Optimist's Toygar Bazarkaya on hitchhiking around Europe, scratching the art itch—and growing up Turkish in Germany
Toygar Bazarkaya is global chief creative officer at Optimist. The brand experience agency built a James Bond museum on top of an Austrian glacier and introduced new NBA uniforms to the world for Nike.
In this episode of the “Ad Block” podcast, Bazarkaya talks about hitchhiking across Europe in the ‘80s and ‘90s, thumbing rides from his home in Stuttgart, Germany. “Anytime there would be an art exhibit somewhere in Europe, I would hitchhike there—Amsterdam to see van Gogh or Zurich to see Egon Schiele or Italy to see Modigliani,” he says.
One time, he and a friend hitchhiked through what was then Yugoslavia, skirting the Iron Curtain, on a two-and-a-half-day trip to Turkey, where his parents are both originally from. “I was traveling like that for almost 10 years, starting when I was 18,” he says.
Barzarkaya sees a connection between his wanderlust and growing up the child of Turkish immigrants in Germany. “When your name is ‘Toygar,’ you always feel that you’re not German,” he says. But visiting relatives in Istanbul felt just as much like home as Stuttgart. “There is a certain sense that home can be in different places—it’s not impossible,” he says. “Anytime I moved, I never feared and never was worried. I was actually more excited.”
Unlike in the U.S., hitchhiking is more socially acceptable in Europe, and Bazarkaya only recalls one close call, when a woman dropped him off early because her friends had planned something unpleasant for him, though he never found out exactly what that would have been. “I would not do it again,” he insists. “It was a different time. You think, ‘Oh my god, what could have happened?’”
Bazarkaya also talks about the excitement of finally owning the work of artists he’s admired for decades, the legendary exploits of Peggy Guggenheim and a diet he swears by that he says lets him lose weight and still indulge his sweet tooth.