“Istanbul is a bridge, as we say, crossed by seventy two nations,” says, Bizon Murat, the lead singer of Siya Siyabend at the beginning of Fatih Akin’s film Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005). Akin, who was born to Turkish parents in Germany, identifies himself as a German filmmaker, yet explores Turkey and Turkish culture in his other films such as Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007). As a documentary, Crossing the Bridge provides a unique way to revisit these recurring themes. Transnational and transcultural elements of the film (Kosta, 2010) as well as the importance of the “bridge” imagery in the history of Turkish Republic have (Simpson, 2006) have been previously explored, yet, in light of the recent refugee crisis, this bridge imagery becomes very important in questioning where Asia ends and where Europe begins.
In the film, Fatih Akin explores the eclectic mix of music in Istanbul by following Alexander Hacke. This clip begins with Hacke joining Baba Zula, a psychedelic underground band, on a boat sailing in the Bosphorus to play music. Before Akin cuts to an old Turkish film, Murat Ertel, the group’s vocalist explains that the Bosphorus, which connects two continents and separates them at the same time, is the heart of Istanbul. Akin keeps cutting to different musicians discussing how the Turkish music incorporates a different musical timing. These discussions are interesting since they emphasize the difference of Turkish music from the Western music while underlining how Turkey’s culture makes itself accessible both to the East and the West. Akin questions this recurring emphasis on Turkey’s presence on two continents by giving a voice to the executives of the record company Doublemoon, who argue that “He who tries to be a European isn’t a European. Actually we’re Asian.”
With hopes about European Union membership fading away, the recurring bridge imagery for Turkey’s identity has become less visible in the last five years. However, recent talks between European Union and Turkey bring up new questions about imagining Turkey as a bridge between the East and the West. With the on-going discussions about Turkey’s role in controlling Syrian refugees’ entrance to Europe, Akin’s bridge enabling “seventy two nations to cross” might become a checkpoint for patrolling European borders. And those who can’t cross the bridge that Hacke easily passed reveal how bridges can separate as much as they connect.