Hello, Döner Fans. Well, what a week it’s been! I am freshly returned from seven days of overindulgence in Berlin, and am feeling all the better for it. As you know, I have been to Berlin many times before. However, this time I decided to do something for the first time. One is never too old and jaded to try new things, Döner Fans! In all these years it has not escaped my attention that there is one döner shop in Berlin which is more famous than most. A fabled place, a mythical place… Its name is whispered from the breathy lips of one döner-lover to another. It has reached international acclaim, and tourists flock to its siren call, ready to be inducted into the circles of those kebab ‘connoisseurs’ who have deemed it the best döner in Berlin. As I am not one to blindly follow a trend, however, it is a place I have hitherto always avoided. And yet, with the inevitability of the daily rotation of Earth and Moon, it came to be that on Tuesday 30 August 2016, I queued up to order a kebab from none other than Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab at Mehringdamm!
I had of course heard the fearsome rumours about the queues of eager kebab-hopefuls that snaked away from Mustafa’s hallowed hut of meaty treats. And so I thought I’d delay my visit until about 3:45pm, to avoid the lunchtime rush. But when I alighted at Mehringdamm U-Bahn station, shock horror! The queue that I saw, upon scaling the steps up to street level, was every bit as formidable as I had been led to believe. Eyes bloodshot, feet shuffling, teeth clenched, fists convulsing, the line of hungry hipsters stretched out before me. Wordlessly I took my place at the back of the procession. Over the heads of the people in front of me, I could see the focal point of our attentions: there, rising above the dusty pavement, was the off-white wall of Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab, in which three men slaved tirelessly. They slathered sauce, they sliced up meat, they scooped up salad. It was like watching ballet dancers performing a well-rehearsed routine. I wondered, suddenly, if one of them was Mustafa himself. But no, impossible. Surely that great man had no need any more to dirty his hands with meat and sauces? Surely he sat in some vast office overlooking Berlin, clad in a sharp suit and smoking a fat cigar, and laughing over the rooftops of his empire? Or, perhaps, the necessities of his fame and fortune had forced him to devote his life to marketing and commerce, and had dragged him reluctantly away from his true passion: the art of making kebabs. Alas, indeed, I know not.
The anticipation was mounting as we approached the hut. It was a hot day; the sun was up. Traffic thundered by on the main road, and the dust rose. A group of three youths stood before me. Clearly one of them was an aficionado. He drooled and gibbered to his companions that this was going to be ‘der beste Döner der Welt’ – the best döner in the world. High praise indeed! But this was nothing that I had not heard before. Yes, upon revealing my profession to people in the past, I had often been asked in awed tones whether I had tried Mustafa’s on Mehringdamm. And I had always felt something of a fraud by telling them that no, I had not. ‘Oh you simply must!’ they would trill. ‘It’s the best döner in Berlin!’ Well, I was about to find out.
The immediate downside of so much fame is that you have to wait a long time to get your gratification. I stood in that queue in front of Mustafa’s hut for more than half an hour before I got to order, with the result that I was almost doubled over bursting for a p155. But by the time I was finally summoned to approach the hallowed opening, I was pleased to see that everything looked very promising inside. There was no red cabbage on display (red cabbage in a kebab is an abomination) and the salad looked fresh and classy. There were three sauces: spicy, garlic and herb. I ordered a dürüm. It did not take long to make. The efforts of their constant dance from sauce to salad to meat had evidently taken its toll on the kebab purveyors, however. They seemed weary and glazed-over as they took my order. They had been here too long, they had seen it all before. My dürüm was handed over, but without the love that one sometimes appreciates from one’s döner seller. I bought a bottle of Berliner from the nearby Späti, and leaned on one of Mustafa’s metal Stehtische to eat my meal. ‘Well, Mustafa,’ I thought to myself as I peeled back the tinfoil foliage of my dürüm, ‘you and I have had this date with one another from the beginning!’
As I’ve said before, people every bit as qualified as me have claimed that Mustafa’s is the best döner in Berlin. Döner Fans, I hope you will forgive me, for I am about to commit an act of kebab heresy in saying that I do not think that it is. No. It was a fine meal, I’ll give you that, and I would definitely place it in the top 5 of the kebab shops I’ve tried in Berlin. And yet, and yet. Was it better than Mısır Çarşısı on Kottbusser Tor? Was it better than the Gemüse Kebab at Bilakis on Schönhauser Allee? I would say, probably not. Mustafa’s dürüm was plump and juicy, and the sauces blended well with the finely-flavoured meat and the soft and succulent vegetables from which it gets its name, and the crumbled feta and squeeze of lemon juice added a special squirt of je ne sais quoi and joie de vivre. But having waited about 35 minutes for it, and paying 4,30 EUR (which is a lot in Berlin), I was not as blown away as I had expected to be. Furthermore, I did feel something of a poser as I washed it down with my Berliner Pilsner in full view of the lengthening queue. I was left slightly with the impression that the whole thing was a harmless but veritable case of the emperor’s new clothes.
And so, Döner Fans, I will leave you with the following advice: by all means go to Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab on Mehringdamm. Queue up and enjoy the thrill of the anticipation. Do it so you can say that you’ve been there, to prove that you’ve had the ‘authentic’ Berliner experience. Eat it, and enjoy, but do not expect to feel the earth move beneath you. And, perhaps most importantly, remember to take a tactical whizz first.
Service: 3/5 (fast and efficient but not friendly)
Atmosphere: 3/5 (throbbing anticipation and an equally throbbing bladder)
Price: 2/5 (pricey for Berlin)
Taste: 4/5 (very tasty)
Photographs taken by Dr. Döner