Venturous Vegetarian: A Meat Free Life in Berlin

The move to Berlin as a newly fledged vegetarian brought with it a fear that I was consciously destroying any chance of maintaining my new lifestyle choice. Like my friends, I was of the persuasion that a carnivorous Germany would be the end of my vegetarian vows. Yet, in a land brimming with Bratwurst and Schnitzels, Wieners and Currywurst, I have found it anything but arduous; in fact, I think veganism may be just around the corner.

For a long time, vegetarianism and veganism have lurked on the fringes of most people's understanding, and the rear side of most menus. But one needs only to stroll through the streets of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln to see that things are undoubtedly changing. No longer reduced to a niche subculture, there is an increasing awareness and acceptance among people, restaurants, and supermarkets. For those who are still unsure, vegetarianism pertains to a meatless diet, whilst veganism extends this to include all products derived from animals.

Until recently I myself was guilty of not understanding either vegetarianism or veganism. Years spent working in the hospitality sector coerced me to regard anyone with a dietary restriction as awkward and difficult. I would welcome vegans into the restaurant with the same disdain you would show upon finding a stray hair in your meal. And here I was, taking the same path as all those ‘difficult’ eaters. I worried that I’d now be left staring at the back of the menu as the waiter pointed an unruly finger over the space that disappointingly read “garden salad”. The reality is far from any apprehensions I may have had. Berlin welcomes vegetarians and vegans with a plethora of creative, delicious and meat-free options.

Rootz, a restaurant here in Kreuzberg, is just one of these places providing amazing vegetarian and vegan choices for those that hold the same moral and ethical code as myself. I recently indulged myself with their spicy black bean burger and had to immediately reconsider my position on the word burger. A mere month ago I couldn’t conceive of a burger that didn’t contain some form of ground-up animal meat. As I feverishly worked my way through this delicious, mouth-watering patty, safe in the knowledge that no animal had been killed in the process, I knew I’d solidified my position as a vegetarian in this city.

The more I began to explore, the more I uncovered brilliant and innovative alternatives to dishes I loved. Yet I was still convinced there would be some restrictions that could not be so easily overcome. After my initial visit to Germany a little over four years ago, I developed a love for Currywurst – to the point that I incorporated it as my lunchtime go-to meal, an evening quick bite and a post-pub treat. Fearing I would never enjoy the strange combination of that tangy curried sausage ever again, I had all but given up hope of finding a replacement. That was until I found a vegetarian alternative at Yellow Sunshine bistro, again here in Kreuzberg. Now I always like to maintain an open mind when trying new things but I have to say I was quietly expecting this meatless German classic to fall flat on its face. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. If my expectations had been low, my taste sensation was rocketing.

And one doesn’t have to become dependent on eating out all the time to sustain this vegetarian diet. With the introduction of Veganz, an entirely vegan supermarket here in Berlin, there are endless animal-friendly products in the store to choose from. We regularly buy items from the Tofurky product line, which has an extensive range of tofu-based foods that closely mimic the real meat dishes. What they lack in aesthetics, they more than makeup for in depth of flavour and composition.  If you can look past the earthy colour and spongy demeanour, it really is pretty good.

The transition to vegetarianism has also brought with it a culinary creativeness that I didn’t think I had within me. My style and I use the term style very loosely here, relied upon a piece of meat, more often than not overcooked, with the accompaniment of a couple of vegetables or salad. Yet just the other day I whipped up a vegan Moroccan tagine from scratch for a few friends. My food previously would have induced a kind of heavy silence amongst people as they, in turn, exchanged glances to see who would break first and put the plate down. This tagine, however, earned me a rare compliment and people even returned for second helpings.

On all fronts, my life as a vegetarian has improved. The diet is healthier, I never go without five fruit and veg a day, and the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol are massively minimised. Morally knowing that I’ve not contributed to an exploitative market of animal slaughter is also a great feeling. If you want to give this lifestyle change ago, then do a little research, make small changes, even cut out meat a few days a week, and familiarise yourself with vegetarian alternatives. There are tonnes of healthy and creative options awaiting you, especially here in Berlin. I have genuinely not missed the meat. The most challenging thing I’ve had to endure so far is the habitual recollecting and packing of the thousands of tiny chia seeds I spill every morning before breakfast. Other than that I feel amazing.

By Liam McGuckin

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