In 1977 Tanju Tügel comes as a student from Istanbul to Cologne. He is a political activist and member of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). He wants to study in the GDR and applies with the assistance of the party for a place at the Hochschule für Ökonomie (School for Economics, HfÖ) in East Berlin. In 1981 he takes up his studies there.

From Istanbul to Cologne

Tanju Tügel is born in İskenderun and grows up in Istanbul, where his parents run a book and stationery store. He attends Istanbul High School aka Istanbul Boys’ High School, recognized by Germany as a German International school. Thus graduation there allows him to enroll in a German university, something many students do.

Tanju initially starts university in Turkey. There, the 1970s are marked by political instability and massive, even violent conflicts between various groups. The universities are “temporarily closed due to the student revolt,” Tanju recounts. He is politically organized in the youth organization of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) as is his school friend Selçuk Özgün. Selçuk goes to Cologne to study, and Tanju follows him in the winter semester of 1977.

From Cologne to East Berlin

Selçuk and Tanju are enrolled at university, but hardly ever study. Instead they are involved in the Federation of Workers’ Associations of Turkey in Germany (FIDEF). They plan solidarity actions for striking workers in Turkey, organize demonstrations and information events, and try to support the Turkish comrades. As members of the TKP they are invited to delegation trips to the GDR. They are convinced that the GDR and the Soviet Union are on the right track to communism. There they want to learn Marxism from scratch. The TKP sends Selçuk to study Marxian economics in East Berlin. Tanju follows him in September 1981.

It really was my teenage dream to read and study Marx and Engels in their native tongue.

Tanju Tügel, Berlin 2022

Tanju Tügel talks about studying at the School of Economics and first political doubts.

Student life

Tanju Tügel enjoys his studies and is successful. He enjoys the comparatively open atmosphere at the university with many international students. He would also be allowed to visit West Berlin, but out of loyalty to his fellow students, he refrains from that. Tanju is elected to the board of the University’s International Student Committee. There he meets his future wife. The two often spend vacations and weekends with her family in Leipzig. Tanju feels welcome in the GDR and in the family.

Tanju Tügel on uncomplicated family life and the difficulties before marriage.

The whole bunch

In 1984 their daughter is born. Three years later, the couple decides to marry. Neither the GDR authorities nor the TKP leadership are enthusiastic. Tanju is educated so that he can build up the party structures in Turkey. But now it looks as if he wants to stay in the GDR. Likewise his wife is accused of wanting to leave the GDR, and that this is the actual reason for their marriage. But after some bickering, they get married, and a little later their second child is born.

Well, I'm always thinking about my own biography and political activities, because at the end of the day everything I believed in collapsed.

Tanju Tügel, Berlin 2022

Political upheaval

Tanju Tügel graduates in 1986 and starts working on his dissertation. In the Soviet Union political changes are in the offing. Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms also impact political discussions in the GDR. In 1988 the SED leadership stops the delivery of the popular Soviet magazine Sputnik. “That’s when we said, this is the end. The GDR is banning something from the Soviet Union. So, that was already sort of a sign,” Tanju remembers.

In June 1989, Tanju Tügel defends his dissertation and receives his doctorate. The country is in a state of upheaval. Tanju does not participate in the demonstrations. He expected the end of the GDR, but not that it would happen so quickly. After the fall of the Wall, Tanju Tügel becomes a member of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). In 1991 he is elected to the federal executive committee and in 1992 he becomes the first district councilor of Turkish origin in Berlin. Until his retirement, he works for the PDS, later for the party Die LINKE (The LEFT).

Today Tanju Tügel lives in Berlin as a pensioner.

Julia Oelkers conducted the interview in Berlin in 2022.
Text: Julia Oelkers
Research and research protocol photos: Julia Oelkers
Video edting concept: Julia Oelkers