The story book titled "Stefan Zweig's Farewell Letter" was published last month, following the beloved Robert Schild's book "Burgazadası A Lively Ethnographic Museum, Human Landscapes from the Island", which was published in 2021. Thank you for not depriving us of Burgazada in this book. There are two Burgaz stories called ''Double surprise in Burgazadası!...'' and ''The Fourteenth Guest''. I have enjoyed reading all the fictional and half-truth stories. I am sure you will love it too. I'm sharing a tasteful part of the story "Double surprise in Burgazadasi!...". You can read the rest of it in my Robert friend's book titled “Stefan Zweig's Farewell Letter”!
Double surprise in Burgazadası!..
Ever since he started working as an English and art teacher at St.Georg Austrian Boys' High School, he had been a fan of Burgazada... When he came to Istanbul in the autumn of 1953, he immediately left the high school's summer mansion island and spent a weekend there. Each of the teachers who could rent a daily room in this summer house on the hill, built in 1900, surrounded by a resin-scented pine forest, would return to Burgaz...
Josef Meyer was one of them – moreover, he was one of the most interested in the island. After spending his first school year in Galata, this curious young bachelor, who visited his elders in his hometown in June, rented a summer flat in Burgaz for the months of July-August 1954. This house, which belonged to the florist Mimi, was also quite high up and had a high view of Kaşık Island and Heybeli's “saddlebag” – according to some, it had the most beautiful view of the Island… Mimi had orchid greenhouses in the immediate vicinity of the house – it is said, Only Mimi could grow these rare flowers in Istanbul and took them to the auction in the city three times a week.
Meyer was having an extraordinary summer in Burgazada; Every morning, after going for a long forest walk, he would go to the sea on the shore called “Molos”, drink his morning coffee below and return to his home. After a strong breakfast, he would paint or read a book, and then go back to the sea in the afternoon. He usually spends his evenings in the taverns called Yordan, Şafak, Fulya or İndiana on the coast, and returns home before it's too late.
During this first summer on the island, Josef Meyer had also made a few friends – mostly Greek shopkeepers, as well as Jewish and German summer housekeepers. On the other hand, he hadn't been intimate with anyone, except from time to time for coffee or a toast with one of them. Although he remained lonely, he was a keen observer; He loved to study the different ethnic groups on the island.
One morning, while sitting at the Olympia Cafe with his friend Moris Kohen, with whom he spoke a smattering of French, he asked out of curiosity: "Oh, Monsieur Moris, how many nations live on this island?" Kohen's answer surprised him: "I never counted, but it must be twenty. Not to mention three different religions and five or six sects!” He listened with admiration to his friend who listed them, and thought that such a variety could not be found anywhere else in the world. “Well, of course… The Ottoman period, like the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, was multi-ethnic – but the Habsburg population did not include eccentric origins like Kurds or Alevis, like Chaldeans or Karaite Jews!”
Another time, the gardener Tasos told him about two separate places in Burgaz: “You should know one of them better than I do, my teacher – the garden of the summer house of the Austrian nuns... The people who have rented the outbuildings there for the summer months are very diverse – the Greeks. Like Armenians, Levantines, Maltese, Bulgarians and Macedonians... There is also a similar 'Tower of Babel' in the garden of the old Sanatorium – its owner, Dr. Medeni Bey also rents rooms to nations of different origin: Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians; This time, there are Jews among them and a few Muslim families.”
There were two large orchards on the island. The first is the place where Tasos grows vegetables, fruits and some flowers, which is close to the Fire Brigade, and the other is the Austrian “Schwester”s garden above. The nuns would give a basket to the islanders who shopped there, saying, "Choose it yourself, then we'll settle accounts". They also did a little animal husbandry; They had three or four cows, a few lambs, rabbits and pigs...
Rabbits and pigs were mostly intended for the consumption of the "Schwesters" and especially for the "Bosphorus Germans" who chose Burgas as their summer resort. These people were the grandchildren of German masters whose grandfathers had come to the Ottoman Empire as expert craftsmen in the middle of the nineteenth century. They mostly married among themselves or with local Austrians and continued to speak German. Some of their children were Meyer's students and thus became acquainted with their parents.
