With more than 2 million Döner Kebabs sold in Berlin per week, the Döner is by far the most popular snack in der Hauptstadt. Imagine being the one who invented the popular Dings. But who can we credit as the inventor of the Döner?
The answer to that question is almost as long as the list of Döner restaurants in Berlin (1000+ red.), but we try to keep it a bit shorter here. To trail the history it is worth going back to the old Ottoman empire, year 1836. Helmuth von Moltke, a Prussian general stationed in current day Turkey gives the first description in German of a Döner Kebab "ein sehr gutes, schmackhaftes Gericht." Should we date the birth of the Döner Kebab to 1836? No. and yes.
The Döner is propably older
There aren't many sources describing the döner from before 1836. The word Kebab means skewer, it refers to meat grilled on a skewer and can be traced more than 200 years back. For hundred of years the skewer was placed horizontally over the grill but around 1830's the Turkish master chef Hamdi from Kastamonu in northern Turkey got the idea of placing the skewer vertically and the first step towards the modern Döner Kebab was taken. If general von Moltke indeed had his vertical kebab in 1836, he was a pioneer in terms of the Döner Kebab.
But the döner we know today was invented in Berlin, right?
Here also, opinions differ. It is well known that Kadir Nurman (1933-2013) has been honoured as the inventor of the döner by the Verein Türkischer Dönerhersteller. According to Nurman, he sold the first döner in 1972 at Bahnhof Zoo train station. But also Nevzat Salim, living in the small town of Reutlingen in southern Germany, claims to be the original döner farther. He even has a Facebook fan page with original newspaper clippings to support his argument.
In spite of the good arguments from both sides we might need to go a little further back to find the first Döner Kebab served in a bread as a street snack. Istanbul in the 1950's, a fast growing town, far from the metropolis we know today, became the goal for many young Turks looking for work. It was here that street vendors first came up with the idea of selling the grilled meat in a bread to go instead of serving it on a plate in a restaurant. Besides meat it consisted of some raw onion and maybe a pickle, simplistic and based around good quality meat.
Then why is the Döner a Berlin thing?
The success of the Döner Kebab in Berlin might come from the fact that when the Döner was introduced in Berlin, the snack evolved. Besides meat and onions, tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage and the sauces that have become so known today were added. In this way the Turkish snack was adapted to a German palate making it a prime example of the integration of Turkish and German culture. This story of a successful partnership of Turkish and German food traditions might be a huge part in explaining, why the Döner has become such a symbol of the modern, multicultural Berlin we know today.
Sources: Aufgespießt - wie der Döner über die Deutschen kam, von Eberhard Seidel. Wo gibt es den besten Döner? Per Meurling in dem Tagesspiegel.