Antje Engelmann’s contribution “Donaukinder” to the group exhibition
“Nomadic Settlers – Settled Nomads”

E80: On the Road to Binational Urbanism
By Bernd Upmeyer

Just as bigamists marry a second time before their existing marriages are dissolved, binational urbanists start life in a second city located in another nation, without having said good-bye to their first city. Thus, binational urbanism is a particular form of transnationalism, a phenomenon which in sociology results from social interactions across national borders. In this article, binational urbanism has to be understood as a way of life of a person, who is related to two different cities at the same time. Ideally, a binational urbanist commutes continuously as a quasi-nomad between two cities and lives in constant transit between two Heimaten. Because of the recurring local changes, binational urbanists find themselves in a certain utopian condition that is characterised by a constant longing, and/or a constant homesickness for the other absent city. “The Heimat – the place of origin – becomes a Nichtort – a non-place – at the same time as a utopia. She is experienced most intensively if one is away and she is lacking; the actual Heimat feeling is that of homesickness.” (1) Binational urbanists can probably be best described as extreme commuters. Probably the most well-known commuters are work commuters, people that commute continuously between their residential city and the city where they work. A country such as Germany, for example, counts approximately thirty million commuters (2), which means that almost every second German leads a life between two places. In addition, binational urbanism emerges, above all, as a global phenomenon. Never before was the mobility of individual human beings higher than it is today. These days, people travel between continents, as they travelled between cities thirty years ago. Binational urbanism has the potential of becoming the ultimate way of life of the twenty-first Century.

1,8 Million Potential Binational Urbanists
In this article binational urbanism is illustrated by a concrete example: a way of life made possible first of all by the connection of the European routes between Turkey and Germany. On those European roads thousands of people of Turkish origin oscillate back and forth each year between German and Turkish cities. Only at first sight do they seem to be firm residents of their host country Germany, yet they are in actual fact extremely mobile and use the best of both cultures in tandem. For many years they have been living, unconsciously or consciously, in a culture of binational urbanism. It seems as if Islam had to penetrate deeply into European Christendom in order to establish such a binary way of life.

In order to give an example of such a connection of European routes between Turkey and Germany, we should look at the road between the German city of Duisburg and the Turkish city of Istanbul. This connection in particular should be considered as a representation and a symbol of all other possible connections. At the same time, the car represents all other possible means of transport such as the plane, the train, the bus, or the ferry. The German city of Duisburg is particularly interesting, because in no other German city is the proportion of Turkish inhabitants as high as there. Approximately forty thousand people of Turkish origin live in Duisburg, which represents around eight percent of the entire population of Duisburg.(3) The average proportion of inhabitants of Turkish origin in the largest German cities is four percent. Duisburg in general is an immigrant stronghold with immigrant numbers that are far higher than the German average. The city is located in the most densely populated and economically strongest German Federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia where more than one quarter of all Germany’s migrants live. A third of the altogether approximately 1,8 million Turkish people in Germany reside in North Rhine-Westphalia.(4) Thus around 1,8 million potential Turkish binational urbanists are located in Germany. According to the data of the socio-economic panel (SOEP) (5) of the year 2002, for example, only 6,5% of the Turkish people living in Germany did not travel to Turkey, meaning that 93,5% did travel there once at least, which corresponds to a number of approximately 1,7 million. This number is comparable to the number of inhabitants of the German city of Hamburg (population 2006: 1.754.317).(6) Hamburg is – after Berlin – the second largest city of Germany and the seventh-largest city of the European Union which is not the capital of a member state. Thus, one may posit that each year a population the size of the city of Hamburg moves from Germany to Turkey and back again. If you consider next the number of Turks who live in Germany and already have German citizenship, we arrive at a number of approximately 2,6 million potential Turkish binational urbanists. (7) Germany generally occupies in Europe an exceptional position with regard to her Turkish population, as around seventy-five per cent of all Turks in Europe live in Germany. In all of Europe some 2,7 million Turks live.

The title of this article „E80 “represents the connection between all European routes that connect Duisburg and Istanbul, but also all other connections between Germany and Turkey. The actual connection between Duisburg and Istanbul consists of eight different sections of eight different European motorways: E35, E41, E45, E56, E57, E70, E75, and E80. Taking these roads brings one fastest from Duisburg to Istanbul by car.(8) The total distance is approximately 2.400km and can be covered in twenty four hours. Thus it takes a full day of driving, without a break, at a speed of 100km/h from one city to the next. But only the last section of the road consists of the real E80 and as this section is 732km long, and thus the longest part of the journey from Duisburg to Istanbul, it was selected as a representation of the entire journey. The E80 is to be regarded as a Nichtort, which connects two different Heimaten. Thus, the E80 becomes the metaphor of the Heimat of the binational urban way of life and a plane of projection for any longings, hopes and dreams of the binational urbanist. The E80 is utopia and paradise at the same time.

