Success Stories: Turkish Employers in Germany


 AUG 27, 2022 – DAILY SABAH

General view of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany. (Shutterstock Photo)

General view of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany. (Shutterstock Photo)

There are some members of the Turkish diaspora in Germany who were able to successfully establish themselves thanks to their entrepreneurial skills


(Shutterstock Photo)

Transformation in air quality management


Migration, immigrant, refugee, foreigner, minority … We have heard these words more and more in recent years. The reality of migration is one of the premier issues on the global agenda. Some see it as cultural richness, while others see it as a threat. Regardless of how people view the issue, it does not change the pace at which migration occurs.

I am one of the millions of people born and raised far away from their motherland. I know the pros and cons of being a minority very well. Recently I flew to Berlin, the capital of Germany, which is the country that first comes to mind when talking about Türkiye and migration since the 1970s. I wanted to meet, observe and chat with people who established roots in the lands where they were fed rather than the lands in which they were born and who also had hopes of finding jobs for other people.

A familiar city

So I’m in Berlin … According to official figures, 220,000 Turks live here. Whether it’s the security guard at the airport, the cashier at a shop, or the guy taking orders, you can come across a Turkish person anywhere at any time. Simply put, it’s a city that does not make you feel like a foreigner. Of course, it is out of the question to come to Berlin and not eat döner. I visited Remzi Kaplan, who is known as the “döner king,” not just by Turks but by Germans as well.

Kaplan is the son of guest workers who immigrated to Germany in the 1970s. The family’s goal was to save money for a car and return to the homeland, but their plans were disrupted, and as it turned out, the journey the family set out on became a one-way trip. Now they are raising the fourth generation in this country. The son of a retired mother who worked in a canning factory is now an important employer. Around 320 people are employed by companies affiliated with the Kaplan group, 90% of which are Turkish.

85,000 Turkish employers

Kaplan’s figures are impressive: Currently, the number of Turkish employers in Germany stands at over 85,000. They employ 700,000 people and bring in total revenue of 50 billion euros ($50.03 billion). It’s not just because he is an employer that Kaplan quickly recites the figures; he is also a founding member of the Turkish-German Employers Association and has been its president for six terms. “Both countries are very important to us, in terms of trade and in friendship,” Kaplan said.

Slice döner for Merkel

The former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel slicing döner at a summer festival, Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2016. (AA Photo)
The former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel slicing döner at a summer festival, Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2016. (AA Photo)

Both countries are important to them as they see both countries as their own. The evidence is out there: Kaplan is visited by both Turkish delegations and German politicians on the campaign trail. For example, there is a humorous, long-standing dialogue between Kaplan and the former Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. I cannot help but smile as he recalls his memories: “Merkel visited my restaurant when she was running to be the Chancellor of Germany. I gave her a döner knife and she went behind the counter and sliced the döner kebab. I said, ‘Ms. Merkel, if you lose the election, you will have a job waiting for you here.”

“We have met a total of 10-12 times. We attended fairs and went to the palace. She always told me, ‘I am not going to work for you, I am going to retire.’ In addition to that, I also met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at various fairs. Delegations from Türkiye, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Cabinet ministers. They all tasted the döner we prepared. Yes, we are not official diplomats, but we are Türkiye’s ambassadors. We represent Türkiye as a diaspora here,” Kaplan said.

It’s really not enough to just mention döner, it has been years since the fame of this flavor surpassed Türkiye and found its way to Japan, Italy, Dubai, England and Finland. There are döner shops all over the world. There are over 400 döner factories in Germany alone and 15,000 kiosks. I know German discipline and the strict laws of Germany very well. Laws and their enforcement are strict, especially if it concerns areas directly affecting human health, such as food.

King of supermarkets

Remzi Kaplan departs, and I wonder aloud where the streets in Berlin will take me next. The abundance of kiosks and markets with Turkish signs attracts my attention. I know that when it comes to supermarkets, Turks here are in close competition with German entrepreneurs. Celal İrgi is among those who have left their competitors behind in this race. He is the owner of the AC Euro Gıda GmbH supermarket chain. Yet another Turkish king in Berlin!

Irgi is originally from Kars-Sarıkamış in Eastern Türkiye. His Berlin adventure is a mix of ups and downs. He came here not as the child of a guest worker family but as a student; however, he could not finish his education as he had to work. The business he started with a friend as a partner lasted for eight years and he returned to Türkiye. He stayed there between 1995-2000 and then returned to Germany. The foundations of the supermarket chain he owns were laid in 2000. What followed was steady growth step by step.

Though he initially only planned to open 2-3 supermarkets, he continued ahead with the support of his friends. Four to five friends who told İrgi they wanted to work with him joined forces and said that they should grow as much as they could. Today, the number of their markets has reached 14. He has partners and friends he trusts, but İrgi himself is always at work.

Too many choices

It is a mistake to think of the Turkish supermarkets here as places where only products from Türkiye are sold. The aisles are like the United Nations! There are products from all over the world, including goods from China, the Middle East and Türkiye. As a result, the target customer base is as wide as possible. Germans also have great interest in these markets. It is more desirable for them to see and touch the fruits and vegetables that were sold in ready-made packages in the past. About 50% of the customer base is German.

King of roads

I always have thought of Berlin as a city that everyone can love. Whether it is orderliness, entertainment or green space, it’s all there. Though it is a green city, the massive buildings and razor-like roads transcend time. This is a place where the infrastructure problem was solved years ago and everything works like clockwork. The main arteries of the city display the touches of Turkish hands, and it is impossible to know this and not be proud.

Let me explain what I am talking about right away. Turkish companies are among the leaders in infrastructure business in many cities in Germany, especially Berlin. One of those leaders is Mehmet Ali Han. Here he is known as the “king of roads.” He has an interesting story as well. Han’s father wanted him to study in Türkiye, so he left him there with his grandmother before leaving for work in Germany. But there is no escaping fate. Following Türkiye’s 1980 military coup, Mehmet Ali Han made his way to Germany. He was a fourth-year dropout from a religious high school in Türkiye. When he came to Germany at the age of 16, he enrolled in a vocational school. The actual profession of today’s construction giant is leveling.

A stolen truck?

After working in factories for 10 years, he decided that was enough and started preparing for a permanent return in 1992. But like I said, there is no escaping fate. While trying to help his brother, this time, he found himself in the heart of the construction industry. One day, the company that employed his brother told him “buy a truck, and come do subcontracting for us.” He stayed rather than returning to Türkiye and bought the truck. Some people even asked if he stole it! Roads, sewage system projects, construction… The spectrum is wide but still continues to expand. They are constantly involved in projects outside of construction, and real estate is among them. They buy and rent out big spaces and earn a serious income from this business.

Entrepreneurship achieves success.


Op-Ed contributor based in Istanbul


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