‘Dönerflation’: Outcry in Germany over rising cost of döner kebab

The price of döner kebabs has increased rapidly in the past few years since the pandemic. It’s a favorite food introduced by Turkish guest workers in the 1970s. The Left Party has proposed to cap the price at $5.30 before the kebabs become a luxury item. 

The World
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The cost of living is a huge issue in Germany right now, but one thing that’s pushing people over the edge — on social media, that is — is a popular street food: the döner kebab.

Döner has long been cherished in the country as a quick, cheap meal on the go. It’s sort of like a Turkish German sandwich, with seasoned meat (shaved off a vertical rotisserie) that is stuffed into a flatbread pocket along with vegetables and generous spoonfuls of spicy, creamy and garlicky sauces.

The price, however, has nearly doubled in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, and the phenomenon has even earned a nickname: “Dönerflation.” According to the food delivery service Lieferando, the average price of döner in 2024 ranges upward of $7 in major German cities, with the highest mean cost in Munich at $9.19. 

“It’s very remarkable that I’m asked everywhere, mainly by young people, whether there shouldn’t be a price cap on döner,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a post on the social media app Instagram in March

Customer Matthias Feldmeier, 35, enjoys a bite of chicken döner outside the Rollo Kebap & Burgerhaus in Munich, Germany, May 9, 2024. Feldmeier recalls buying a döner for under $3 when he was growing up.Joshua Coe/The World

While Scholz said a price cap was not the way, Die Linke or “The Left” — the furthest-left party with seats in the German parliament — has proposed a government subsidy to reduce the cost to about $5.30 for a standard döner. 

“The doner kebab has turned from a cheap hangover cure to a luxury item, and the young people can’t afford it anymore,” said Die Linke’s youth policy spokeswoman Kathrin Gebel.

Some takeaway shops in Munich indeed offer high-end döner, with one of the most expensive being the “From Istanbul to Tokyo” premium döner at Hans Kebab downtown with wagyu chuck short rib as the meat and costing a whopping $50. 

But it’s still possible to find a more affordable kebab in the city.

Rollo Kebap & Burgerhaus, located outside of Munich’s historic city center on the southeast bank of the River Isar, offers a chicken döner in a fresh bread pocket for about $6.50. 

Owner Hasan Taskan said business was tough during the pandemic, “but thank God, we have good customers and good quality.” 

He said that he prides himself on the quality of the ingredients he uses, including the bread, which is served hot from the oven.

“Everything’s become more expensive,” Taskan said in German as he flattened out dough with a rolling pin. “The electricity is becoming more expensive, and the drinks. The food — meat and the vegetables — all that we purchase has gotten more expensive by almost 20[%], 30%.”

“At the moment, we’re not as expensive as others, but we also need to make decisions.”

Economist Simon Jäger at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that while goods started to become more expensive in Germany during the pandemic, prices only rose further after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Germany, previously reliant on Russian gas, struggled to find an affordable alternative when the energy supply ceased to flow following the war in Ukraine, which had a big economic impact.

“As a consequence, energy prices in Germany completely skyrocketed  and that led to a large bout of inflation and also depressed economic growth, in particular, in the energy intensive sectors,” Jäger explained. “Inflation was very high for a period of about two years, and wages did not keep up. So, German workers saw the largest drop in their purchasing power in the last 70 years as the value of their … nominal wage earnings, which essentially got eroded by inflation, did not increase.”

And that meant other prices went up too, including the cost of services and food such as döner. But opinions are mixed among those who eat döner on whether a government response is necessary.  

“I think there’s a lot of issues in Germany that could also use price caps, for example, the housing market, rent, property,” said Maik Solbrig, who had a $7.50 veal döner outside Rollo Kebap & Burgerhaus.

Indeed, Munich is infamous for its housing crisis, boasting some of the most-expensive rent prices in the country.

“So, the idea is the right one,” Solbrig said. “Transferred to other areas of life, we could quickly make progress in Europe or Germany.”

On the other hand, customer Jürgen Kaps who finished a döner lunch with friends outside the kebab shop, called the idea of a price cap on the street food “hilarious.”

“That’s cheap populism, I’m sorry,” Kaps said. “How do you come up with this? Like, let’s keep beer and döner cheap, like ‘bread and games.’” 

He was referencing an ancient Roman phrase used today to decry political policies meant to appease the masses and distract from other issues. 

While Die Linke’s Gebel said she can understand why some might find a price cap on döner ridiculous, she’s happy to see the proposal spark conversation about the cost of food in the country.

“Our goal is, of course, to not only make the döner kebab cheaper, but all the other basic food items as well,” said the 27-year-old Gebel. “So, for me, a döner kebab is a basic food item. For other people, it might not be, which is why we need a price cap for basic food items in the four largest supermarket chains, and this basic food item price cap should not exceed … the food budget given to people dependent on social security benefits.”

As for the cost of döner going down, MIT economist Jäger is not convinced. 

“What I think we might see is inflation stop, so the rate at which prices increase, that might go down and price increases might stop,” he said. “That prices will go down from here would be rather surprising to me.”

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