"The café became my everything. My office, my living room, my home." Ercan Yasaroglu
"People thought I was crazy. They were worried I wasn’t going to make any money with it." Ercan Yasaroglu
Located above a busy road on the first floor of an enormous apartment building with countless satellite dishes, one could easily go by Café Kotti without noticing it. That would be a shame, because this café, that offers a great view on the always chaotic and noisy Kottbusser Tor, is not just any other café in Berlin. Its owner, Ercan Yasaroglu (54), opened Café Kotti for a reason: “I wanted it to be like a living room. A meeting place for people from all around the world to interact, discuss and feel comfortable.”
Whoever visits the popular Café Kotti, will soon notice that something special is going on. The interior is a colourful combination of second-hand furniture, Turkish and Arabic elements and political statements about freedom, tolerance and equality. The ceiling is covered with children’s drawings and the walls with pictures of the nearby refugee camp at Oranienplatz. Everyone is welcome here.
My office, my living room, my home
Café Kotti’s owner, Ercan, arrived in Berlin as a political refugee in 1982. It took him about two years to travel from Turkey to Berlin, making stops in conflict-struck Syria and Lebanon along the way. He moved to Kottbusser Tor, an area in the district of Kreuzberg that had become the home to a large community of immigrants, mostly Turks. It was also known as a hot spot for drug dealers and homeless people. Ercan got a job in the café that today houses Café Kotti, back then owned by a refugee from Iraq. “We got along really well. The café became my everything. My office, my living room, my home.”
Ever since then Ercan has tried to make his neighbourhood a little bit better. He became a social worker. “Here in Kreuzberg I soon discovered a great diversity of people from all over the world. There were people from Bolivia, Kurdistan, El Salvador, and so on.” Although none of them spoke very well German, this didn’t form a problem. Ercan: “some spoke English, others Portuguese or Spanish. But already then I noticed you don’t need communication. It’s all about how you treat people, and about trust.”
It is Ercan’s social workers’ background that made him acquire Café Kotti. Determined to change the mentality in Kreuzberg, he saw the Café as the perfect way to do so. “This actually used to be a drug dealers café. At some point they were looking for a new owner, someone to clean it up around here. I told them I wanted to do it, but only if I could turn it into a meeting room; a kind of living room where people of all languages could come to and interact.”
Although many people were sceptical about his idea, Ercan proceeded. “People thought I was crazy. They were worried I wasn’t going to make any money with it. But I told them; it is not about the money. When you offer people a place where they feel comfortable and accepted, business will come.” Café Kotti opened its doors in 2009, and Ercan kept his word: people felt at home.
Worldwide social network
Today Café Kotti has become a popular place for a multicultural crowd to hang out. Some here have highly intellectual discussions; others just come to relax. The area has gotten much safer over the past years; but also Café Kotti still struggles with some challenges once in a while. Ercan: “We still have problems with drug dealers and pimps for example, but we need to stay sharp and keep confronting them.”
Ercan is convinced all problems, anywhere, can be solved: “You just need to feel committed. That is why it’s important that Café Kotti feels like home. People need to identify with the place and the people that come here.” He continues, “a room is not just a place you know, it can be a social network too. I can become a world citizen through my social network, not just by traveling. Through my friendships, my acquaintances and the stories they tell me.”
Cocktails and fashion
While the local multicultural crowd is usually occupying Café Kotti’s smoky living room and terrace, Berlin’s hip and trendy youngsters and tourists are slowly also discovering the place and its cocktails. Ercan doesn’t see why this could be a problem: “They too, are all my friends! This is a place to meet people. How long and why, they’re here for, is not my business.” And as he speaks out these concluding words, Ercan kindly asks some boys to stop doing what they’re doing. “Dealing. Not in my café.”