2018 Spring Conor Freeley External Programs Germany IES Abroad

Culinary Spotlight: The Döner Kebab

After the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Ottoman traders first began settling in German kingdoms, bringing with them culture, customs, and cuisine.

Almost exactly 300 years later, the federal government of West Germany formally invited the people of Turkey to immigrate to Bundesrepublik Deutschland in order to address a serious labor shortage.

In 1972, one of those Gastarbeiterin, or “guest workers”, opened up a small fast-food stall in Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten station, one of the busiest stations in former West Berlin. His idea was simple–convert traditional Turkish dish into a form portable and simple enough for those frenetic Berliners to enjoy on their commutes. And so, as legend has it, Kadir Nurman pioneered the Döner Kebab, a simple, yet incredibly complex combination of Kebab meat, vegetables, and sauce in a special, extra-portable pita bread.

I first discovered Döner during my first trip to Berlin in 2014. It was my second day in the city, and my first time out of the US. I was used to your typical array of the American culinary rainbow: Mexican, Chinese, Thai, etc. I had had Mediterranean style food before, like Gyros and Shawarama, but no amount of Gyros could have prepared me for my continually spiritual experiences with Döner.

In the midst of a hectic day covering many of the must-sees of Berlin, my teacher opted to have us stop at a Döner shop for lunch. I had never heard of such a word before. Döner? How does one even pronounce that? Is it “Donner,” like the reindeer? Or is it “Donor,” like a charitable person. Before I could figure it out, there was an indescribable combination of mess and vegetables in front of me. I took one bite, and the rest was history.

Upon return to Berlin this past January, I did not hesitate to reunite with an old friend that had been so reliable, a timeless companion that had been so incredibly good to me the last time: the Döner kebab.

To the great fortune of my taste buds (but to the great misfortune of my bank account), I immediately noticed three (!) Döner places within the immediate vicinity of my apartment.

It did not take me long to figure out my favorite. For the truly unbelievable price of €3.50, I can both fill myself up with two meals worth of food, but also absolute happiness and joy. In fact, I have even struck up an impromptu friendship with one of the workers there, who is helping me with my German as I help her with her English.

In that lies the true magic of Döner. Nothing can connect two cultures like some incredible food. If I were dictating bi-lateral trade talks between the U.S. and Germany (which I someday would love to), I would ensure that Döner was served so that things would go more smoothly.

“Döner macht schöner” or Döner makes you pretty

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