Have you ever contemplated a project that you just knew was going to be time-consuming, intensive, and perhaps even a bit heartbreaking? That’s how I’ve been feeling about my upcoming manuscript. The novel is a love story between a German consulate worker and an American Jew in Istanbul during WWII. I’ve been delaying the project for years now. I always have plenty of novel ideas – why start a difficult project if I didn’t have to? But, finally, I couldn’t delay any more. I just knew if I didn’t write this novel now it wasn’t going to happen.
One of the reasons I’ve procrastinated is the difficulty researching Istanbul during the 1930s and 1940s. I don’t speak Turkish and most of the source material is – understandably – in that language. But then I went book shopping with a good friend and happened upon a used copy of Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul. I grabbed that sucker and rushed to the check-out.
Slowly making my way through the book, I noticed that the Pera Palace has been completely renovated and is still open for business. As I was planning a trip to visit the hubby in Istanbul anyway, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to do some on-site research. I booked a night at the hotel and dug into reading Midnight at the Pera Palace.
Istanbul was a hotbed of spy activity during the Second World War. With its location at the edge of Europe as well as across the Black Sea from the Soviet Union and it’s declared neutrality, it made an ideal location for espionage. The Pera Palace Hotel and Park Hotel were two locations where these activities routinely occurred. The Pera Palace is a stone’s throw from the (former) American Consulate and the Park Hotel is just across the narrow street from the German Consulate. Time to discover just how close things were.
We started our research trip by checking into Pera Palace hotel.
As soon as we’d dropped our bags, we headed out to the former American Consulate. The building now houses a private club, so we couldn’t get inside but I was able to see how close the two historical locations are to each other.
Continuing down the same street, we walked to the Galata region of what is now called Beyoğlu region of Istanbul. This region was home to four synagogues during the 1930s.
After walking around for a few hours, we decided it was time for a beer. Naturally, we ended the evening with a beer in Pera Palace’s own bar. The beer was overpriced, but if it’s good enough for Agatha Christie then …
The next morning, I lumbered around Pera Palace studying the various bits and bobs displayed throughout the hotel.
Then, we checked out and headed towards the German Consulate and Park Hotel. The original Park Hotel had been torn down. To my surprise (and delight!), there is a new hotel on the same location. They’ve maintained the history by also displaying some historical items.
The German Consulate was up next. Obviously, we couldn’t get too close, but I was able to see just how close the building was to the hotel. You could practically throw things out the window of the consulate into the hotel!
I couldn’t resist a trip to the Sirkeci station – the railway station was the end stop of the Orient Express. It’s also the station many Jewish refugees from Europe traveled through. It took us a while to find the small museum located at the station, but we managed.
Then, we jumped on the Marmaray and made our way back to the Asian side of Istanbul where I lived for two years and where my husband still lives. My research trip was finished. Time for a beer.