No room for division

Türkan Köksal has a love of, and eye for, all things soft and quiet and people whose stories tend to be overshadowed by others. For KOR8 she portrays her friend Özlem Önen.Von Türkan Köksal

‘Everything begins with a yearning,’ Jewish poet Nelly Sachs once wrote. ‘The heart always has room for more: things more beautiful, greater. That is man’s greatness and need: a yearning for silence, for friendship and love.’ These words perfectly describe the 43-year-old woman I got to know in Rome many years ago. Her name is fitting as well: ‘Özlem’ means ‘yearning’.
Today, we are sitting in her café in Vienna’s 8th district. We start with her childhood in Turkey. ‘I was the first child of a middle-class family in Ankara.’ As a teenager, she became friends with her neighbours, graphic design students Oğuz and Cumhur – a friendship that was to shape the trajectory of her life. The young couple’s apartment was a meeting place of artists and intellectuals, and Özlem went there every day after school, soaking up the atmosphere. She was fascinated with ‘this attitude of live and let live and the effort to look for common ground’ even in the most heated debates.

As an architecture student at the ODTÜ (Middle East Technical University) Özlem also discovered her love of pottery – which contributed to bringing ‘commonroom’ into being. ‘I love the texture of clay. It is like a compass that shows me when I should stop and take a break.’ And she met Isben, who would become the father of her children. It was their PhD adivsors who set them on a path to Europe in 2007.  ‘I was suddenly aware of all these freedoms in life,’ Özlem reminisces. ‘The freedom to seize opportunities, start a new life somewhere else, learn a new language – simply because you can.’

In Vienna, the young couple spent their time working, writing their theses, making new friends and celebrating life. What was missing was a place where they could just hang out with others. They needed a common room. So in 2013 they opened a 80 m2 studio in Kaiserstraße where people could come together to make pottery, discuss current affairs, exhibit art, make music, review poetry, cook, dance and have fun. ‘It was an experiment in a way – and it worked out perfectly,’ Özlem recalls. In 2017, they opened the ‘commonroom’ in Josefstadt. It offers a wide range of courses for children as well as adults, from ballet to the foundations of African culture to expert lectures on Mediterranean architecture or macramé workshops. ‘At commonroom we always focus on what brings people together, whether young or old, black or white. We have no room for division here.’

Like many, commonroom was hard hit by the pandemic but was saved from closure thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. ‘The commonroom community is loyal and growing day by day,’ says the proud founder. And now the architect, community manager, wife, friend, art lover, night owl, daughter, listener and mother-of-two has added ‘businesswoman’ to her long list of credentials, opening a café area on the premises. ‘You know you are at commonroom when the waitress is from England, the course instructor is from Carinthia, the participants are from Brazil, Kenya, Israel, Salzburg, and Sri Lanka, and the guests are from Canada and Portugal.’ At commonroom, there is no room for division. The heart always has room for more .

TÜRKAN KÖKSAL hat ein Faible für alles Leise, Matte, Konturenlose – für das Schöne im Unscheinbaren und für Menschen, deren Licht man auf den ersten Blick nicht wahrnimmt und deren Geschichten im Schatten der anderen fast unsichtbar bleiben.

Gefördert durch die Wirtschaftsagentur Wien – ein Fonds der Stadt Wien. Realisiert in redaktioneller Unabhängigkeit.

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