By Sophie ten Bokkel Huinink
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
A small, Dutch-looking girl is sipping a Diet Coke in a red dress at a patio cafe that spills onto one of Istanbul's most European intersections. In this neighborhood of Cihangir, intellectuals and expats rub elbows with the nouveau riche of Turkey's television industry. Though Männy Berger moved to Istanbul with her fiancé only six months ago, her eyes sparkle when she talks about her new ‘home'. She lives along the Bosporus coast in Kuruçeşme. Berger, newly 30, was working for an online advertising agency when her fiancé was asked to relocate to Istanbul for three years. With no hesitation they packed their bags and all their furniture, she said, and she's been putting her marketing experience to use ever since.
Sit, drink çay and bargain
After arriving in Turkey she soon realized that doing nothing was not how she wanted to spend her time. “I think it would be a waste to live here for three years and not doing anything productive.” Immediately she signed up for fulltime Turkish language classes at Dilmer Institute in Taksim. Perusing the city and its famed Grand Bazaar she discovered her Turkish destiny: Kilims. She returned to the Netherlands with one of these flat woven-tapestry carpets to use as a show model and it sold it right away. From that moment, business has been sailing. These days, Berger sells about 10 kilims a month. “I search for inspiration in beautiful high-quality shops then buy my carpets at the Grand Bazaar or from warehouses,” she said. “Turks help me out and sometimes this means we have to communicate with hands and feet but I manage.” Unwitting buyers in the Turkish shopping districts often say they simply found themselves seated in a shop, sipping tea and closing a deal on a carpet. While some might bemoan the polite process when the post-shopping glow has faded, Berger recognizes these meetings as the cornerstone of her business. “I love to sit for hours with these Turkish businessmen, sipping sweet elma çay and negotiating over another nice kilim.”
Day in day out she spends her time bargaining with Turkish kilim owners, improving her Turkish language and learning layers of the culture. “I buy the kilims per piece and export them to the Netherlands. I do not have a business name, I am doing it for myself, under the name of ‘ambulant' business.” She smiles and explains how she sometimes gets onto a tram from Sultanahmet headed home with two heavy kilims on her back. “I buy unique pieces according to my own taste that I believe suit the Dutch market. “I aim for an upscale market because kilims are quite expensive.” Berger has begun traveling to the Netherlands more regularly because her little business is bearing fruit. “I mix selling my carpets with social activities.” Berger has held on to her little car which she stuffs full of her authentic Turkish carpets, crossing the Netherlands, following her nose for good customers. She sells the kilims mostly to interior decoraters in various places throughout the Netherlands, from The Hague and Utrecht to the countryside. “Sometimes I just go there without an appointment and put the kilims right in their face.” Recently she bought a silk Suzani and made a seamless resale. The Suzani style adds raised embroidery and decorative design to the kilim. In the future she hopes to add shipping carpets to her business but says she is patient about the process. “It's still in it child shoes.”
When Berger visited Istanbul once before she didn't venture past Sultanahmet and the belly dancers on top of the Galata Tower: “We went to the ultimate tourist places, not much more.” Today, this small business owner is also a board member of ALI, Art Lovers of Istanbul, Which she says is small but professional. “It is a social network where I can meet other expats,” she said.
Berger said she is glad to be living in warm culture. “I like the culture of ‘being outside'; it gives me a Mediterranean feeling. We don't have that back home.” Even though friends inquire, she said so far she has not missed home too much. “I can use Skype, email, and sometimes we have visitors so I keep up with what's happening in the Netherlands.” After her fiancé's job ends she said she would like to stay in Istanbul or move to another “world city”.
Kilims: From mother to daughter
Not affected by the influences of historically popular export items, kilims have become more popular in recent years as collectors have begun to value authentic village weaving. A kilim is a flat woven rug produced in Turkey, the Balkans and Pakistan. Turkey is said to be the only country in the world that has preserved all 17 different techniques, which are typically passed down from mother to daughter. With symbolism in each design, kilims have been used as cradles for babies, as floor coverings, wall hangings and sometimes as a sack to store clothes in. Some kilims are also used as Muslim prayer rugs. There are different kilims, among others ‘cicim' and ‘sumak' and their materials can be wool, cotton or silk. Kilim is actually a weaving technique, where the strands are tightly interwoven to produce a flat surface with no pile and a striking geometrical weave.