Dilek Topkara

For Dilek Topkara, food is the backbone of her connection to culture and people. “From my early childhood, I liked the feeling of pastries or patisseries in general. But it comes from my cultural background as well. Patisserie does not exist in Turkey where my parents are from, but food in general always made me feel very comfortable and at home. I grew up with this scenery at home with my parents cooking, especially my dad who is a chef. There was something instilled in me. Since I experienced Germany as a kid of parents who migrated here, this part really kept me inspired and fascinated.”

It makes sense that her bakery and café Dilekerei is a cozy weekend spot for those living in the neighborhood of Wedding in Berlin. There are also the patrons who learn of Dilekerei by word of mouth, or discover it through the gorgeous imagery on social media, and make a specific trip to the café. Dilekerei is a play on the founder’s first name (which means “wish” in Turkish) and Backerei (the German word for “bakery”) as well as lecker (“delicious” in German), and she brings aspects of both cultures to her creations.

Dilek initially studied food science and technology in Berlin, and later reconnected with her love for patisserie in London. “I decided at some point to turn this into my profession, to see more the molecular basis of everything and do in-depth research of food, what it means, what it is, and to find out more about it. I specialized in scientific baking. I would bake something at uni and then analyze it in the lab to see what happens. It was a scientific approach to finding out about those pastries, it kept me fascinated and deeply [focused] in this product.”

In 2009, Dilek moved to the UK to continue her studies and professional development with two consecutive European Commission scholarships, motivated by a shift in the political and social climate in Germany sparked by the controversial writings of Thilo Sarrazin. “That was the best decision I could have ever made. Looking at the whole topic from afar made me feel better, especially because I was doing something and was developing myself. I was soaking it all in and trying to transform it into something creative, something which would be my own, that nobody could take away. That was the drive I had back then.”

“I had experienced a number of things as a Turkish person here. That gave me inspiration: I want to have my own place, I want to have my own voice, I want to have my own signature. And I want to find my own way—I think this is how a lot of young people feel if you are faced with these kinds of experiences.”

As a first-generation Berliner unexpectedly facing an environment tainted by biased arguments about the impact of Germany’s Turkish immigrants, she considered making her life in London but felt a call to return to her hometown. “There was always that Schwerkraft (gravity)—something pulling me back—a kind of responsibility which I feel deep inside, that there is something unfinished here. It was difficult and really challenging to come back to Germany, but it is part of me, so I should face it.”

And Dilek certainly made her own way with this business. Returning from London, she chose the location of the shop because it wasn’t too expensive. She started out small and modestly, and built up her kitchen and café from scratch with each cake sold. “Everything was paid off with the cakes. It just grew very organically. Working hands-on and building everything up with no help apart from my family and friends feels so good today.”

“Everything was paid off with the cakes.”

Dilek has her hand in everything. She develops the recipes, bakes the goods, and executes all of the decorative touches, from the handmade sugar beads and flowers to the patterns in the icing, which are often inspired by Turkish and Islamic art. “I think [inspiration] comes from everywhere but especially from my cultural background from Turkey or Islamic art from everywhere. What I try to do is to visualize this combination of Turkish or Islamic background melting in with the European values and style—which I really try to combine in my work.”

This is an enterprise built up of many loving elements, self-made, handmade, and homegrown. The hazelnuts are supplied by her grandparents’ farm in Akyazi, Turkey. Her parents have a Schrebergarten, an allotment or garden plot, planted with fruit trees, berry bushes, and herbs. Dilek sells homemade preserves made from their harvest, and whenever the fruit and herbs are in season, she bakes with them. “I really love incorporating these ingredients into my products; it means a lot to me because my parents are working on them. It’s also a kind of social project for my parents because it shows their way of coming here and growing something in this country; then this goes into my products and then goes to the customers. I think the whole chain is just beautiful.”

She also took on the food photography, and is self-taught. Initially Dilek worked with her sister, the photographer who provided the beautiful images for her award-winning cookbook, Dilekerei: Torten – Törtchen – Tartes. “We tried to find a visual language that transports the idea best; there is a melancholy in the pictures. But it’s simple—the product should be the one to tell our story.”

“I knew that this shop, if I started it, was going to be very challenging. I would face all the things that I ran away from before. But it is the most satisfying thing I’ve done so far, and looking back on it makes me feel so satisfied: I can contribute to something and work with all these parts that confronted me before. I would like to give something peaceful, positive, and sweet in return to my hometown as my contribution in my very own way. With Dilekerei I want to create my own space—to welcome absolutely everyone, from all backgrounds, religions, and ages. It is an homage to my parents, to the community and life they established here for us.”

@dilekerei
Dilekerei
Eulerstraße 11B
13357 Berlin