I haven’t written an entry in months! This summer has been so busy and hot that I have been working, traveling, and exploring too much to write. Since my last post, I got my visa and started working, started a vegan potluck meetup, and traveled to Vienna and Belgium. I worked more than I thought I would in Germany and traveled less, but hopefully this fall that will change. Here are some highlights of the summer and things I’ve learned to like and not like about Berlin:
The people we’ve met here are pretty awesome.
After starting the potluck meetup, we’ve met many vegan foreigners like us who are from everywhere, love to eat, and are mostly in tech too. It’s been amazing to find people who we get along with and have things in common. We’re even planning trips to travel with some new friends too. In LA I struggled to find people that were social or would hang out more than once because of FOMO or because we lived too far away. With everyone living in the city center and never more than a bike ride or max 20 min. train ride away, you can be more spontaneous.
Vegan food and amazing coffee… is everywhere
There is so much good, sometimes healthy, and cheap food here. There are also more flexitarians who are willing to eat at vegan restuarants without crying about it. I also haven’t had to explain myself at nauseam like at every other place I’ve lived. I’ve loved eating 5€ vegan doner kebab to a fresh bowl of soup and hearty German bread at the yoga place across the street.
The service and attitudes of Germans can be lacking
From service workers, to pharmacies, to people on the street, you will either get someone really nice or somone who will walk pass you on the street and shoulder check you with never saying anything like sorry or excuse me, while they are smoking a cigarette over a baby. Sometimes I miss America for even the fake niceness or courteousness - but then I remember America has bigger problems.
After being in Berlin a month, I'm finally starting to find my favorite products and shopping spots. Berlin shops are interesting because you can go to 10 different stores and not see the same smaller brands. It seems that many specialized products have deals with grocery chains to only sell exclusively. So my favorite new vegan brand Terra Vegane, for example, is only at Denn's Biomarkt and Dr. Pogo and no where else! One of my new favorite sparkling mates, Lamate, is only at Rewe, and I've only seen some special Mexican products I know from the US at Edeka. You really have to shop around to find that favorite item.
At first, I was mostly shopping at my local store, Rewe, but after visiting different stores around the city, I realized I was missing out on a ton of products. I thought the vegan chain Veganz would have all my favorite products, but I found out since they closed most of their stores, they are focusing on their own brand and reducing competing vegan products - making it really hard to find the best brands there! I found the veganz options for seitan and cheeze to be absolutely terrible and I started making my own...until I found Dr. Pogo.
Dr. Pogo is a small shop in Neukölln and has every product I was looking for. I ventured all the way out there, but it was worth it. It is a small shop that sells all vegan products from food to cleaning products and even has a little cafe and baked goods. I went this week and stock piled my favorite Terra Vegane products including a really mind blowing seitan/lupine salami that is my new fav. They also have every VioLife cheese imaginable, so you don't have to eat that plastic shit cheese anymore. They have a semi-okay coffee whitener/creamer called Whity...hmm...and that cute package was a fantastic little chocolate/nutty/caramel bar. Finally, they have one of the best chocolate croissants I've had here so far. Take some cash with you because they don't take your dirty credit cards, obviously.
American Product Replacement Update:
Found a legit peanut butter from Holland (Pinda Kaas) that is only sold in Asian markets. Half way found the coffee creamer replacement, but it's super wasteful. Veganz sells these little one-time-use soy milk creamers that aren't so bad and only 50 cents for 10. Finally, I found a great meat replacement made right here in Berlin called Terra Vegane!
- ChariTea Sparkling Mate and Lamate! (The sparking mate with way less sugar than 'Merica)
- Super healthy German bread (with seeds, nuts, and carrots inside) from the local baker..yumm. They have the best bread in the world here.
- Suppengrun! German's answer to the Mirepoix from France. They package up carrots, celery root, leeks, and parsley wrapped in a little band and you go home with one serving of it ready to go. I created a simple recipe I will share soon!
