Identity Crisis at the Döner Stand

Dönermann

The trusty Dönermann

On a cold November evening in the neighborhood of Schöneberg in Berlin, a friend and I decided to take part in one of the most sacred of Berliner activities, going to the Dönermann and getting a delicious döner. This style of the Turkish, gyro-like meal is an amazing gift from food heaven and a unique staple of Berlin street foods, the Berliner art of döner differing quite a bit from what you might find in Istanbul. It was conceived in a German city, so it’s not necessarily Turkish, but at the same time, something created by a Turkish immigrant can’t quite be credited to Germany either.

I asked the man at the döner stand where he was from, and his answer tells a story similar to the food he sells: “I was born in Berlin, but my heart is in Turkey.” This is not an uncommon sentiment for second and third generation German Turks, whose families have lived in Germany since the Gastarbeiter program in the 1960s. During this time, Germany invited guest workers to support the struggling post-war economy, giving them two-year work contracts. Workers were supposed to return to their home countries after their contract was up, but many of them never did. Eventually Germany allowed workers to bring their families with them and stay indefinitely.

berlin-neukoelln-karl marx str

Karl-Marx-Straße, a glimpse into the Turkish community in Neukölln.

Since the 1960s, Turkish immigration has created a minority community that thrives in Germany’s urban areas, and in Berlin, the neighborhood of Neukölln is known as the Turkish district of the city. I had the opportunity to live off Karl-Marx Straße in Neukölln, an area where nearly every business is owned by Turkish Germans or German Turks, depending on who you ask. This array includes businesses dealing everything from exotic spices, candied fruits, and baklava to Islamic apparel, cheap flights to Istanbul, and haircuts, and business seems to be booming. This area can have the feeling of stepping into another city, as this bit of graffiti playfully suggests (below).

Neukölln Urlaub

“I’m not going on vacation, I have Neukölln!”

 

While there is much to be said about the extent to which the Turkish community has assimilated and/or integrated into German culture, in this post I merely wanted to present a glimpse of the Turkish Berliner community, even if it is just the tip of the iceberg. So, as two Turkish children speak German on the S-bahn while a German boy eats a döner and listens to Turkish rap coming straight out of Kreuzberg, I think it’s safe to say that both of these cultures have made a few lasting effects on the other.

German Turkish

5 thoughts on “Identity Crisis at the Döner Stand

  1. Jeremy: Mustafa’s “Gemüse Kebap,” (http://www.mustafas.de/) is the most famous döner in Berlin, with wait times up to 2 hours, but a lot of Berliners have their personal favorite spot. It is not really disputed about where in Germany has the best döner, though. I don’t know if it’s the choice between any combination of the three sauces (garlic, spicy, or herb), or the vegetables, or the consistent quality of the bread, but everyone knows they just do it better in Berlin. In my opinion, there’s döner you get anywhere in Germany (decent, avg. cost: €3.50-4), then above that is cheap Berliner döner (€1.50-3), good Berliner döner (€3.50-4), and then Mustafa’s and the place in my old neighborhood, Balli. I could be called a döner snob, but I think the nature of döner doesn’t really allow for too much pretention. In the end, it’s cheap, greasy, street food, but it’s so damn good.

  2. I’ve wanted to try a Döner ever since I started studying German. Is the Berliner Döner anything like the Philly cheesesteak, where every Berliner claims their Döner to be the best? Or can I find similar tastes elsewhere in Germany?

  3. Neukölln literally means “New Cologne,” as in the city in Germany. I’m not sure why this district is named that, but it’s meaning doesn’t have any connection to the fact that many Turkish people live there. In the recent past, Kreuzberg was most commonly perceived as the Turkish district, but as Kreuzberg has become more gentrified over the past decade, many family’s have been forced to move south to Neukölln where rents remain cheap (my rent was 200 euros/month!). Turks do, however, live in just about every district of Berlin and make up 8.5% of Berlin’s population.

  4. This is a very interesting topic. I think it’s interesting what happens when different cultures combine. I had a question what does Neukölln mean?

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