The Döner Drama: Berlin has a lot more than that on its plate

The Döner Debate: Berlin has a lot more than that on its plate.

“Ten Euros for a Döner kebab? You must be joking!” That’s the pained cry of many Berliners, raging against rampant price inflation. Now, whilst that price is certainly not commonplace – the average is around €7 – the bill is certainly headed in that direction, having doubled since the pre-Covid era.
Here’s the bad news; it is a symptom of the wider economic drama in Berlin rather than an outlier.

Many commentators might grumble about the prices in Berlin, but, in reality, they are merely beginning to catch up with the cost of living in other capitals, having risen from a risibly low base in the noughties when you were seldom more than 100 meters’ walk from a €1,99 pizza or Döner.

Try getting a nutritious meal-on-the-go for €7 in London or New York City – good luck with that!

Nonetheless, there is no getting away from the fact that, as Berlin continues to grapple with the complexities of rising living costs, it is clear that the humble Döner kebab has become more than just a beloved dish – it has emerged as a symbol of the city’s struggle to balance culinary tradition, affordability, and social equity in a rapidly changing urban landscape.

Even Die Linke, a left-wing political party in Germany, has unofficially advocated for a brake on Döner prices, and in January 2023, there were reports that some members of Die Linke in Berlin had proposed implementing a price cap on Döner kebabs in the city.

The proposal was reportedly made in response to concerns about rising food prices and the impact on low-income individuals. Proponents argued that Döner kebabs are a staple food for many people in Berlin, particularly those with lower incomes, and that the city should take steps to ensure they remain affordable.

Independent Turkish restaurants and grab-and-go Imbisses have thrived in German cities since the onset of the post-war wave of Turkish immigration which provided an eager and dedicated workforce to help rebuild the country as it clawed its way out of the rubble of 1945.

Things largely stayed the same for almost half a century, until the new millennium. Some might argue about the Ground Zero of change, but it is undeniable that the 2006 Fifa World Cup opened the world’s eyes to a country – and especially Berlin – which had everything the visitor might want; oodles of history, great summer weather, highly accessible music and arts scenes, and an abundance of cheapness.

The budget airlines quickly got in on the act, as did the Vacation-Vultures (hello Airbnb!), and even the early-adopting Digital Nomads. In the blink of an eye, the economic balance of the city was disrupted.

Who is profiteering from Döner prices?

Well, it certainly isn’t the restaurateurs! Commercial property investors continue to bleed every last cent of value out of their assets. The agricultural sector has also galvanised itself in to a powerful and vocal political force, thereby demanding higher prices for their labour.

Add to that the cost of transport and utilities, and the fact that third-generation Turkish Germans will no longer limit their horizons to €3 an hour in the family business, and it is easy to see why that handy handful of deliciousness is not quite as affordable as might have been in the past.

Hell, a Döner is still way cheaper and arguably far more satisfying than a trip to McDo!

Is this the canary in the mine?

Critics will stress that singling out Döner kebabs for price controls could set a problematic precedent, and that addressing food affordability requires a more comprehensive approach that takes into account the broader socio-economic factors at play.

If you are looking for commentary on the cost-of-living in Berlin, look no further than working class families or the city’s student cohort; a decade of government indifference to rocketing rents and soaring daily bills has turned the inner-city boroughs in to a no-go zone for them.

The struggle is real. And it ain’t getting any easier.

While the Döner price cap proposal is probably a non-starter, it has succeeded in sparking important conversations about food justice, the role of local government in ensuring access to affordable meals, and the challenges faced by small business owners in a city which is no longer as cheap as chips.

It might be more challenging than drilling down on Döner prices, but perhaps we should be focussing on issues such as social justice, labor rights, and environmental protection, rather than specific food price controls.

Yes, but where can I get a good, cheap kebab near Die Fabrik Hotel Hostel, Berlin?

That’s an easy one. Make tracks for Café Bagdad, located at Schlesisches Tor, just a five-minute wander back up the street from our front door and opposite the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station. Whether for lunch, dinner or a late-night feast, for decades, Bagdad has thrived as one of the best Turkish restaurants in Kreuzberg, offering a variety of mouthwatering authentic dishes.

Their Dürüm Döner, (essentially a mega kebab wrap with mountains of meat and salad, and a choice of up to three sauces), will leave you with change from a tenner and still set you up for whatever the rest of the day or night might bring.

Café Bagdad

Tel: +49 30 6126962
Reservations not taken: just show up before 1am.
Schlesische Str. 2, 10997 Berlin, Germany


Images: Generously made available by Unspash & Google StreetView.