German President Brings Döner Kebab to Turkey, Sparking Mixed Reactions

German President's Turkey visit sparks debate over cultural representation of Turkish-Germans, highlighting the evolving identity and contributions of the community.

Wojciech Zylm
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German President Brings Döner Kebab to Turkey, Sparking Mixed Reactions

German President Brings Döner Kebab to Turkey, Sparking Mixed Reactions

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's recent visit to Turkey took an unexpected turn when he brought a 60-kilogram döner kebab skewer and a Berlin kebab shop owner, Arif Keles, as part of his delegation. The gesture, intended to showcase the fusion of cultures and the contributions of Turkish migrants to Germany, sparked mixed reactions from the Turkish-German community.

During his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul, Steinmeier presented the massive döner kebab as a symbol of the cultural connections between Germany and Turkey. The two leaders joked about whether the döner was consumed in Istanbul, with Erdoğan reportedly serving kebabs during the lunch hosted for Steinmeier.

However, many Turkish-Germans found Steinmeier's gesture stereotypical and oversimplified. Prominent members of the community argued that highlighting the achievements of accomplished individuals of Turkish descent, such as the BioNTech founders or an Oscar-nominated film director, would have been more meaningful than focusing on a döner kebab maker.

Critics saw the move as an antiquated representation of the Turkish-German community, failing to treat them as equals. "Steinmeier could have highlighted more accomplished members of the community instead of a döner kebab maker," said one Turkish-German activist. Despite the controversy, Arif Keleş, the third-generation snack shop owner included in Steinmeier's delegation, expressed pride in being taken "to the home of my ancestors."

Why this matters: The incident underscores the complex dynamics of cultural representation and the evolving identity of the Turkish-German diaspora. As the community continues to make significant contributions across various fields, the debate surrounding appropriate recognition and portrayal of their achievements has come to the forefront.

The visit, which aimed to commemorate the centennial of diplomatic ties between Germany and Turkey, also addressed a range of bilateral issues, including trade, defense cooperation, and regional matters such as the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. Erdoğan reiterated Turkey's request for the removal of restrictions on defense industry sales from Germany and expressed concerns about the rise of xenophobic, Islamophobic, and far-right organizations in Germany and Europe.

Steinmeier dismissed the notion that the 'kebab diplomacy' was a sign of superficial relations between Germany and Turkey, instead attributing it to the superficiality of the debate surrounding his visit. The German president's delegation included families of guest workers, businessmen, and politicians of Turkish descent, highlighting the diversity of the Turkish-German community.

Key Takeaways

  • German President Steinmeier brought a 60kg döner kebab to Turkey to showcase cultural ties.
  • The gesture sparked mixed reactions from the Turkish-German community, seen as stereotypical.
  • Steinmeier's delegation included accomplished Turkish-Germans, highlighting the community's diversity.
  • The visit addressed bilateral issues like defense cooperation and concerns over xenophobia in Germany.
  • Steinmeier dismissed the 'kebab diplomacy' as a superficial debate, emphasizing the substance of the visit.