• Germany edition
 
German of the Week
From Berlin to the world - the doner kebab
Photo: DPA. Kadir Nurman died last Thursday aged 80.

From Berlin to the world - the doner kebab

Published: 31 Oct 2013 13:02 GMT+01:00
Updated: 31 Oct 2013 13:02 GMT+01:00

In 1972 Nurman sold his first doner kebab just opposite Bahnhof Zoo in West Berlin. Ever since, the Döner has been a German fast-food favourite - popular worldwide but nowhere quite as succulent as in its birthplace.

Born in the Turkish city of Antalya in 1934 and raised in Istanbul, Nurman moved to Stuttgart in 1960 at the age of 26.

Already a trained salesman, he migrated as part of the wave of guest workers (Gastarbeiter) brought in from southern and eastern Europe to boost West Germany’s workforce. In 1966 he moved to West Berlin to work as a fitter for printing machines.

Noticing that hard-working Germans had little time to sit down and eat, he came up with a snack to eat on the go.

In Turkey it was already a tradition for royalty and the rich to eat grilled meat skewers with rice and salad, but this was served on a plate. Nurman adapted the dish and served it in bread, making it perfect take-away food.

Slicing lamb or beef from the big spinning stick and packing it into a Turkish flatbread with onions, Nurman kept things simple at first. Only later were salad, tomato and a choice of sauces added – not to forget the kebab man’s final question: “mit Scharf?” – “with spice?”

But the doner kebab has changed over the years from the original served by Nurman. “In my opinion, there are [now] too many ingredients in doner kebabs,” he told the Frankfurter Rundschau in 2011. “If the meat is good, you don’t need any tomato or spices,” he said. He was also dismissive about the use of chicken. “That isn’t a real doner,” he told the newspaper.

It was not until Nurman’s German doner was introduced that it really caught on, said Tarkan Tasumruk, chairman of the Association of Turkish Doner Producers in Europe (ATDiD). Even today it is often supposed that the modern-day doner kebab is a Turkish invention.

But this is not the case. “The doner is German,” Tasumruk told berlin.de, the official website for Germany’s capital.

The real doner father?

But Nurman’s claim to be the ‘the doner father’ has been disputed. 

Nevzat Salim, a Turk who moved to Baden-Württemburg, claims to have sold the first doner in the town of Reutlingen in 1969.

“Back then we had our first doner stand in the market square,” the 60-year-old, who operated the stall with his son, told news channel n-tv.

Berlin restaurant owner Mehmet Aygün, who, according to the Tagesspiegel was falsely pronounced dead by the German media in 2009, also lays claim to the title. He says he invented the doner in 1971 – a year before Nurman.

“Lots of people claim that,” said Ahmet Dede the husband of one of Nurman’s nieces. For him Kadir is the undisputed inventor.

A €3.5 billion industry

A spokesman from the Turkish-German Trade Association underlined the importance of Nurman’s invention for the German economy, pointing to the countless jobs it has generated – 60,000 in Germany, according to the Tagsspiegel.

The popularity of the doner is beyond question. According to website berlin.de, there are 16,000 doner stalls in Germany alone and Berlin is the ‘doner capital’ with over 1,000 shops.

In Germany 600 tonnes of doner meat is cooked every day and according to the ATDiD, doner kebabs generate an annual turnover of €3.5 billion for German producers and shop owners.

Being a universally popular snack, the doner has also proved a useful integration tool.

It has created a point of contact between Germans and Turkish-Germans and is something that both groups enjoy eating and can be proud of. The doner’s immense popularity has helped cement the Turkish influence on German society.

But the father of the doner was no millionaire. In September 2011 he was only paying rent of €395 a month for his house, according to n-tv.

“Who thought back then that the doner would get so big?” he explained to the Frankfurter Rundschau. “If I had known, I would have got a lawyer to protect it. Then I would be a millionaire,” he said.

Last Thursday the 80-year-old died of lung cancer in Havelhöhe Hospital in south-western Berlin, where he was regularly visited and cared for by his daughter Rukiye, the Tagesspiegel reported.

