Grand Jardin d'Horticulture de M.Koch, Jardins de l'Horticulteur M.Koch, G.H.Koch, or as known in our family The Garden of German Koch. A very large garden in Ortaköy, which Hurmuzios Vafiadis bought from the Koch family in the early 1930s, has an important place in our family history with its mansion, hundreds of saplings, flower varieties and Hurmuzios' favorite animals. We had mentioned it in two different articles on 2mi3museum before and shared it frequently in different media. However, we could not publish a full research on this important place of Istanbul, which is not in place today. The reason was that we expected to reach more information and images about this garden. A wedding certificate found in the family archive, an unexpected e-mail and a newspaper advertisement we reached enabled us to complete this research: German Koch's Garden and Vafiadis Family...
The Garden of German Koch, Ortaköy:
1927, Pervititch Maps, Ortaköy Garden of Koch
In the area surrounded by Ambarlıdere Street and Leylek Yuvası Street today, around 850 meters from the stone house of Hurmuzios Vafiadis on Ortaköy Dereboyu Street which was very close to the Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Armenian Catholic Church; a garden, with a small mansion inside, many kinds of trees, flowers and exotic animals was constantly told like a fairy tale in family memories that started with 'German Koch's Garden...'. According to the family history, the garden was purchased from a German named Koch in the 1930s and remained in the Vafiadis family until the early 1970s. The stories of the gorillas, the blind bear, the peacocks and the horses in the garden have been pleasant memories from this forty-year period.
There are so many memories, but unfortunately so few photographs, of the Vafiadis family's years spent in the German Koch's Garden. These photos also provide a sufficient visual about the garden. There are no photographs other than two photographs of Aleko Vafiadis taken in the 1930s on the garden coop and a photograph taken with the gardener of the garden Albanian Seyfettin in the 1950s.
Aleko Vafiadis - Photos from The Garden Of Koch, Ortaköy
The location of this garden in Ortaköy can be clearly seen on the Pervititch Maps dated 1927. In fact, the article Vafiadis: Gorillas & Ortaköy, in which we first announced Koch's garden, was written when this map appeared before us. According to this map, the old name of Ambarlıdere Street was Tarla-Bachi Street, while Leylek Yuvası Street was named Leylek Street.
1934, Istanbul Sehri Rehberi, Ortaköy
When we examine the map in the 1934 Istanbul City Guide book, the land of the garden can be seen between Ambarlıdere Street and Leylek Yuvası Street. Probably in the seven years between the two maps, the street names of Istanbul began to change.
So who was the 'Koch' who gave this garden such a name as to be on maps? How did he get this garden and why did he sell it to Hurmuzios Vafiadis? Was this garden, which remained in the Vafiadis family for forty years, only used as a family garden?
First Contact with Koch Family: Ben Singer
It had been 4 years since the article Vafiadis: Gorillas and Ortaköy that we wrote in 2018, when we were surprised by an e-mail that reached us one day. This e-mail from very precious Ben Singer began with these sentences:
My name is Ben Singer and I am the great-grandson of Georg Heinrich and Regine Koch family, who previously owned the gardens in Ortaköy, where Aleko Vafiadis and his family lived in the 1930s.
We were excited because two people who had a common history in this garden but had never seen this garden had met thanks to the recording of oral history. Moreover, one lived in Istanbul and the other in Canada. Ben Singer and I had been sending each other e-mails constantly after this pleasant coincidence and started looking for details from our common past. Ben Singer, who also works on the history of his family, shared very important information with us. Moreover, this information he shared was extremely important not only for our families, but also for the history of a city, Istanbul.
The First Owners of The Garden: G.H. Koch & Regine Minika
According to the information Ben Singer shared with us, Georg Heinrich Koch was born in 1829 in Schotten. Heinrich, who completed his apprenticeship as a gardener in 1848, came to Istanbul in 1852. He met and married his wife, Regina Minika, in Istanbul. As Ben Singer mentioned, Regina was also living in Istanbul on the occasion of her older brother, who was a gardener.
G.H. Koch and Regine Minika, Constantinople, ca 1865 / Ben Singer Archives
Heinrich Koch settled in Ortaköy shortly after arriving in Istanbul. In his presentation about his family, Ben Singer said about Ortaköy:
'' Ortaköy was conveniently located near the gardens of Yıldız Palace, which became Georg Heinrich's life's work. Ortaköy was also home to our other family members who came to Constantinople to design and maintain the Sultan's gardens: the Wienholdt family and the Minika family''
As can be understood from the sentence above, Georg Heinrich Koch was one of the experts who landscaped the gardens of Yıldız Palace. This information was shared with us as a family memory by the precious Ben Singer, and it has also been featured in important articles by academics.