On the Road to Paradise
If one drives by car from Duisburg towards Istanbul, the real E80 constitutes the last part of the entire journey and begins in the Serbian border town of Nis, right at the Bulgarian border, and ends in Istanbul. However, the real E80 does not end in Istanbul, but around 1.500km further east in the region around the Turkish city of Doğubeyazıt, which is some 35km from the Iranian border. Doğubeyazıt is a small town of around 36.000 inhabitants in the outmost eastern part of Turkey and an important transit town for travellers from and into Iran. Even further east and directly at the border with Iran, but still in Turkey, another even smaller town named Gürbulak with approximately 6.700 inhabitants marks the exact eastern endpoint of the real E80. Thus, the real E80 ends and flows directly into an area overloaded with religious myths.

Probably the most interesting religious myth of this area is that according to the first book of Moses – Genesis – the so-called Garden of Eden, and/or paradise, can be found there. (9) And both Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, have their roots in the Hebrew Bible, which contains the first book Moses. Both Christianity and Islam, base their respective interpretations on the Hebrew Bible.(10) In Christianity the Garden of Eden is described as a place with no enmity between humans and animals and where humans can nourish themselves without trouble. Paradise is supposed to be a realm of peace and justice, in which death, illness and trouble belong to the past and all humans are equal.(11) Islam describes paradise additionally as a place full of delight, with fruits and cool brooks and virgins.(12) Both in Christianity and in Islam, there exists an earthly paradise, as described in Genesis, the Garden of Eden. Although it is located on earth, it promises not only sensuous pleasures, but also eternal life, whereby eternal life is limited and restricted to the stay in the garden.(13)

This area of earthly paradise, the Garden of Eden, would be arrived at by the binational urbanists if they followed the E80 to its end and beyond. Thus, the Garden of Eden becomes, just like the E80, the unmistakable metaphor for the binary way of life of the binational urbanist, in which all contradictions and contrasts in his life, and between his two hometowns, belong to the past and the two cities are equals. Simultaneously, the E80 even becomes a metaphor for the feedback of humans as quasi-nomads into the Garden of Eden, from where they were, as climatologists state(14), not driven out, but forced out by immense changes in the climate. They were forced to give up their lives as nomads and were obliged to turn themselves to the hard and settled life of farmers, which is based on stockpiling.


1. Bernhard Schlink: Heimat ist Utopie, 2000, p.32
2. German Federal Ministry of Transport, German Federal Statistical Office, 2004-2007: In 2004 there were altogether thirty million commuters in Germany, of which approx. 360.000 employed weekend commuters (pupils, students, self–employed workers were not taken into account). 1,5 million of them drove more than 50 kilometres to their job and can therefore be considered to be remote commuters. The most frequently used transportation utility was the car at 66%.
3. German Federal Statistical Office, structural data and integration indicators on the foreign population of Germany in the year 2003. The actual percentage of Turkish immigrants in Duisburg was 8,2%.
4. German Federal Statistical Office: foreign population as of 31.12.2006 by native country: 1.738.831
5. The socio-economic panel (SOEP) is a representative recurring opinion poll of over 12.000 private households in Germany. The poll has been held annually since 1984, questioning the same persons and families (= always the same panel).
6. Statistical office for Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, www.statistik-sh.de
7. German Federal Statistical Office, www.destatis.de
8. www.viamichelin.com, departure: Duisburg, destination: Istanbul, vehicle type: automobile, route type: quickest, time: 23h21 including 18h33 on motorways, distance: 2407km including 2084km on motorways
9. 1. Book of Moses, Genesis – Bereishit, the first Parashat of the first book of the Torah
10. Martin Stöhr (Hrsg.): Abrahams Kinder. Juden, Christen, Moslems. Haag + Herchen 1999
11. Sebastian Brock (Hrsg.), Hymns on paradise (Crestwood 1990)
12. Sebastian Brock (Hrsg.), Hymns on paradise (Crestwood 1990)
13. Klaus H. Börner: Auf der Suche nach dem irdischen Paradies. Zur Ikonographie der geographischen Utopie. Frankfurt 1984
14. Alessandro Scafi, Mapping Paradise, A history of Heaven on earth (London, British Library 2006)

Title: E80: On the Road to Binational Urbanism
Author: Bernd Upmeyer
Date: July 2011
Type: Commissioned article
Publications: Nomadic Settlers – Settled Nomads (“Nomadic Settlers – Settled Nomads” was the publication for a group exhibition with the same name)
Publisher: Revolver Publishing
Location: Berlin, Germany
Pages: 56-57