Nurman has been buried in the Muslim graveyard in Gatow near his home in Charlottenburg. But his doner-shaped legacy lives on.

READ MORE: New Drink 'clears breath for post-kebab kisses'

Fred Searle (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Have Your Say
Should Germany legalize cannabis?
Photo: DPA

Should Germany legalize cannabis?

A New York Times editorial on Sunday called for the US to drop its ban on marijuana, calling the strongly-worded law a "laughing stock". Should Germany follow the US states of Colorado and Washington and legalize recreational use of the drug? READ  

Cows kill German dog walker in Austria
File Photo: DPA

Cows kill German dog walker in Austria

A 45-year-old German woman died when she was attacked by a herd of 20 cows and calves on Monday afternoon on an Alpine pasture in Tyrol's Stubaital valley. READ  

Knut goes on display in Berlin museum
Knut's new home in Berlin's Natural History Museum. Photo: DPA

Knut goes on display in Berlin museum

Germany’s favourite polar bear Knut is set to pull in the crowds again - but this time from a display case. More than three years after his death, his real fur has been used to create a new Knut for a museum exhibition. READ  

And the winner of the EU single market is...
German incomes are higher thanks to the EU. Photo: DPA

And the winner of the EU single market is...

Germany and Denmark came out as the winners of the European Union's single market in a study released on Monday. Integrating economically with its neighbours has helped the German economy grow an average of €37 billion a year since 1992. READ  

Synagogue attacked, rabbi gets death threats
Police check the outside of a synagogue in Wuppertal for evidence of arson on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Synagogue attacked, rabbi gets death threats

A wave of anti-Semitism in Germany, unleashed by the Gaza crisis, shows no sign of abating. A synagogue was attacked on Tuesday morning, a rabbi received death threats and anti-Jewish comments online have increased. Attacks on mosques have also risen. READ  

UBS pays Germany €300m in tax fight
Photo: DPA

UBS pays Germany €300m in tax fight

Top Swiss bank UBS settled a long-running legal dispute with Germany on Tuesday by agreeing to pay a fine of €300 million. Germany suspects UBS of having helped account holders hide millions from the taxman. READ  

Two die as heavy rain and floods hits west
Münster was one of the areas worst hit by Monday night's heavy rain. Photo: DPA

Two die as heavy rain and floods hits west

UPDATE: A man drowned in his cellar on Monday night as heavy rain battered parts of north-western Germany. A second man died when he tried to drive through a flooded street. The emergency services were in places overwhelmed by hundreds of calls. There are further weather warnings in place for Tuesday. READ  

EU to hit Russia with tough sanctions
Merkel has finally lost patience with Putin. Photo: DPA

EU to hit Russia with tough sanctions

The EU is set to agree a raft of new wide-ranging sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, after Germany changed its stance on upping the economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis. READ  

'Mad professor' to swim length of Rhine
Professor Andreas Fath, 49, in training along the Rhine in Baden-Württemberg in June. Photo: DPA

'Mad professor' to swim length of Rhine

German chemistry professor Andreas Fath started on Monday a gruelling four-week solo swim down the Rhine river for the benefit of science and the environment. READ  

Unfair advantage for one-legged long jumper?
Markus Rehm became German champion on Saturday. Photo: DPA

Unfair advantage for one-legged long jumper?

Paralympics gold medallist Markus Rehm triumphed over his non-disabled rivals on Saturday, winning the German long jump championship. But athletics officials are now reviewing whether his prosthetic leg gave him an unfair advantage. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Education
Germany's students fail to graduate in time
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Hamburg harbour lit up in blue
Business & Money
JobTalk: 'Application process is failing'
Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825
Culture
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Photo: DPA
Society
This man wants to give all of us €12,000 a year
Photo: DPA
Education
Top university switches master's courses to English
instagram.com/gotzemario
Gallery
Germany's World Cup stars share their holiday photos
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,218
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd