• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

From Berlin to the world - the doner kebab

Fred Searle · 31 Oct 2013, 13:02

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Analysis
How Merkel reacts to crises better than other leaders
Photo: DPA

It is of critical importance for a country how a leader chooses to react to an act of terrorism. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cool head sets an example for the rest of the country.

Turkey demands Germany extradite Gülen supporters
Fethullah Gülen. Photo: DPA

Ankara called on Germany on Thursday to extradite supporters of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of plotting a failed coup earlier this month.

German police raid 'hotbed of radicalization'
Police entering one of the residences. Photo: DPA

A mosque and eight residences were searched.

Germany boasts Europe's best value beaches
This beach just got named Europe's cheapest. Do you know where it is? Photo: DPA

Forget Mallorca or the Costa del Sol - the best beach bargains can be found in Germany. But where?

After rampages, Merkel says again: Wir schaffen das
Photo: DPA

Speaking for the first time after a Syrian refugee blew himself up in southern Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed her commitment to helping refugees on Thursday.

The Local List
Germany's five most mind-boggling conspiracy theories
What's the point of this mysterious tower at Tempelhof Airport? Photo: DPA.

Think that wacky paranoid types only exist in the USA? Here’s a few crazy German conspiracies to prove you wrong.

Munich shooting
Gunman's friend arrested for 'planning school attack'
File photo: DPA

Police found chemicals and instructions for making explosives, as well as evacuation plans of his school in the youth's possession.

Bremen mall evacuated due to escaped psychiatric patient
Police outside the mall. Photo: DPA

The man had reportedly made worrying statements relating to Isis and last week's shooting in Munich.

German ambassador to Turkey left out in cold
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: DPA

The Turkish government has been giving German ambassador Martin Erdmann the cold shoulder for weeks, after German parliamentarians passed a bill recognizing the Armenian genocide.

Ansbach suicide bomber was interviewed by Bulgarian TV
Photo: DPA

A Syrian who blew himself up outside a German music festival at the weekend was interviewed twice by Bulgarian television while living there in 2013, footage showed on Wednesday.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
DPA
Gallery
IN PICTURES: How Munich responded to shooting spree
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
11,042
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd