I wander through the streets of Yeldeğirmeni, one of the oldest and most charming neighborhoods of Kadiköy. The sound of music reverberates in my ears: Deniz Kızı Eftelya, accompanied by the gentle scratch of the vinyl record, says in her gentle voice, “Beğendim biçimini her yerin mini mini / Dudaklarım ismini anıyor ah Kadıköylü...” (I love the way you are, my lips say your name, ah Kadiköy) Is it possible not to love the people of Kadiköy and these streets? The seagulls fill the streets with their calls, the streets are permeated by the scent of coffee, and the walls are covered in murals -all creating a warm neighborhood feel.
The neighborhood takes its name from the four mills that Abdülhamid I built here in 1774 to produce the flour needed by the palace and the people. When Kadiköy’s first post office opened in this neighborhood at the end of the 18th century, the area became more residential and streets started to form.
The Rasimpaşa neighborhood with the Rasimpaşa Mosque, the Hemdat Israel Synagogue, and Ayios Yeorgios Greek Orthodox Church, is home to Muslims, Jews, and Christians, living side by side; their deep friendships and neighborly relations have continued throughout the centuries.
In Yeldeğirmeni, known as the first apartment building region of Istanbul, the multistoried buildings on the hill belong to the Jewish residents, while the wooden houses on the flat area belong to Turks, Armenians, and Greeks. The apartments, with their Art Nouveau decorations and the homes with their bay windows, stretching down to the streets that reach out to the sea, defy time.
The Notre Dame du Rosaire Church, built in 1895 as a monastery, school, and church, is still standing; today, this building serves as the Yeldeğirmeni Art Center. The residents of Kadıköy enjoy concerts and opera at this center, the exit of which leads onto İskele Street, close to the docks. I enter to take a monthly program, enjoying the atmosphere under the dome, which offers superb acoustics, and then carry on my way.
Immediately next to the Yeldeğirmeni Art Center the 100 year-old Italian Apartments, standing majestically at the entrance to Akif Bey Street, loom in front of me. The German engineers who were constructing Haydarpaşa Station had this building made for the Italian stone workers. It is rumored that under this building there is a tunnel that stretches to Haydarpaşa Station.
Yeldeğirmeni, with its majestic, staid older buildings, with courtyards of the younger apartments, and the trendy cafés opened in the ground floor shops is like a warm family home. Haydarpaşa is that family elder who sits at the head of the table, a relative full of experiences and stories…
While many neighborhoods of Istanbul have lost their “neighborhood” spirit due to the cosmopolitan structure of the city, Yeldeğirmeni is one of the rare areas where this spirit thrives. Yeldeğirmeni’s neighborhood air, created by the small stores and grocers, preferred to the big supermarkets, and the little bakers who continue to faithfully produce fresh and crispy simit, is accompanied by concept cafés, art galleries, and the modern and dynamic character demanded by the younger generation. You can observe the harmony created by these different factors here.
Accompanied by the seagulls in the sky and the cats on the pavement, I continue to walk, but I can no longer ignore the enticing smell of coffee. I sit in the peaceful garden of a café and take a short break. There are many places where you can sit in Yeldeğirmeni to start your day, or, like me, to take a well-deserved break. If you like, take along a book or computer, and you can sit here for hours. Whichever of the boutique coffee shops concentrated around the police station you choose to sit in, the other third-wave coffee shops, which bring quality coffee from different regions, will still entice you. Let me tell you, this is a good reason to travel the roads that lead from Yeldeğirmeni to the sea again and again.
While the nostalgia that emanates from the historical buildings of Yeldeğirmeni wraps its way around you, the colorful, dynamic wall murals raise the energy. During the Mural Istanbul Festival artists from around the world transformed the apartment walls of Yeldeğirmeni into an art gallery -perhaps this is the greatest gift that can be given to a neighborhood.
This year’s festival, the sixth annual one, produced my favorite mural: Türk Çayı (Turkish Tea), the work of the Ukrainian artist Alex Maksiov. The work of the Croatian artist Lonac slows you down with its striking colors and flawless portrait, drawing your gaze for a long time.
While the sun sinks into the streets that lead to the sea, I greet a neighbor I meet as I remove my keys from my pocket; smiling, I enter my home.