was an exchange student from Istanbul, staying at Sabine and her family's home in Bremen for two weeks. When it was time to say goodbye, they agreed to meet in Istanbul next year. However, their correspondence was abruptly interrupted. Despite all her efforts, Sabine did not hear from Zeynep again, and she never made her way to Istanbul.

Sabine ve Zeynep © Sabine Schiffner

This is not the end but the beginning of this story. Unable to make sense of her losing contact with Zeynep, Sabine had never lost hope to find her friend again for years. The announcement of the Atelier Galata fellowship has inflamed this hope. And by applying for this scholarship, Sabine decided to search for her old friend Zeynep, in a city she had never been to, exactly thirty-nine years after they met. 

Searching for Zeynep

Sabine Schiffner has opened a blog called "Zeynep Suchen" as soon as she learned that her application was accepted and has been sharing her observations during her time in Istanbul. 

While reading this diary-like blog, I not only stepped into a story of a literary quest in which curiosity and anticipation escalated, but also felt that I was reading a 21st century Istanbul travel tale. While Sabine was tracking Zeynep, I rediscovered Istanbul through the eyes of a German writer. When Sabine brings together her own current impressions of Istanbul with the descriptions of writers such as Karl May, Orhan Pamuk, Nazım Hikmet, the past and the present, the literary and the casual are intertwined. Finding Zeynep is not easy, it requires patience because many things have disappeared in Istanbul: “The address behind Zeynep's letters is no longer there... Many streets in Istanbul have disappeared without a trace...” 

Moreover, even though every person she speaks to in Istanbul tells her she cannot find anyone in this city forty years later, Sabine finds Zeynep. Despite all the time that has passed, they feel like the first day. The young girls of the past meet as adults, as a writer and a human rights activist, they have a lot to tell each other; the only thing that feels like no time has passed is their friendship. 

We meet Sabine at a book cafe in Beşiktaş the day before she returns to Germany. We listened to the details of her story with Zeynep and Istanbul, some of which are on her blog, some of which are not. We learned that her blog became indispensable for her, that has currently exceeded seven hundred pages, that it will turn into a book, after being shortened quite a bit.

Sedef İlgiç and Çağla Vera from Sabine's perspective

For Sabine Schiffner, who defines every writing motivation as an attempt to rebuild, reuniting with her friend is not the end either. In this way, the photographs in the album keep their meaning turning into a romantic and transnational story.

Sabine Schiffner

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