Extremely far, incredibly close: the last 3000 meters

Text: Zeynep Disbudak & Burçin Tetik 

Photography: Zeynep Disbudak 

“Does it feel any different?” I asked Burçin as I was embarking on the journey which she, on paper, has completed, while fearing to ask the main question, “will it ever feel any different?” Upon this, we decided to walk the path she did every year until she received her citizenship. 

We have spent a day sitting in front of Ausländerbehörde*, under the tree whose beauty and majesty we did not realize during our regular night visits there, walking across the bridge connecting us and the Ausländerbehörde to the rest of Berlin, and chatting on the steps of the Bürgeramt*. Each of those places has been part of our story in this country. The past, present and future intertwine, and so do our journeys, sometimes forgetting where hers ends and mine starts, where they encounter and where they diverge. Talking about these journeys is like opening up a can of worms; it is painfully necessary, yet also tends to turn into a vicious cycle, leaving you with the question: “Is this ever going to end?” 

At the end of the day, we walked the path together which, every other time, we took separately – both to lighten our load and to find a breaking point of that very cycle. Long and bureaucratic story short, we made some photographs, wrote some words and now invite you to be a part of this very journey.

BT: The bridge has led me to Ausländerbehörde for the past ten years. Like every bridge, it has two sides: connecting my journey to the other end, or rather, being the journey itself. I leave the bridge with visa extensions, sweats of shame, the feeling of not being good enough for Almanya. The bridge and the connected journey feels like a circle, never-ending, non-escapable – until a new stamp in my passport throws me off the bridge. The cycle ends. But does it, ever? 

ZD: I came to Berlin a couple of years after you. I numbered this Ausländerbehörde with 1 because after receiving my first Aufenthaltstitel* there I had to go to the other one in Charlottenburg. But still, its memory remains. One month after moving to Berlin, on a cold late-November night, I remember leaving home early, around 3 a.m. as advised by my experienced friends, being followed by a “world-turned-her-crazy” homeless woman screaming “Hure” after me in the Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station – thanks to whom I had done my morning sports, and arrived at Amrumer Street station already warmed up. It was only after I crossed this bridge and saw familiar faces, just like mine, in the midst of the night on the streets, that I got that safe and familiar feeling, which fueled me up for the rest of the 8 hour-long visa journey. 


ZD: How I wish to keep that entrance free for good. Free of people waiting in front of this door, free of being treated like … (fill in the blanks, as you wish). To be free like them, like me, and like you.  

BT: The two myths of racism: “Immigrants are lazy and don’t work” and “They steal our jobs.”  

For the residence permit, you are as worthy as your bank account.  

BT: 3 a.m. in the morning. I am already waiting in line. I am not the first to arrive to the grey building, not even the tenth. A Mexican doctor arrives next. We share stories, we share crackers and the cold. The freezing wind burns my eyes and throat. I wait. 

ZD: I wonder who came up with the idea for that painting on this very wall. Did you know that some elementary school kids have painted it? I wonder how their teachers have instructed them, what exactly they told them. I feel like a loner on the very right side of the painting with that red beret(?!) leaning against that lamppost, looking at all this absurdity in this crazy town. Sometimes even “winning” a new permit to stay here for one more year does not mean anything to me anymore.  

BT: “You have to sue us, if you want a dotted İ on your ID”  

My name becomes something else in German. The woman says, if my name was so important to me, I should have stayed a Turkish citizen. I will not cry, not in front of her. The name tag on her shirt swings back and forth when she moves, hiding her Turkish name. 

ZD: I’ve just realised that in my case, it is just the opposite! MY CAPS-LOCK-ON-SURNAME PASSES THE TEST OF BEING A MODEL NATURALIZED, yet, not the caps-lock-off-version. Already, I start brooding on what to do with the unfortunate lower case “ı” in my last name. Or maybe I should just pick another surname. What do you think of “Müller”, or better yet “Mueller”? No risk no fun? 

Joke aside, all I wish to have is that belly laugh of yours at the end of this journey. 

Ausländerbehörde: German immigrant authority, literally: Foreigners’ Authority  

Bürgeramt: citizen’s registration office 

Aufenthaltstitel: residence permit