Döner for Beginners

You might assume that the Döner Kebab was invented in Turkey but according to Tarrkan Tasumruk, chairman of the Association of Turkish Doner Manufacturers in Europe ATDiD, the Döner was actually invented in Germany. There are a few who say that they came up with the idea. Nevzat Salim claims to have invented the Döner in 1969 a town of Reutlingen, Mehmet Aygün says he opened the first-ever Döner stand in 1971, but the most solid claim belong to Kadir Nurman who opened a Döner stand in Berlin next to Zoo station in 1972. While there are other possible “doner inventors,” Mr. Nurman’s contribution was recognized by the ATDiD in 2011.

In Germany, the Döner Kabab sales reach 3.5 billion euros a year, and 600 tons of Döner meat are consumed each day. Just in Berlin, there are more than 1000 Döner shops – making Berlin the Döner capital of the world.

Angela Markel eating döner

So how did this popular dish come to be?

It all began in 1961 that West Germany made a labor recruiting agreement with the Republic of Turkey, inviting Turkish workers to immigrate to Germany. When the agreement was first enacted, the ‘guest-workers’ were only given short-term contracts, to prevent the ‘guest-workers’ from settling in Germany permanently. But soon enough Germany realized that it took too much effort and money to train new workers every two years, so the ‘guest workers’ from Turkey were allowed to stay longer, and later they were even given permission to bring their families to Germany with them. Between 1961 and 1973 (when the ‘Gastarbeiter’ program ended) around 750,000 Turkish nationals arrived in West Germany to work. About half of them returned to Turkey while the other half stayed in Germany, thus changing Germany’s demographic and its food culture forever. 

Kadir Nurman was one of those who came to Germany from Turkey during those years. He moved to Germany in 1960 and in 1966 he came to Berlin to be a fitter for printing machines, but as a salesman, he immediately saw a potential by feeding the working-class people. He took inspiration from the Turkish royal cuisine, and simplified it – instead of fancy meat skewers served with rice and salad, he sliced lamb or beef from a standing spinning pole and combined it with Turkish flatbread and onions – making it the perfect to-go dish. Although this style of street food wasn’t really new and other variations already existed like the Greek gyro or the Arab Shawarma, the Döner was a completely new Turkish-German hybrid invention.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago from Israel. The thing she missed the most about Israel is her family.

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