- Weird-ass potato fingers aka Schupfnudel (Germans say they created it before the Italians created gnocchi...hmm)
- Souppen! German soups are the best, and they are really cheap. Also, when it's snowing outside and they sell the best soup you've ever had with that dense bread, it kind of feels okay for like a second
- Hafermilch - Oat milk is everywhere here and almond milk is not..but Oat milk is fluffier and has a microbubble index of 5,000%*
We Moved to Berlin!
So it's been a week since we moved to Berlin and I thought it was time to start writing about our experience moving abroad and some of my first impressions of this city!
Before discussing my thoughts on the city, I thought I would answer the why. A lot of people were surprised by our move - but mostly jealous. However, this is something we have wanted to do for basically forever. Almost every year, we would take our one big vacation in Europe. We always travel how a local does - we stay in Air BnBs, cook at home, go to meetups, and hang out like we would in LA. That way we can get a good feeling for how living in the city would be. Paris is beautiful but too traditional/strict, Italy is amazing and relaxing but tech is way behind, Scandinavia is cool but didn't blow us away...but Berlin was so different.
We heard the rumors and stats of Berlin and it hit everything on the Über Checklist - most green city, most vegan city, super tech startup city, English-friendly, family friendly, no Trump, etc. So after years of being Euro-curious, we made the leap and moved here.
What's It Like?
Americans don't know much about Germany except the stereotypes. I was told I would only be able to eat sausage and beer, and that everyone is cold. After visiting and moving here, I can definitely say that both are ridiculous generalizations. Similar to saying Americans only eat hot dogs and smile too much - kind of true - but too simplified.
In reality, LA and Berlin are similar in a lot of ways - and in many ways they are different. Both cities are a bubble - they have liberal, alternative people mostly living in them, there is always something to do, there is great food, culture, and people. Berliners have been more friendly, social, and open-minded than their LA counterparts. Even just this week, we have met lots of friends, went to an impromptu dinner with four people we just met, and met people from all over the world doing something similar to us.
For the day-to-day, I find Berlin to be much safer, QUIETER, super walkable, and healthier.
Safety - no weekly school shootings, drugged up transients in my doorway, and even small children take the subway alone with no problem.
Senses - It's so quiet it's actually scary/I love it. LA was ridiculously loud. With the constant helicopters or screaming people in the streets, neighbors with loud music and TVs until 2am.. Berlin is super quiet. Ride the subway at rush hour in a packed car and people are whispering and no one is playing a loud boombox. At home, it's so peaceful I don't think anyone is alive. For the smell - I'm not missing Eau de LA (weed/urine/body sweat mix) in all the streets...but that always reminds me of home.
Walkable - I lost 3 pounds during this week, just living like a German. I don't have a car and I have a mini-fridge (aka a normal German size fridge). So I am walking everywhere and going to my local store a few times a week. I only get the necessities to cook for the next few days and don't waste anything.
Health - Everyone is really healthy here - except for the constant smoking/drinking. We went to a local hackerspace on the weekend where we all stopped what we were doing at 5pm, walked to the store, bought groceries and cooked a healthy vegetable stir fry and salad together. The other hackerspace cooked a vegan tomato soup for everyone last time we were here. The food doesn't have as much added sugar as the US so we've reduced our salt and sugar intake by just leaving the states. We can even walk across the street and get a healthy homemade vegan meal or hearty soup for 4 euro any time of day.
Final Thoughts for Now
So far I'm really liking my new town. I really needed a change and even though I wanted to take a Trump detox (which isn't working because he's prolific) I'm loving the lifestyle here. I'm excited for 6 weeks of vacations, summertime, and more fun events to meet all the amazing people here.
Our 2017 vacation was to the great country of Germany! Vegans may know Berlin as one of the world's most vegan-friendly cities..and it's true. There are over 50 vegan restaurants in Berlin alone and that doesn't include the vegetarian and vegan options in almost every restaurant you pass. I will write about my favorites on the trip including some on the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) in Bavaria and Munich. Germany is not just sausages - just as America is not just hot dogs and hamburgers...it's a young, changing city with great food, coffee, and people from all over the world.
