Like most people, I would’ve never imagined that Germany has much to offer to the vegetarian & vegan community. Well, surprisingly enough, it’s one of the best places to visit for those adhering to the lifestyle. Indeed, the kingdom of sausages has been home to a polarizing shift in social conscience, with now over 7 million vegetarians and counting, which comes close to 10% of the country’s population! Not bad compared to Canada’s 4%. And the movement appears to be consistently gaining momentum.
This translates into an impressive offering of ethical products. I personally jumped into vegetarianism while I was living in Quebec, without ever fathoming that I would one day take that extra step towards veganism, but now that I’ve been living in Germany for almost a year, things are so simple that the completion of the transition happened almost all on its own. Vegan products are generally marked with a green V in cafés and restaurants. Traditional German restaurants, where the definition of a vegetable doesn’t extend beyond potatoes and cabbage, are the exception to the rule.
This applies to the city I live in, Hanover, with a population 500 000, and it’s also definitely the case in Berlin, the third most visited capital of Europe. I recently got the chance to spend a week-end there and took it upon myself to prepare this article and share some tips which, I hope, will prove useful to you who are reading this.
The Little Vegan Lexicon in Germany
I doubt this will shock anyone, but the German language is no walk in the park. Yet by learning some of the basics, particularly terms related to food and meat, you’ll find it heaps easier to read the signs and menus. Rest assured though, you should be able to get by with English without much hassle.
Hello : Hallo
Please : Bitte
You’re welcome : Bitte (that’s right, same word)
Thank you : Danke
Vegan : Vegan
Vegetables : Gemüse
Meat : Fleisch
Chicken : Hühn, Hähnchen
Porc : Schwein
Milk : Milch
Butter : Butter
Cheese : Käse
Organic : Bio
Bonus word : Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.
Ok, I’ll admit, it’s not the epitome of usefulness for daily conversation, but it’s one of my favorite German words so I felt compelled to share! :)
In Germany, most grocery stores, and even the pharmacies like Rossman and DM, include an organic section offering a nice array of vegan and vegetarian products that are clearly identified as such.
My friend cleverly suggested that we have a picnic along the river near the Cathedral of Berlin. We stocked up on all the necessary items for a tasty sandwich at the Biomarkt close-by: small breads, dried-tomato spread, meatless cold cuts, vegan cheese slices, beet chips, beer and sparkling rhubarb lemonade, and an assortment of veggies.
Where to brunch
My heart was torn between the gargantuan mostly-raw brunch at Veganz and the funky crêpes at Let It Be. My unconditional love for pancakes finally swayed me to the latter, an all-vegan crêperie in Neukölln that also offers some specialty burgers. Not only did we feast like kings, the place was adorable and friendly.
Martin ordered the Daryl Hannah (he’s a fan of Kill Bill, but for me, she’ll always be the beautiful mermaid who falls in love with Tom Hanks in Splash!), an enormous buckwheat pancake stuffed with beet Carpaccio, arugula and pesto. For me though, breakfast needs to satisfy my sweet tooth, so I opted for a hearty serving of Pamela Anderson (sounds weird I know), which is to say banana pancakes with peanut butter and agave syrup, along with a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. We worked hard to finish every last bite. Wasting food this good is certainly not something we wanted on our conscience.
Useful Mobile Apps
For the other meals of the day, you’ll find no lack of options. I suggest either downloading the Happy Cow App , or, since it’s not free (albeit just a few well-invested dollars), going directly on the Happy Cow website to find your restaurants ahead of time. There’s also Berlin Vegan, free app in German that lets you know what’s in your vicinity.
Another small tip: don’t be too quick to dismiss the vegetarian restaurants, as they usually propose many interesting vegan options, which is good to know, especially if you’re traveling with other people who aren’t too keen on a strictly vegan restaurant.
Vegan ice cream
If time permits, why not treat yourself to some tasty ice not-cream? My friends and I couldn’t resist the frozen baobab milk goodies at Esel, a cute little spot on Mariannstraße in the cool alternative Kreuzberg neighbourghood.
The concept is pretty straight-forward: choose a neutral base (baobab milk in this case) to which you can add home-made fruit coulis, chocolate syrup, nuts, fresh herbs, etc. It’s all mixed together directly on a frozen board. Miles away from bland commercial ice cream, aren’t we? I went all out with dark chocolate syrup, coco-mango coulis and caramelized almond shards.
The German capital has loads to offer, too much for a single weekend obviously. Three days still proved long enough to give a good first impression. Although we didn’t actually go inside to visit any monuments, we walked around non-stop and enjoyed the atmosphere the city conveys.
I strongly recommend the free walking tour upon your arrival to get acquainted with the city and learn a bit of its history. Perhaps it will surprise you that Berlin as we know it is actually a young city with a long historical background. Whether you’re interest in art, the Second World War, concentration camps, the DDR or the alternative hub the city has become, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Berlin.
I also suggest taking a walk along the East Side Gallery which, to my surprise, is not a shopping mall but rather a 1.3 km section of the original Berlin Wall that has been transformed into a mosaic of artwork.
Lastly, if you enjoy flea markets, save some space in your luggage for all the gems you may find at the Mauerpark Flohmarkt! I must admit, it was torture being unable to bring back those beautiful antique suitcases and the vintage lamps. You’ll also find clothes, posters, jewelry, and other small items that should fit nicely in your travel gear. If you need souvenirs for the family, this is the place to find them.
I’ll end by saying that, due to the immensity that is Berlin, there seems to be a never-ending abundance of hidden gems to discover, so I can’t even come close to saying that I’ve covered everything here. If you have a favorite spot in Berlin that I haven’t mentioned, please share it in the comments section for everyone to see. :)