Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Berlin without its abundance of Middle Eastern eateries and shops. But someone, namely Adib Harb, had to blaze that trail…
When Adib Harb opened his Lebanese delicatessen on the busy Potsdamer Strasse back in 1984, most Berliners had never even heard of hummus and grape leaves, tahini, or tabbouleh. “We were Germany’s first Lebanese delicatessen,” says Adib Harb. “And we have made a massive contribution when it comes to educating the public about Lebanese cuisine.”
For practical reasons, most of the products were sold unpackaged because spices, dried fruits, and legumes were delivered in large sacks. Without knowing it, Adib Harb was ahead of his time as far back as the 1980s. “We had to build a lot ourselves – the containers for the products and even the scoops,” explains Adib Harb, folding his hands and leaning back into a large executive chair situated at the back of the shop.
When he starts talking about Lebanon – swimming in the sea down at the coast and skiing up in the mountains – those hands come alive in expressive gesticulation. And then there is the wine. “Lebanon is home to the world’s oldest vineyards,” says Adib Harb.
When Adib Harb first arrived in West Berlin in 1967, he had a good feeling about the place. He liked the expansive city, even if it lacked in international character at the time. He studied economics and worked at trade fairs, and he frequently flew home to Beirut. Initially, Adib Harb planned to get into the business of importing fresh bulk goods from Lebanon. But as word began to spread about his business, more and more people began to request smaller quantities of specialty products.
When Adib Harb finally opened his shop, it fast became an institution, particularly within the Lebanese community. “We didn’t have that in Berlin before. Back then people used to say, ‘Let’s meet up at Harb’s,’” he says with pride. Today he is taking a less active role in the business. His children have taken over the day-to-day operations of selling pistachios and spices, chess boards, earthenware, and handicrafts.
But Adib Harb can’t pull himself away entirely; in fact, he is at the shop himself most days. “This is my home,” he says.
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
HARB – Lebanese specialities and gifts
Potsdamer Str. 93 10785 Berlin-Tiergarten
Mon–Fri 9.30am–7pm Sat 9.30am–4pm