With these events and acquaintances, Josef Meyer's summer months in Burgas passed quickly. In the blink of an eye, September of 1954 arrived and the summer cottagers were starting to return to the city. Meyer's school was about to start, too, but before leaving island, she couldn't help but shake hands with Florist Mimi for the next summer season...
It was still a cold winter, though not as the previous year when the Bosphorus was covered with ice, the 1954/55 school year – and Josef Meyer was looking forward to the summer months. This time, as she was visiting her family over the Christmas holidays, she moved to her Burgaz flat to start the season at the end of May. This year, in order to get a little closer with the people of the island, “Armless” became a member of the Burgaz Sea Club, which was established on the site of Yoakim's beach. There were indeed people of “all nationalities” there, and Meyer had the opportunity to meet most of them.
Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews made up the majority of the club, but Greeks were also quite crowded. The Greeks of Burgazada were divided into two groups as “local” and “summer house”. The first of these, who were not members of the Sea Club, had lived on the Island for several generations, some fishermen, and most were tradesmen and craftsmen. That is, the grocers, greengrocers, orchards, custodians, taverns, many workers and most of the fishermen of Burgaz were Greek and they made their living only from the island; another part of them commuted to and from “stin poli” every day for work… Their exact numbers are not known, but in the mid-1950s they were estimated at 700-800. The number of summer cottagers, some of whom were members of the Sea Club, was around 2000. Among them, there were wealthy families such as Sinyosoğlu, Dimitrakopoulos and Triyandafilidis, who had magnificent mansions, especially on Gönüllü and Mehtap Streets. However, the majority of the summer house owners were from the middle class people. In those years, it was not necessary to be very wealthy to rent a modest summer house or apartment in Burgaz, and moreover, to own a low-horsepower motorboat.
The native and summer residents of Burgazadası were like two large parallel families – some even spoke of a “Burgaz Republic”. There seemed to be no distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim. Strong bonds of friendship had been established between Greeks and Turks, both in fishermen and in summer cottages. These were witnessed by Josef Meyer himself, with what he saw and heard. For example, once, while he was waiting at the ferry port to go from Island to Istanbul, he observed the following incident: Two people who were obviously not from the island began to talk to a clean-dressed Greek youth, who was waiting for the ferry, accompanied by his mother and an older lady. The young man also tried to defend himself, and a short quarrel broke out. However, this event was seen from the beach and the butcher's apprentice, the blond curly haired Laz Adem, ran up with a friend; They beat the two vagrants well and put them on the ferry that had arrived at that time, and sent them to Istanbul!..
Tekel dealer Yanko Matakas, from whom Meyer bought tobacco for his pipe, was a Gallipolli Veteran. While he was fighting there, the fragments of a cannonball that fell next to him caused him to lose his right leg. “Lame” Yanko, who sells tobacco products, nuts, stationery, fishing gear and toys in his shop opposite the pier, had a false leg and was proudly carrying the Medal of Independence.
Another example that came to Meyer's ears, demonstrating "international" solidarity, was this: A wealthy Armenian summer housekeeper of the island died suddenly one summer evening, and since there was no Armenian church in Burgas, they kept him in the Aya Yorgi Church until the next day. Coincidentally, a Greek Orthodox priest would die that same night – and there was only one coffin in the church! In this case, it was not expected to bring an additional coffin from the city, both bodies were placed in the same coffin and sent to the city by motorbike in the morning, and the church bells rang until the engine disappeared...
Facts like this showed Josef Meyer that not only the people of Burgazada, but also the official authorities were not afraid of mutual solidarity - it was indeed a "Burgaz Republic" in itself!
For the 1955/56 school year, Gernot Leitner, a mathematics teacher from the same town as Meyer, was appointed to St.Georg Boys' High School. This was mainly caused by Josef Meyer – he spoke at length to Leitner about the favorable conditions at school, as well as about the beautiful summer months he spent in Burgazada, encouraging his friend, who was also single, to take this step.
Meyer's account of Burgaz was so compelling that Leitner arrived in Istanbul before the end of the summer, and soon after renting an apartment in Beyoğlu and settling in there, he found himself in Burgaz on August 20, 1955 – Meyer told him on September 19, when the school would open. He was going to host him in his house until the date!