I cannot begin to tell you how good it felt to be back in Berlin this August. You know the feeling when you do not realise how much you have missed something until you feel a swooping relief to be close to it again?! That is Berlin for me. I enjoyed a whole month in Berlin in August last year and wrote extensively about my time there. It felt incredibly good to be back!
This time my trip to the city was for a mere 7 days. Just enough time to scoot around the various districts to visit any sights I missed on my first visit, and to also sample the new vegan restaurants that had sprung up since I was there 12 months previous.
I chose to be based in Prenzlauer Berg again. I had fallen for it's picturesque, clean and tree lined shady streets. It has lots of cafes, restaurants, bars and independent shops and kinos, but it is more tranquil than the tourist hub of Mitte and the more edgy keiz (neighbourhoods) of Neukolln and Kreuzberg.
On the first day I went out and hired a bike from Orange Bikes in Prenzlauer Berg. It is a volunteer organisation that uses its profits to build play areas for children in local parks. It is also the cheapest bike rental in the city. €7 per 24 hours.
So, I was good to go. My first stop. Goura Pakora. Run by a German who taught himself to cook whilst following the Ayurvedic traditions and his passion for food. Let me tell you, this guy knows flavour!
I ordered the dosa and was surprised (and relieved) to discover how delicious and crispy his lentil and rice dosa was (I abhor soggy dosa crepes). The filling was just as good as the best dosa I've tasted. The coconut chutney was delicious, and I did not even miss the usual addition of sambar, a spicy thin broth that traditionally sits alongside a dosa to pour over your crepe or just sip, becoming hedonistically intoxicated by its spicy, hot and exotic flavours. Greedy more than hungry, I also opted for a side order of pakora. The besan flour batter was crispy, and just oily enough to remain light and tasty. The cauliflower inside was like soft peppery pillows. Totally good.
They also serve a thali plate which looks incredible. Sadly I only visited here once. The staff were super friendly and spoke English. One of the best meals of my trip. It was a very friendly place. I gave less marks for the ambience just because it is a fast food joint.
value for money ★★★★★
District - Friedrichshain
I hopped on the S-bahn and visited the chilling and thought provoking Stasi museum located just a little out of the centre in the East. Here, held in a time warp from the 1970's are the actual offices of State Security for the DDR. On display is a fascinating but haunting look at what the State Security (secret police) did in order to keep a watchful eye on the East Germans in a bid to keep everyone in check. The surveillance devices were like something out of a James Bond movie. The propaganda fed to the youth organisations was incredible. An eerie place to visit but worth the trip from the centre.
Let It Be opened up in...it was my first visit and a bit of a walk from the Treptow Park S-bhan. Let It Be is a vegan creperie but it has other options on the menu too. I experienced not a small amount of anxiety choosing what to eat. Each of the dishes, named so to salute famous vegans (I admit a few I've never heard of!) sounded so delicious. I narrowed it down to a crepe with either the Ted Leo, a buckwheat gullet with soy meat braised in red wine and the Erykah Badu crepe filled with chickpea curry and home made chutney on the side. The Badu won out. I also ordered a side salad of beet and lentil which was surprisingly delicious. I have to say I loved this place and it was the best meal I had (with Goura Pakora coming close second) in my time in Berlin. The guy serving was really helpful, it had a great atmosphere and the interior was nicely decorated. The kitchen has a window onto the seating area so we can see the food being prepared. It was really inexpensive too. Under €5!! I was beginning to question again whether I should take the plunge and settle in Germany.
Oh be still my beating heart (and hungry belly!). I give you...the Erykah Badu.
value for money ★★★★★
Another vegan cafe opened since I visited last year is No Milk Today. It is close by the canal so I coupled up my visit with a leisurely bike along the water. They have a few gluten free treats and savouries. I opted for a crumbly, rich brownie and a beverage I love - lupin coffee. It has the bitter notes of coffee but made from lupin beans so it is caffeine free, AND delicous You can get soups, quiche, bagels, scrambled tofu along with alcoholic beverages if that is your bag, coffee and smoothies.
value for money ★★★★★
Whats not to love about weekends, sauntering humans and farmers markets?! Sunday along Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg.
For some reason, I never seemed to make it down to Templehof. The airport bizarrely abandoned in 2008 in a bid to get all of Berlin's air traffic to one airport and not three. I have no idea what was behind the resigning of this. So, now the Berliners have now taken it under their wing. Their mark is now well and truly stamped on it. As is the way, the authorities plan to bring some structure to the activities that are favoured here but at least it is to remain as an open space for leisure and expression. For now, the rollerbladers, skateboard surfers, joggers, dog walkers and picnickers can still enjoy the space in its wild state, for free.
