Döner Kebab and Spezi: Multiculturalism in Germany

Jay Malone is the founder of Eight Hours and Change. In today's post, he takes a look at Germany's immigrant culture through the lens of a recent trip to Bavaria.

During our college visit to Bavaria in winter 2015, we ran behind schedule a bit on our tour of Regensburg. I didn't want to miss our appointment at the university, so I cancelled our lunch reservations and instead took the kids over to a local Dönerladen after a quick Google search for the best fast food in town. When we sat down to eat, we noticed that we hadn't gotten any drinks, so I got up and grabbed us a few Spezis from the cooler. "You know, guys," I said before we dug in, "this is probably the most typical German meal that we've had during our trip so far".

Grant and Emery on the 2015 Bavaria College Visit in Regensburg. Photo: Jay Malone

Grant and Emery on the 2015 Bavaria College Visit in Regensburg.

Photo: Jay Malone

Today, there are more than 17,000 Dönerladen across Germany today, more than any other fast food chain. For comparison, there are only around 14,000 McDonalds franchises in America. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, this kind of widespread popularity was unimaginable for the nascent Turkish restaurant industry, which was initially rejected by the German population. In order to make the traditional Turkish Döner Kebab more palatable to German tastes, a few enterprising restauranteurs tried out a new offering combining the meat of the Kebab with salad and tzatziki in a flatbread pocket. This was a widely successful effort, even if all they really did was make a sandwich. 

Spezi is a similarly unique German mashup. The Riegele Brewery in Augsburg started selling the mixture of orange soda and cola in 1950s and the simple concoction was an instant hit. It was later overtaken in the 1970s when Coca-Cola entered into a partnership (and later purchased) German brand Fanta and began bottling their own mixture called Mezzo-Mix. Pepsi further watered down the competition with their own version called Schwip Schwap. Today, Germany, Austria and Switzerland make up almost 100% of the worldwide market for Spezi mixes (a name that has since become a generic term for all sodas combining cola and orange soda). Despite efforts to find an export market, Spezi remains a uniquely German taste that just doesn't translate across borders well. This is something that you'll find is true of nearly every country in the world.

What's amazing is how impactful mashups like these have been. There was a time, many years ago, when both Döner Kebab and Spezi would have been as foreign to the average German as Zungenwurst or Speck to an American. Yet today, they're as German as Apfelstrudel