The Koch family is mentioned as follows in Parisa Göker's article titled 'Yıldız Palace Gardens Landscape Design Principles, Istanbul' published in 2018.
''… it is known that the first landscaping and planting works in the coppice (known today as Yıldız Park or Yıldız Woods) were made during the reign of Abdülaziz (1870-1876). The courtyard landscaping of the palace, including the park section, was completed during the reign of II.Abdülhamid. The garden landscape design was carried out with the collaboration of foreign experts invited during this period: the Koch brothers [Ludwig Georg Koch and Heinrich Koch], and their father Heinrich Koch, Deroin from France, and Ottoman gardeners who were assigned to work alongside these foreign experts…''
In addition, the Koch family is also mentioned in Ebru Erbas Güler's article titled 'Westernized Oriental Turkish Landscape: Istanbul's Gardens' published in 2011.
“…The current design of [Yıldız] parks and gardens were largely built during the reign of II.Abdülhamid. Those who contributed to this project [Sultan's private garden Hasbahçe and Dıs Bahçe] were the Koch brothers from Germany and their father Heinrich Koch, Romeo Scanciani from Italy, Deroin from France and with them local gardeners. … ”
The landscape work of Georg Heinrich Koch and his sons progressed over time and the family started a family business called G.H.KOCH. It was included in the Oriental Trade Yearbooks between 1892-1912, also started to place full-page advertisements in this important yearbook. G.H.KOCH had become an important and well-known company. According to Ben Singer, the garden in Ortaköy, which would later pass to the Vafiadis family, was probably given to Georg Heinrich by the Sultan as part of the compensation package.
Georg Heinrich & Regine (née Minika) Koch, in their garden in Ortaköy, 9 June 1911
Georg Heinrich died in 1912 in Istanbul. This meant that Hurmuzios Vafiadis (1896-1960) had bought this garden from the Koch family, from Ludwig Georg Koch (1866-1947) in the early 1930s. Who knows; Hurmuzios and Ludwig, whose grandchildren met with an e-mail years later, were perhaps two friends who met frequently in Ortaköy.
Vafiadis Family and The Garden of German Koch :
In the early 1930s, the German Koch's Garden became the property of the Vafiadis family. The family living in Ortaköy used this garden as a summer house, and their only son Aleko spent his childhood in this garden. Although very few photographs were taken in this garden - we sincerely believe that more photographs about this place will be added to our archive one day - the memories spent in this garden have been told within the family for generations. Frankly, the memories in question are not very standard memories. Gorillas fed in cages on the right and left of the entrance of the hunting lodge-like building in the garden, a bear blinded by a thief who entered the garden one night by hitting its head with a shovel, peacocks, hundreds of different types of chickens and pigeons, horses, dogs and hundreds of kinds of saplings and flowers, each of them forms the basis of these memories. Even though many years have passed, the oldest living members of the family confirm what happened here.
We had previously interpreted in our article titled Vafiadis: Gorillas and Ortaköy that Hurmuzios might have brought the two gorillas in the garden due to his curiosity about different types of animals. However, in the research titled 'Captured Wild Animals as a Visual Commodity in the Ottoman Empire: A Historical Analysis' by the esteemed Deniz Dölek Sever, whom we met in 2023, we learned that the Koch family was attempting to open a zoo. Based on this information, the animals in the garden, which the Vafiadis family had cared for many years, perhaps belonged to the Koch family, and these animals were sold when the garden was purchased.
As we know from the stories in the family, Hurmuzios Vafiadis was a person who preferred to use his earnings for his business. For example, he does not see buying a house as a logical move, he prefers to rent it. Because it didn't make sense to him to pay a large amount of money in one place at a time. We can say that it is an indication of this preference that he stayed as a tenant in Dikranyan Efendi Mansion in Kefeliköy for 25 years, but bought the rooms in Küçük Yeni Han as they became available for sale. So, could he has thought so when he bought Koch's Garden? So maybe he bought a nursery where he could use the power of the G.H.KOCH brand, not a garden for his own pleasure?
