In his drama Auf der anderen Seite, released in 2007, Fatih Akin depicts the fatefully interwoven lives of six individuals: two mothers, two daughters, and a father and his son. Each filial pair, distinct in its respective place on the identity spectrum between German-German and Turkish-Turk, begins the narrative with parallel paths. The eventual convergence of these paths, as driven by a series of tragedies, bring the story full-circle from Bremen to Istanbul, and consolidates the spoken languages, from German, Turkish, and English, to simply English, as a representation of a bridging “third language”. Within these individual segments, Akin presents obstacles to mutual acceptance between the Turkish ‘outsider’ and the German ‘native’ and the fatal violence which results from this disunity. Released in 2007, the film situates itself firmly within the racial and cultural tensions of contemporary Germany and explores questions integral to the discussion of multiculturalism – namely, the impediments to integration and the requisites for tolerance and acceptance.
Akin focuses on the issue of parallel societies, manifested for instance in closed ethnic neighbourhoods such as Neukölln, and its dangerous enablement of coexistence without mutual cultural understanding or exposure. This substantial focus on ‘untouching’ peoples is evidenced in the cinematic emphasis on symmetry and parallel storytelling. The first two of the three identified segments occur simultaneously. The first segment details the division of a Turkish-German father and son, Ali and Nejat, respectively, due to the Ali’s accidental murder of a Turkish prostitute in Bremen. Nejat is compelled to leave for Istanbul in search of the prostitute’s estranged daughter Ayten. Ironically, the second segment of the film follows Ayten’s simultaneous illegal entry into Bremen, due to political persecution from the Turkish state and her eventual romantic involvement with a compassionate German university student, Lotte.
During the second segment, in a scene of powerful irony, Akin frames a classroom scene, in which Nejat, a professor of German literature, speaks about Goethe’s views against revolution. Unbeknownst to him, Ayten, the object of his search, takes refuge in his classroom following her arrival in Bremen. Without comprehension of the German language, she falls asleep in the back of the classroom, as Nejat continues lecture in and on the German language. The two characters, in search of each other, thus continued on parallel paths due to the inaccessibility of language and the resulting impossibility of mutual understanding.
In a historical context, this ties into Turkish immigration history, in which Turkish workers, first welcomed as “Gastarbeiters” in 1961, never necessitated German language acquisition and thus remained isolated from German society. With the second and third generation of Turkish-Germans, the language barrier dissipates while cultural differences, such as religion, remain. With the urgent need for a redefinition of national identity following the German reunification in 1989, the following decades saw major conflicts in the identification of the ‘us’ and ‘the Others’, and in this particular case, of “the West” versus “the Orient”. In light of this division, the release of the film in 2007 situates itself at the inception of Turkish accession to the European Union – fundamentally, an abridgment of the historical segregation between the two economic entities. Despite this imminent and implied redefinition of the European Union, in essence, “the West”, the 2000’s remain replete with instances of racial violence.
In this light, the eventual murder of Lotte by Turkish thieves, as a result of her desire to free Ayten from her eventual imprisonment in Istanbul following deportation, symbolizes the fatality of lack of mutual understanding and cultural parallelism – the fundamental impediment to multiculturalism. The lack of a mutual language through which Turks and Germans can speak to one another – communicate and comprehend – perpetuates the distance of these ‘untouching communities’. As Şenocak argues in “Dialogue about the Third Language”, published in 1992, the abridgment of gaps necessitates “a third, common language… to inject us into each other like a vaccine… so that we can be together without hurting each other”. Akin therefore includes the addition of the English language as the abridgment between the Turkish-Turks and the German-Germans of his film. It is within this framework of hope that Akin concludes his work, as Lotte’s mother, Susanne, and Ayten converse in English to arrive at unprecedented mutual understanding and to foster an emerging tolerance.