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22 May 2006
BERLIN - Fast-food outlets selling doner kebabs were introduced to Berlin by the city's many Turks. The Turkish specialties are still made today at the original location according to a recipe that hasn't changed.
Saim Aygun is proud of a newspaper clipping that hangs on the wall in his Turkish restaurant Hasir in Berlin's Kreuzberg. The headline reads, "Doner swallows currywurst" in big letters.
The Turkish specialty of meat cut from a vertical spit piled onto pita bread is an invention of Saim's brother Mehmet, according to the legend of how the first doner kebabs came into being. They have him to thank for the doner surpassing even the oldest of Berlin's fast food outlets, which sell the spicy sausage known as currywurst.
When young Mehmet opened his first Hasir restaurant in Kreuzberg in 1971, he had a simple, revolutionary idea.
"Instead of serving the meat on a plate as before, he packed it along with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and sauce - hot or with garlic - together in a warm pita bread," Saim remembers. The doner was born and it soon swept across Germany.
Today Saim and his brother Huseyin are managers of Mehmet's five Berlin restaurants. The idea of putting the meat and salad on the pita bread was not entirely original. A club-shaped piece of meat cut by hand from a vertically turning spit goes back more than 100 years in Turkey.
The new aspect was selling it as fast food, initially to the many Turkish guest workers who lived in Berlin near Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg and later Germans who lived in the area. Ultimately, waves of tourists made the Turkish fast food popular even among people who lived beyond the walled-in city of West Berlin.
"The doner kebab brought the two cultures together like almost nothing else," says Saim. "Aside from that, with a doner kebab you got an entire meal for just a little money."
There was one thing the brothers didn't think of. They failed to have their creation legally protected, and it was copied at lightning speed by numerous other restaurants and fast-food outlets. Berlin's industry and commerce bureau estimates there are more than 1,500 doner sellers in Berlin alone.
"It's too late now, of course," said the 45-year-old. "It would be pointless anyway because the other doner kebab sellers probably would have offered the specialty under a different name."
The Ayguns, meanwhile, have held firmly to their basic idea and have not changed the recipe for 35 years. The restaurants belonging to the doner pioneers, who come from a small Turkish city on the Black Sea, have survived various shocks. The mad cow (BSE - bovine spongiform encephalopathy) scare that resulted in a decline in the amount of meat eaten, for example, and the fact that there are more doner outlets in Berlin than in Istanbul. The intense competition and price wars don't cause the Ayguns any anxiety.
"Unlike many other fast food chains, we maintain quality," Saim says. "At our restaurant everything is fresh: the meat, the lettuce, the sauce." He laughs over the quality of cheaper doner kebabs. "They consist more of sinews than meat."
Aygun says he swears by the Hasir doner and eats one almost every day. A large television screen in his office broadcasts subscription Turkish TV that carries live football games from his homeland. That reminds him that the Turkish national team didn't qualify this year for the World Cup in Germany, and he won't get to see them play in Berlin. But he doesn't seem to be really disappointed.
"I'm for Germany anyway," he said, biting eagerly into a doner with garlic sauce.
Subject: German news
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