Based On A Wedding Certificate...
After the death of Giuseppina Sanzoni, the wife of Hurmuzios' son Aleko, in 2021, the marriage certificate we found in her drawer made us reconsider the relationship between the German Koch Garden and the Vafiadis family. You may be thinking, how can such a connection be established with a marriage certificate? However, the occupations of the married people were also written on the old marriage certificates. In this old-style marriage certificate, Aleko Vafiadis's profession was mentioned as 'florist'.
The Wedding Certificate of Aleko & Giuseppina
It was interesting that the son of a furniture maker father's profession was as a florist. When we asked Stavros, son of Aleko Vafiadis, he was also surprised. He said he had heard from the German Koch's garden that soil was being sold to some florists in Eminönü, but he wasn't sure if it was a permanent trade. The family didn't have a flower shop that we knew, and even Aleko Vafiadis didn't know much about flower names. So why was writing a florist by profession?
While we were asking ourselves this question in our heads, we came across an interesting newspaper advertisement during our research. The advertisement published in the ‘Aksam’ newspaper on 13 December 1950 was as follows:
Advertisement on Aksam Newspaper, 13 December 1950
'G.H.KOCH Flower and Sapling Garden. Dear customers; good news that a wide variety of pine trees, evergreen roses, ornamental and living room saplings are sold at affordable prices to decorate their villas and gardens. One visit is enough. Address: Koch Garden, Ortaköy.'
Undoubtedly, we were surprised to think about the 'florist' inscription on the wedding certificate and to see this advertisement on the other hand. Was Aleko Vafiadis using this garden for commercial purposes? It was too early to decide, there had to be another proof. While continuing our research, we came across an advertisement in the Ulus Newspaper dated February 27, 1949. In this ad it was written:
Advertisement on Ulus Newspaper, 27 February 1949
''G.H.KOCH Flower and Sapling Garden Ortaköy, Ambarlıdere. Good News for Garden Enthusiasts: In our garden, there are beautiful fir pines of all sizes, living room greens, ball acacias, ornamental saplings, evergreen roses, magnolias, many kinds of fruit trees, etc. You can find it in our garden for every day. Our catalog can also be requested by phone.
This ad was different in text from the first one we found, and there was a very important clue in this ad. Phone number in the ad: 23377. This phone number, which has never been erased from our memories, was the phone number of the Dinos Chair Atelier in Küçük Yeni Han, the main workplace of the Vafiadis family. The puzzle was solved. So the family was also selling the flowers and saplings they grew in this garden and used the Dinos Chair Atelier as the office of this garden. It turns out that Aleko Vafiadis was also interested in this business.
Advertisements of Dinos Chair Atelier with phone no. 23377
It was normal for Stavros Vafiadis not to remember his father doing this job. Because the Vafiadis family sold this garden towards the end of the 1960s. Stavros was eight or nine years old at that time. All Stavros remembered was that from time to time, soil from this garden was sold to florists in Eminönü. However, in the light of this data, we came to the following fact: Hurmuzios Vafiadis most likely bought this garden considering the commercial power of the G.H. KOCH name and used it for commercial purposes. So why was this garden sold?
Towards 1967, news of the construction of a bridge connecting the European Side to the Anatolian Side began to be heard by the people in Ortaköy. The place where the bridge will be built was curious. Over time, the location of the bridge tower on the European Side began to become clear. But this worried the Vafiadis family. Because most likely the future space of this tower also included Koch's Garden. In such a case, the garden would be expropriated.
This being the case, Aleko Vafiadis decided to sell this place, noting the situation of the garden. The process did not take long and the garden was sold immediately. We don't know who the buyer was, but he certainly did better research than Aleko. Because the bridge's tower was not located in this garden, but somewhere nearby, and the garden was not expropriated.
This is how the story of the German Koch's Garden, which was told like a fairy tale in the family with the story of gorillas, horses and the blind bear, ended for the Vafiadis family. Today, there is a huge, luxurious site in the place of this garden. But every time we cross the bridge that made the family sell this garden, we look at the location of the garden and the memories are told again and again…
Written by: 2mi3, October 2023
2- Yıldız Sarayı Bahçeleri Peyzaj Tasarım Ilkeleri, İstanbul - Paris Göker, 2018
3- Batılılasmıs Oryantal Türk Peyzajı: Istanbul'un Bahçeleri - Ebru Erbaş Güler, 2011