By Metin DEMISAR
"At Haydarpasa Train Terminal
In the spring of 1941,
It is 3 p.m.
Sun, exhaustion and rush lay on the stairs."
So begins one of Turkey's greatest epic poems, Nazim Hikmet's 'Human Landscapes from My Country,' written in 1941 while the poet was in prison on political charges.
Not much changed at Haydarpasa Train Station since it was constructed in 1909 by the Germans as the Kaiser's gift to the Ottoman Sultan.
The station, the only railway terminal on Istanbul's Asian side, has been the main departure point and terminus for trains travelling between the city and Anatolian hinterland and the Middle East for the last 104 years. It is the busiest rail terminal in Turkey and the Middle East and one of the busiest in Eastern Europe.
For awed rural migrants arriving from villages and towns of Anatolia and eastern Turkey, Haydarpasa Train Station served as the opening to the grand city of Istanbul and Europe. But for many city Turks traveling east, it was often a sad point of departure to exile into the interior of Anatolia, a landmass perceived by many to be backward.
As there are no rail links across the Bosphorus even today, railcars carrying Turkish exports to Europe are still ferried across to the city's European train terminal in Sirkeci, before being carried further West. Railcars travelling east are also ferried across to Haydarpasa.
Hundreds of thousands of suburban Turks still use the train to commute to work every day. Train passengers disembarking at the terminal still take ferryboats across to European side of Istanbul.
Facing the Sea of Marmara and the mouth of the Bosphorus, the monumental Haydarpasa Station resembles a Teutonic castle transplanted from the Rhine Valley – an anomaly among the mosques, palaces and new, modern skyscrapers on the Istanbul skyline.
For the Communist poet Hikmet (1901-1963), the station was a transit point – an intermediate zone between epochs and cultures. It was a space where working class travellers -- slaving day and night -- could dream having a better life.
When he had the station constructed as part of a chain of the railways linking Berlin to Baghdad, the Kaiser aimed to transform the rail scheme into Germany's imperialistic designs to bring the wayward, financially wrecked Ottoman Empire and its mineral and oil riches under its control. The plan collapsed with the World War One defeat of Germany, Ottoman Turkey and other Central Powers.
The neoclassical Haydarpasa Station was built by the Anatolia-Baghdad Cooperation on 1,100 wooden stakes, each 21 meters (69 feet long), driven into the muddy shore by steam sledge hammers, on land reclaimed from the sea.
The site has been the scene of disasters.
In 1979 a Romanian tanker that collided with a Greek freighter burned and exploded at the mouth of the Bosphorus, damaging the station building's façade and windows, but they were restored a few months later. On November 28, 2010 a fire caused by carelessness during restoration process, destroyed the roof and the fourth floor of the station building.
$7 billion plan
But much is changing at Haydarpasa Train Station, where the last and final intercity train, the Fatih Express, departed in February 2012
The station has been permanently closed to intercity passenger trains.
Under a $7 billion plan, the government aims to transform Haydarpasa Railway Station and the surrounding areas into a major shopping, cultural and tourist hub with five-star hotels with a bed capacity of 9,000, public parks, and a convention center. Theaters, shopping malls, deluxe restaurants are also to be built. The area is likely to be privatized.
The adjacent Haydarpasa Port, the country's biggest maritime gateway, will be relocated further east, and the present site will be transformed into Turkey's largest yacht marina. Seven tulip-shaped skyscrapers to symbolize the city (originally built on seven hills) are to be built in the hill overlooking Haydarpasa.
The project, prepared by Turkey's Calik Group, which has close ties Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling, conservative Justice and Development Party, aims to change the skyline of Istanbul to make it resemble Manhattan. The plan was designed by Sefik Birkiye, an architect.
Mr. Birkiye, the son of a Turkish diplomat, designed the Klassis Hotel and the Klassis Golf Hotel and Country Club in Silivri, 60 km west of Istanbul. He also designed a new city for Monaco, and major sites in Cairo.
A new terminal
A new train terminal is being built at Yenikapi as part of the Marmaray Project, a high speed rail connecting Asia and Europe with a submarine tube crossing under the Bosphorus, that will replace both Sirkeci and Haydarpasa Railway Terminals. The new terminal and Marmaray will go into operation in fall 2013. A new suburban underground has also been constructed runing from Kadikoy to Kartal.
The Sirkeci Railway Station, the traditional terminal of the Orient Express, will also be closed, and planners envisage construction of hotels, shopping centers, and recreational facilities similar to the one proposed for Haydarpasa Station.
The Haydarpasa and Sirkeci Projects are part of the greatest reforms in the history of the money-losing State Railways Administration (TCDD). The state enterprise aims to lease out its 904 train stations and terminals in 57 provinces to the private sector possibly starting in 2013. The TCDD intends to raise $500 million annually through the leases that would allow the private sector to build hotels, cafes, restaurants and shopping centers at the stations and terminals.