Wearing a dark suit and driving a limousine, Atila Yagmur ferries influential visitors to St. Moritz. He intimidates as a bouncer in trendy clubs. And in between, he shows tourists the sights of Zurich in his rickshaw. I meet the bon vivant Atila Yagmur in Cabaret Voltaire, where he works as a bartender. The Cabaret is the birthplace of the Dada movement, as well as a significant location for Atila personally. However, the 47-year-old has only just begun his own major personal project.
Large silver earrings, a distinctive moustache and an imposing physique. A crooked Villiger cigar in the corner of his mouth. A kind of stocking on his head. The man stands out. Atila Yagmur is waiting in front of Cabaret Voltaire’s bar, and greets me with a handshake. He was the one who suggested meeting at this history-steeped location on Spiegelgasse – the place where Hugo Ball founded Dadaism. ‘Because I’m also a little dada,’ he says, grinning. The Turkish-born Atila doesn’t think much of convention – which to his mind is a good thing.
‘I’m also a little dada.’
He was raised by his grandmother in Ankara, the Turkish capital, and learned to take care of himself at an early age. He later began an economics degree, only to drop out after three semesters to work as a tourist guide in Bodrum. ‘I liked the freedom, the sea and the natural surroundings better than the lecture halls at the university.’ He rhapsodises about the centuries-old Anatolian culture, the climate and the wide range of flora – there are 3,000 types of plants that grow nowhere but there. Before long, he’s getting wistful about it: ‘It was a carefree time’.
And yet, not long after that, he found himself in Bielefeld. He got to know a tourist in Bodrum, and just 25 days later, they married in Germany. ‘Things didn’t go so smoothly,’ says Atila. He was working up to 16 hours a day as a kitchen assistant and in discos, and his relationship with his wife was also heading for the rocks. They soon separated again.
It’s late afternoon and we’re sitting in the back room of the bar, directly under the bust of Voltaire. Things are quiet. Students are drinking their after-work beer amidst bursts of laughter at the big round table nearby. An old man sits at the bar. And Atila’s smartphone rings again. ‘A call from Turkey,’ he says, excusing himself. Once he has hung up, he stands and draws a large beer for me. Atila works behind the bar here three days a week; today is one of his days off.
‘Cabaret Voltaire is a special place for me. I like the events and concerts, the guests and the interesting discussions you get to have with them.’ Often, the discussions even continue the next day. ‘That never happens when I work in Kreis 4,’ he laughs. Over there, in the hip nightlife district, things are a little more superficial. Atila is also a bouncer at trendy clubs such as Gonzo, Fat Tony and the Olé Olé Bar. He enjoys the contrast – and by now, he’s also lucky enough to be able to pick and choose the jobs he takes. ‘I would never take a job if I didn’t like the boss.’
There's a good reason why Atila, who has never stayed in one place for long before, has now lived in Switzerland for ten years: he has a nine-year-old daughter with his ex-partner, who is Swiss. ‘Even if a lot of things are too regimented for me here in Switzerland, I can’t imagine a better place for my child to grow up.’ And exciting new opportunities keep opening up for him too: for example, he’s been showing tourists around Zurich in his rickshaw for some time now. If they want, he’ll even take his guests through the traffic-free Niederdorf, risking a fine equivalent to his total earnings from the ride. ‘I like doing the tourists a favour.’
He’ll even take his guests through the traffic-free Niederdorf, risking a fine equivalent to his total earnings from the ride.
Regular guest Idriss Tayeb Cherif
And the 47-year-old has yet another string to his bow as well, as a limousine driver for Fifa. Clean-shaven and in a suit, if you can believe – ‘and without the earrings, obviously’ – he drives important people around Switzerland. And he’s already heard a few secrets he can’t repeat. He doesn't seek out conversation as a driver, but if someone asks a question – about his origins, for example – it can result in lively discussions. ‘Last time, it was about Turkey’s ethnic groups – more than 25 of them – and how they live together peacefully, for the most part.’
As we’ve been talking, the bar has filled up. The music is louder. Atila stands to greets a couple of regulars and returns with another large beer for me. He himself has been sipping the same shandy for an hour. ‘Did you know that beer was being produced in the area that is now Turkey as early as 12,000 years ago?’
Amongst his flow of anecdotes, Atila clearly also strives to familiarise his listeners with his country and its people, and to dispel misconceptions. Politics is the only thing he refuses to discuss on record. ‘But you can probably imagine what I think.’
A few years ago, Atila bought an area of land in southern Turkey. There, five kilometres from the sea, on a hill in the middle of nowhere, he wants to build a house and farm his own food – ‘like they did 2,000 years ago’. Friends, acquaintances and artists will always be welcome: the house and the little amphitheatre will have space for artistic and theatrical projects. ‘Dada Turkey,’ laughs Atila. Most importantly, though, he’s doing it for his daughter: ‘I want to leave something behind for her.’
Bar & Café Tuesday to Thursday, 5:30 am to midnight Friday, 5:30 pm – 2 am Saturday, 3 pm – 2 am Sunday, 4 pm – 10 pm
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It’s not just the doors that have a screw loose – the entire repertoire of Cabaret Voltaire seems slightly wild and hard to pin down. It’s a museum, a concert venue, a location for inspiration and a café-bar where everyone – from expats and Dada fanatics to tourists and locals – is welcome. That’s Cabaret Voltaire in a nutshell. It has a long history that began in 1916, when the Dadaists staged a rebellious campaign that sought to destroy the conformity of a world at war.