Like many other cities, Istanbul trudges back to life.
Istanbul - The coronavirus has had a strangely calming effect on Turkey’s economic and cultural hub, and as Istanbulites awoke on Monday, they found themselves rediscovering a city they had almost forgotten existed.
The two and a half month lockdown resulted in the teeming megalopolis of more than 16 million people reduced to a shadow of its former self.
“I feel like I can breathe again,” said a smiling middle-aged woman sipping her coffee, face mask nestled below her chin, in Uskudar’s recently reopened Citir cafe.
Mosques, coffee shops, restaurants and street food vendors were just some of the places closed over the last few months. They have only been able to reopen their doors this week.
As people begin to emerge from their respective quarantines, the traditional tactile culture is now trying to adapt to a form of social distancing more commonly seen in Northern Europe.
Shop owners can also be seen re-painting and sprucing up their shop fronts, eager to look their best for customers.
Bugra Tatar, the shop owner of Kava Coffee Roasting, in Istanbul’s Karakoy district, was relieved to swing open its doors.
Initially, Tatar was worried about the future of his coffee business.
“The biggest worry is that we couldn’t pay the shop's rent and the salary of the employees,” said Tatar speaking to TRT World.
Fortunately, until now, the business has been able to depend on online sales during the pandemic. It has kept it afloat and his staff employed.
“Thanks to our online sales, we were able to open the shop again, so all the expenses of the employees and the shop continued. In fact, it was not so easy for us. We are open now finally,” added Tatar.
When asked if he was worried that the coronavirus had changed Istanbul, Tatar was optimistic.
“Just as people get used to the coronavirus days, now they will start to get used to a new normal. Maybe it will take a little longer but it will be back to the old Istanbul, will get used to it in a way or another.”
The city is visibly adapting to a new way of living.
Face masks are still commonly worn, they were made mandatory during the peak of the pandemic, and have become compulsory on public transport. Banks are now different in that they boast perspex windows for staff and customer protection.
Parks have seen white circles drawn up so that social interactions can occur safely without the risk of dangerous overcrowding. The faithful who still go to the mosques are no longer praying shoulder to shoulder but are now separated by 1.5 meters.
A clearing of the throat is now always followed by a nervous expression: did anyone notice?
Istanbul’s hobbyist fishermen, however, are again lining the shores of the Bosphorus with gusto.
“Fishing is like an addiction,” says Sinan Timur Ozay to TRT World. He’s been fishing on the shores of Karakoy for more than two years.
Fishing is a popular pastime for many Istanbulites, and it was halted by the Turkish government when the coronavirus spread needed to be stopped in its tracks.
The cats are equally happy to see the fisherman back, theirs being a symbiotic relationship harnessed over centuries.
“Fishermen and cats are always together,” said Ozay smiling, adding that, “It’s also nice to be along the seaside again, all the fishermen here know each other. And we couldn’t see our friends.”
Many of the fishermen spoke of future economic insecurity and what it could mean for them.
“Most of the people are fishing as a hobby,” says Ozay, who normally works in digital marketing. For some people taking to the water means they are also fishing to feed their families.”
Another fisherman, Mehmet, speaking to TRT World said, “I have been waiting impatiently since the prohibition to start fishing again, this is one of my favourite hobbies.”
“I think about what’s going to happen with my job, but for now I just want to enjoy doing this again.”
The Turkish government has attempted to soften the economic fallout by approving a $38 billion package in March.
Amongst the many other measures, it has promised to pay 60 percent of staff salaries for those who have been laid off after their businesses failed as a result of the crisis.
As small shop owners reopen after a long hiatus, the city’s gastronomic industry has also changed. The use of disposable plastic utensils and takeaway carton bowls are just some of the measures shops are taking in order to do their bit in these strange times.
Karakoy’s soup shop, known as Corba Evi, is normally bustling with customers eager to taste one of the twenty-one soups on offer.
Before the coronavirus struck, queues were common.
Halil Gul, one of the waiters in the shop, told TRT World that shop traffic was down significantly and that only a trickle of the customers were back.
“We have had to take certain measures like now allowing more than a certain amount of people in the shop, we are a small shop, so this affects how many people we can accept,” said Gul.
“I think people are still scared a bit and once tourists start coming back we will recover,” added Gul.