Photo by Maria Runarsdottir
Kottbusser Tor has survived May Day riots, tourist hordes and urban renewal blunders, but can it resist the feeding frenzy of the King of Kebab?
Mehmet Aygün opened Hasir, Berlin’s premier Turkish restaurant, on Adalbertstraße in 1984, then parlayed its success into an empire: a chain of Hasir eateries, from burger stands to steakhouses, and a dozen resorts ominously named Titanic. The German press portray Aygün as a secretive underworld figure, an Anatolian Vito Corleone. They point to his murky origins in Turkish poverty, his political cronies, his large family. Most damning: he purports to be the inventor of the döner kebab, Berlin’s go-to fast food. A dubious claim, but would a German-born rags-to-riches entrepreneur get the same bad rap?
Aygün’s empire stretches from greater Berlin (a luxury hotel on Gendarmenmarkt; a gourmet Italian restaurant in Charlottenburg) to Istanbul, but his heart belongs to Kotti. Besides the original Hasir Turkish grill house on Adalbertstraße, there’s a second two doors away, plus Hasir Burger across the street. That slick Italian place Paglia on the corner of Oranienstraße is also his (hasir means “straw” in Turkish, paglia the same in Italian). Meanwhile Aygün’s Moonday corporation has been snapping up properties throughout the SO36 neighbourhood, and locals complain that businesses they need – a travel agent, a copy shop – are disappearing in favour of tourist-focused fast food.
The bad blood peaked in 2012 when Aygün announced plans to expand his flagship Hasir restaurant north, displacing beloved flower shop Blumen Dilek. It was a classic David-versus- Goliath match up, little Dilek’s tulips and roses crushed under the greedy millionaire’s boot. In the end, Aygün got his way via a win-win agreement: Dilek walked away (were bought out?) from their 12-year lease and reopened their 24-hour business across Oranienstraße.
But with one victory after another, observers wonder when Aygün’s real estate feeding frenzy will end. Since McDonalds opened a branch near Schlesisches Tor in 2010 and sparked a firestorm of protest, Kreuzberg activists have worked hard to block an invasion by multinational eateries and clothing stores. They fear that Mehmet Aygün, a local boy with political connections, could break that blockade and trigger a corporate avalanche, wiping out the SO36 character once and for all. Aygün’s 2013 application to open a hostel on Oranienstraße was turned down by then-district mayor Franz Schultz, but he’ll likely try again. How long can a district that fought off Starbucks keep the Kebab King at bay?
Originally published in issue #148, April 2016.