In love with Berlin, we'd heard there was a big trend coming up in the city, the rise of the vegan lifestyle. Is Berlin ready though?
I had heard that Berlin is a forerunner in terms of sustainable development, on its way to become an exemplary green European capital by 2020. Livestock, cattle and pigs are one of the first greenhouse gas producers, consuming tons of grain and water. So, in Berlin, they want to set an example. With over 9% of its population vegetarian already, hipster urban farming projects and the significant increase of bike lanes (Berlin is the German city with the lowest ratio of cars per capita), Berlin seems to be developing at the same pace with what Millennials are looking for: originality, compelling experiences and a seamless inclination towards a lifestyle that is more in touch with nature (peace and love, man). But with also nearly 70 millions currywurst sold every year in the city, we can also wonder if the vegan challenger will win anytime soon…
I myself adore Berlin. It’s a multicolored city, rich in history, young and old at the same time, divided by a dark and difficult past and a future that is aiming to be more tolerant in the memory of the fracture that back in the day ruined the lives of so many people. It’s a city that wants to remember its scars and that is seeking to write a new history for itself, one that is sustainably hopeful. So, when Denis and I decided to go again to Berlin, I was genuinely excited. I had heard that the city had been proclaimed the “world capital of vegetarians” therefore I was curious to see this with my own eyes; moreover I had not set foot there for several years.
The first shock for me was that upon arrival in the Berlin airport there weren’t really recycling bins, plus there were numerous offers for “currywurst” this famous pork sausage sprinkled with curry and marinating in ketchup. Not really what I had in mind for “eco-responsible” but, it was the airport after all, so I didn’t pay that much attention.
From the airport you will have to take the train or the “S-bahn” metro that will take downtown. All of the train, tram and metro companies in Berlin belong to DB (Deutsche Bahn) which also happens to be the first railway in Europe! DB has a rather conventional policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – it aims at 30% reduction by 2020. It’s good, but far from the ambitions of NS (Dutch Railway Company) which is of course of a more modest size, yet it only utilizes renewable energies to power its trains. So from this point of view I wouldn’t label Berlin as an exemplary green city.
We stayed in the area of the Berlin Zoo at the Hollywood Media Hotel that I wouldn’t recommend. It was expensive, the staff was not really helpful, but it was well located close to the metro and in a very pleasant neighborhood. There were plenty of restaurants around and especially vegetarian and vegan places, like pretty much everywhere in the city which has almost 400 establishments of this kind! We were obviously not capable to try them all. However, by following the advice of Happy Cow, we dined at Vaust – an excellent vegan and organic micro-brasserie, at The Bowl – a restaurant specialized in clean eating and vegan food that’s just as good, and Daluma – a hipster bio café with mainly vegetarian dishes.
Then we tested classical restaurants and cafés in order to taste their vegan or vegetarian options such as Tommi’s Burger Joint (good choice of vegetarian burgers) and Marjellchen, a traditional Berlin restaurant. It was a fantastic food tour! And we were not disappointed: all options were a real feast. With the exception maybe of Marjellchen where the vegetarian dish that we chose, mushrooms with potatoes, was fairly basic and a bit sickening. But it is absolutely true that, if you are a vegan, Berlin is a great city with an abundant choice of cuisines. If we are to take into account the 8,300 restaurants inside the city, this means there are about 5% of vegetarian restaurants without counting the restaurants that offer additionally vegetarian or vegan options. Not bad at all, and definitely a whole lot better than Paris where there are less than 2% of vegetarian or vegan restaurants.
So, are we in the position to talk about a vegan’s paradise here? For sure we are approaching this much more than anywhere else in Europe. But, in all honesty, I do think that we can talk about the global capital of veganism, simply because you can have vegetarian or vegan food in Asia wherever you are if you check out a bit in advance the local dishes. For sure, this is not as well marketed as it is in Berlin, but you will have the choice and a great variety of food from Cambodia to Nepal and India. Moreover, it is embedded in the culture of these countries to not consume almost any dairy or beef and to look at meat as a luxury item, while in Germany pork remains a basic commodity.
Germans do love their pork meat, whether in their currywurst or in the Lorbass, the pig is in the spotlight. Did you know that Germany is the first meat producer in Europe? And, that in 2015, 59 million pigs were slaughtered in Germany making it the leading European pig producer? In addition, it is also the 2nd in the beef industry…Not particularly great numbers when we think about the modest 400 vegan restaurants in Berlin. It’s small fish in a big pond of currywurst. Nonetheless, it is necessary to start somewhere and in the country of meat there is a silent fight that is gaining grounds. There is a collective conscience awakening which is nice to observe across all these trendy vegan restaurants and vegan food tours but also across projects such as urban farms in Tempelhofer, societal initiatives such as “wellbeing” buildings for raising pigs and even political decisions to not use meat anymore in official ministerial diners. However, it is a fight that is far from having been won as detractors of change are numerous in both Germany and elsewhere.
Today, Berlin is facing a wall once more. Obviously, this one is, above all, a cultural one. It’s the barrier separating currywurst from tofu. And the whole city sweats through this fierce struggle, with a population that welcomes change and another that is clinging to tradition. You will see it with your own eyes, on the one side a clean city, that sees itself as the promoter of environmental protection, a German pioneer in the number of bike paths per capita; on the other side, a dirty town, where recycling is virtually nil, with waste spread across train platforms, with a minuscule Zoo and swarming currywurst stands whose production is far from being cruelty-free.
Translation & Copy Editing by Liana Marinoiu