German President's Döner Kebab Gift to Turkish Counterpart Sparks Controversy

German President's gift of a 60kg döner kebab to Erdoğan sparks mixed reactions, highlighting challenges in representing diverse migrant contributions and the need for more nuanced cultural diplomacy.

Wojciech Zylm
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German President's Döner Kebab Gift to Turkish Counterpart Sparks Controversy

German President's Döner Kebab Gift to Turkish Counterpart Sparks Controversy

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's recent visit to Turkey took an unexpected turn when he presented Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with a 60 kg döner kebab from Berlin. The gesture, intended to showcase the cultural fusion and contributions of Turkish migrants to Germany, was met with mixed reactions from the Turkish-German community.

Steinmeier, accompanied by Berlin kebab shop owner Arif Keleş, personally delivered the massive kebab to Erdoğan during their meeting in Istanbul. The two leaders shared laughs over the leftover döner, with Erdoğan jokingly remarking that it must have all been consumed in Istanbul. "The kebab in Istanbul was already over, as Keleş had prepared the kebab earlier at a reception," Erdoğan quipped at a joint press conference.

However, some Turkish-Germans found the gesture to be a cliched and stereotypical portrayal of their culture. Critics argued that highlighting the achievements of prominent Turkish-Germans, such as the BioNTech founders or an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, would have been more meaningful. "This gesture reduced their contributions to an offensive cliche," said one prominent member of the Turkish diaspora in Germany.

The döner kebab, introduced to Germany by Turkish migrants, has become a staple of German cuisine, generating an estimated €7 billion in annual sales. Its presence is seen as a testament to the country's multiculturalism. However, Steinmeier's decision to spotlight a third-generation snack shop owner was viewed by some as failing to treat the descendants of the 1960s 'guest worker' program as equals.

Why this matters: The controversy surrounding Steinmeier's döner kebab diplomacy highlights the ongoing challenges in representing and acknowledging the diverse contributions of migrant communities. It underscores the need for more nuanced and respectful ways of celebrating cultural fusion and the accomplishments of individuals from immigrant backgrounds.

The row risked overshadowing the celebration of 100 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Turkey, which have been strained by various disputes in recent years. Steinmeier stressed the importance of freedom of press and the rule of law for progress in Turkey-EU relations, while Erdoğan reiterated Turkey's request for the removal of restrictions on its defense industry. Despite the tensions, the official meal also included other dishes like fried zucchini flowers with goat cheese and veal fillet with mushroom sauce, catering to non-kebab fans as well.

Key Takeaways

  • German President gifted 60kg döner kebab to Turkish President Erdoğan.
  • Gesture aimed to showcase Turkish-German cultural fusion, but received mixed reactions.
  • Some criticized it as a stereotypical portrayal, suggesting highlighting achievements would be better.
  • Döner kebab is a staple of German cuisine, but the gesture was seen as failing to treat Turkish-Germans as equals.
  • The controversy highlights the need for more nuanced ways to celebrate migrant communities' contributions.