I loved that green fingered locals took a patch of land by the runway and began to grow vegetables. Anyone can walk freely among nodding sunflowers, fragrant herbs and sprouting carrots and sit in one of the many little secluded spots where shipping pallets become tables and chairs. Even a dome of rampant runner beans acts as a shelter from the summer sun in one corner of the plot.
Stay long enough and you may see a band take to the hay-bailed stage to bash out a few foot stomping tunes.
I spotted a few new products in my time in Berlin. Especially so in the all-vegan store Veganz, but they were imported from the USA so I won't mention them here, but I did love the new range of flavoured tofu steaks from Lord Of Tofu, especially the 'chicken' tikka masala version. What makes this tofu very unique and tasty is that it is made with KOMBUCHA which is a delicious fermented tea drink made from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. I've grown a scoby (what the mushroom that ferments the sugar and tea is called) and made it myself and written about it a lot over the last few years. I love the fact that it has been used in the tofu making process. Genius idea!
Ginger and beet juice.
My eating companion dined on the spinach with wild mushroom salad
I tried the raw zucchini pasta (very popular in Europe with the vegan crowd right now), with tomato and cashew cream sauce. The staff were very friendly and it was a cool place to hang out but I thought the portions were small and the flavours could be improved on. For instance, my dish had chopped up dried tomatoes that were not rehydrated and very, very salty. I little pre-soaking and rinsing would have improved the dish. But it was pleasant enough and healthy.
value for money ★★★☆☆
District: Mitte/Prenzlauer Berg
I'd emailed before I arrived to check they had gluten free options (they list gluten free bread upon request and I was assured they would be able to cater for me. So, I was ready for a hearty, challenge of a monster sandwich to allay my midday hunger.
When I arrived and hitched up my bike, the girl serving was really unhelpful (more interested in her mobile phone) and said they did not have gluten free. I was deflated. But, always one to get creative I knew that they serve some raw foods and I spotted a large raw cracker/bread. I politely asked if I could have the fillings of the sandwich that I wanted placed between two of those and was shocked for her to say they make everything in the morning and it could not be done. What?! I saw they had a chef on duty so I was perplexed. I asked again and she said no, wondering if I had failed to make my request clear. She came back with the response 'and anyway it would be expensive'. I assured her I was happy to pay?! Nope. Nothing. Defeated, I ended up choosing one of the jars of raw soups they had sitting in the chiller and a raw cracker. I sat and watched as other diners were brought out rather lovely looking plates of fresh meals. Wedges, dips, salads and alike. The soup and cracker were tasty, but not what I'd set my heart on.
As I was finishing up the girl serving went off duty and left. Another girl came out to stand behind the counter. I approached her and enquired if she spoke English (I knew my loose grip of the German language would not hold up). She gave me a huge smile and said yes. I explained to her my interaction with the other server and said and she was a little confused. She assured me they could cater for me and were more than happy to make up sandwiches for gluten free diets. She offered to make me a sandwich right then and there but I was past it. The girl apologised for my experience and told me they were a lovely bunch of people who worked there that really enjoyed creating the beautiful food I saw on display. I put it down to one girl having an off day. I put it behind me as I cycled back along the canal in the sun. I would go back again, all the other diners looked really satisfied and happy, so ho-hum, I'd give them another try.
They host brunch once a month and sometimes tapas nights. Check Facebook to see what events they have coming up.
value for money ★★★☆☆
Berlin's first vegan cocktail bar, opened in August 2013 Die Chaosterorie. The bar is located just off Danziger Strasse in Prenzlauer Allee. It is small but perfectly formed. The server guy was really friendly and chatty, taking time to make conversation and entertaining two young German girls at the bar. Whilst ordering my drink I caught sight of a cake in the display and could not resist. It is apparently a traditional German cake with chocolate nougat inside, incased in whipped and piped vegan mousse. Finished with a toasted and chopped hazelnut crust. It was VERY sweet but I took on the sugar rush like a champion. But I only ate half and gave the other to a nice looking German guy who'd just sat down the other side of the tropical, pink parasol. They serve smoothies, juices and lots of cocktails, alcoholic and non. Of course with suggestive names to make you blush and a cocktail umbrella or two. They also serve small savoury dishes. I spotted a lovely looking gluten free onion tart on offer but my head was still spinning from the cake and my stomach decidedly full.
value for money ★★★★☆
Before I knew it it was time to pack up my little suitcase and leave. A little heavy of heart that my trip this year was so short. But no sooner had I closed the door on my little studio my excitement returned as my time in Germany was not over. I had planned a trip to East Germany's second largest city, just an hour by train, south of Berlin. I will be sharing my experience of what is now famed as 'the next Berlin' in my next post. Leipzig here I come!
p.s I spotted a book whilst in Berlin, it may prove a useful guide to those who are spending some time in Germany. It is an all vegan guide to eating and shopping in Germany. Over 600 businesses are listed. It's called Vegan essen, reisen, einkaufen (shop, travel & eat).