Between Slides and Photo Portfolios: kulturweit Volunteers at the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute

“That’s beautiful!” Emma is holding an old photo and pointing to a magnificent Ottoman wooden building. The picture is from the photo archive at the German Archaeological Institute’s Istanbul Department, where we, Emma and Elisa, are working as kulturweit-Volunteers.

Emma Bobbert and Elisa Karam kulturweit-Voluteers 2023 / 2024. Author: B. Güler

Emma and I are spending a year as volunteers at the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute as part of the kulturweit FSJ programme. kulturweit is the international education programme of the German UNESCO Commission and is funded by the Federal Foreign Office. The Voluntary Social Year is completed for six or twelve months in the Foreign Cultural and Educational Policy Network. The areas of work for kulturweit interns are very diverse; for example, it is possible to support German lessons at schools, work at the Goethe Institute, at UNESCO commissions, at the Deutsche Welle radio station or, like us, at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).

Emma (19) has just completed school, and I, Elisa (23), have finished my bachelor’s degree in art history. We are using this year to gain insight into an academic institute’s working life and as a guide for our future careers. Having the opportunity to get to know a country we have never been to before makes this experience very valuable.

Elisa is scanning in the archive. Author: E Bobbert
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Emma taking photos. Author: E. Karam

Emma takes another photo. “Here’s a good one! Konrad Adenauer is next to former department director Kurt Bittel, studying a map of Istanbul together.” More pictures are taken from the shelves. Berna, our colleague from the photo library, gives us the names and provides us with further information about the portrayed archaeologists and stories about excavations.

One name sounds familiar! – Müller-Wiener, former director of the Istanbul department. I’m working on his estate, which means scanning the documents and categorising the information in a table. Emma is working on excavation plans. She also scans them and puts them together with the help of an image processing program. We keep coming across exciting objects during these tasks. For example, we have already digitalised slides from excavations from the 1980s and a valuable book on Ottoman court dress from the 18th century. We also help with smaller tasks and projects and get to know the country, the people and the stories in this way.

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Ottoman wooden houses in Kadiköy. Author: E. Bobbert
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Avrupa Pasaji. Author: E. Karam

One of our favourite tasks is the photo day. Equipped with a camera, we walk through the neighbourhoods of Istanbul and document remarkable architecture and places. Afterwards, these photos are archived and documented to record the state of Istanbul in the 2020s for future generations.

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Ottoman wooden house. Author: E. Bobbert

We are fully integrated into the day-to-day work of the institute and attend regular lectures and institutional events. One thing that cannot be missed on any working day is the afternoon Çay (tr. tea), where all colleagues come together. This allows us to gain an insight into the work processes of a scientific institute.

Another excellent opportunity for us is participating in an archaeological excavation during the summer. Emma is going to the excavation in Pergamon/Bergama, and I will be in Boğazköy/Hattuša.

As our year here comes to a close, we can say with certainty that it has been a very enriching time for us. We have built up a varied daily routine with lots of travelling , all of which has had a very formative influence on us. We are particularly impressed by the diversity and vibrancy of Istanbul. During our time here, we’ve had the chance to visit some of the many museums in the city and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the streets. Our time at the Institute will remain a lasting memory.

Elisa Karam and Emma Bobbert

kulturweit-Volunteers at  Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute 2023/24

For more information about the kulturweit programme please use the following the link: