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Berlin’s street food culture is built on two delectable pillars: currywurst and doner kebab.
Hungry Berliners have plenty of other options if they want a quick bite, including yeasty pretzels, excellent Asian cuisine and a thriving food truck industry, but no foods are more beloved by hungry Berliners than vertically-roasted doners and currywurst’s bite-sized sausages with spicy sauce.
Today, these dishes are icons of the German capital’s cuisine, as German as the hard “G” in Angela Merkel, but their culinary roots are truly international. The story of these two foods is the story of the modern Deutschland melting pot itself.
Currywurst, sold from stalls on nearly early every single street corner in Berlin, is the edible incarnation of Germany’s post-World War II renewal. A simple dish of sliced pork sausage served with a ketchup-curry dipping sauce, the dish was a happy accident created by Herta Heuwer, a German woman who ran a Berlin street food stall in 1949 and was given curry powder by a visiting British soldier.
She stashed the spices in her kitchen, and one day while cooking, accidentally knocked a whole vat of pungent orange powder into a pot of ketchup. Too poor and resourceful to waste an entire pot of sauce, she instead served it as a dip for fried sausage. As they say in Germany, “Es geht um die Wurst!” (It’s all about the sausage!”)—but this time it was all about the sauce. Currywurst was born.
Meanwhile, the Doner kebab—the unofficial hangover cure of young Berlin—arrived in the city a couple of decades later. A simple sandwich of turkey or lamb roasted vertically on a rotating spit and shaved into pita bread with vegetables and yogurt sauce, it was invented in Berlin by a young Turkish immigrant, Mahmut Aygun, who came to Germany at the age of 16 as part of the country’s Turkish worker programme in the 1960s.
While working at a food stall, Aygun had the bright idea of serving traditional Turkish kebab meat in bread instead of on a plate to make it easily portable for drunken revellers. Today, the doner kebab is beloved across Europe and the Middle East, thanks in part to its winning combination of rich Middle Eastern flavour and classic German ingenuity.
You’ll have no trouble finding either of these beloved Berlin street foods. But for the best examples, consider the currywurst at Curry 61 (Oranienburger Str. 6, a quick walk from the Hotel Indigo Berlin-Alexanderplatz), Curry 36 at Mehringdamm 36 in Kreuzberg, and Konnopke’s Imbiss (Schönhauser Allee 44B) in Prenzlauer Berg.
For doner kebabs, check out the cult favourite Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap (Mehringdamm 32); the ever-authentic Tadim (Adalbertstraße 98); and the chicken kebab at Superhahn (Kantstr. 55), down the street from the Hotel Indigo Berlin-Ku’Damm.