Romantic Road Trip & Restaurants
Kopps is a fancy vegan restaurant that has the most spectacular all-you-can-eat brunch for €15! I had a huge selection of options from a croquette with gravy, fresh bread and cheese, eggy hot dishes and cold pasta salads. Plus desserts, coffees and even beers. You can go up there as much as you want (and no one changes their plate like in the U.S.) and it always seems to be hot food and full. We ate here with a fantastic vegan meetup group, so we had a big table, lots of food, and great conversation with people from five different countries.
I haven't tried the dinner which is completely different, but it's a set menu and much more expensive. I will definitely come back here to try both dinner and brunch.
Viasko is a vegan restaurant that plays punk and dark wave and won't let you in with faux fur, for reals. The staff is super nice and helped my terrible German become a little bit better at least in ordering food the right way! There was a short menu, so the best thing on there was the schnitzel (seitan) with white asparagus. It was my one and only schnitzel experience, and it was really well done. I hear their brunch is even better on the weekend and the tiramisu dessert was absolutely amazing.
No Milk Today
No Milk Today is a cute all vegan cafe in Kreuzberg. They serve fantastic lattes with croissants, quiches, bagel sandwiches and salad. It's a casual place to hang out in the cute library in the back or outside on the patio or beach chairs on a beautiful day. Try their Vietnamese coffee with a croissant for a special treat.
Sfizy Vegan is an all vegan Italian pizzeria from real Italianos. This is the best pizza in out of Italy because there are so many fantastic flavors that I was never able to try in Italy. This is the best pizza place I've ever been to because the dough is exceptional and they serve soft calzones stuffed with sausages, cashew cheese and spinach that are to die for. Pictured before the calzone is a pesto pizza with eggplant and peppers. They speak German, Italian and English here and the environment is that of a small family-run Italian restaurant with random tables and chairs and old Italian portraits on the walls. They serve great wine and sparkling Mate. I didn't try their homemade tiramisu, so I will need to travel back here to get it because it looked amazing as well! Don't skip this place, and make a reservation!
Voner wins the prize for the most surprising meal of the trip. For only €4.50, you can eat an insanely massive vegan doner with freshly made sesame bread, seitan from a spit (that thing in doner place with the fat meat hanging from a pole), vegan yogurt sauce on top of fresh vegetables. The place is small and the food is cheap, but damn was this place surprising, filling and a fantastic find in the arty district of Friedrichshain. I was disappointed that we didn't find more wall art in this neighborhood (more graffiti) but the doner and club mate made it all better.
GaYaYa is "pan-Asian" vegan food located in Mitte. I'm guessing this is a mix of Cambodian and Malaysian food, but I've really never had anything like it. The food was absolutely amazing, and I've never had these flavors together. We both got the 3 course meal which consisted of their two top dishes, a curry and noodle dish with an amazing coconut milk and mango dessert. I can't really describe the dishes, but as you see in the picture - there is a lot going on! This place is across the street from Sammlung Boros, an old Nazi bunker turned POW Russian prison, turned banana storage, turned 90s underground rave, turn modern art museum that we toured. We ran into this place accidentally, but it turned out to be one of my favorite spots!
Momos is the first place we stopped after the long flight from LA to Berlin. 15 hours of travel to get vegan dumplings filled with potatoes, carrots, and some with tofu. After we ordered the 18 momo plate with all the vegan options and sauces, we saw that we could have ordered a plate with over 30 for a little more money. I would definitely come back here, get the 30 plate and stuff my face with it. This is also a moment where I want to acknowledge Momos being our first ever ChariTea Sparkling Mate experience which basically changed our lives. This is not a product in the states, unless you want to pay $10 a bottle to importers on Amazon, so drink up! This was my first Mate out of the next 20 or so that would follow for the 2.5 week trip. Note - This place is a vegetarian dumpling place, but everything is marked vegan or not.
Brammibal's Donuts was similar to the vegan donut shops in LA like Donut Friend or Donut Farm. It's a coffee bar and donut shop where you can drink tasty lattes with oat milk along with your boston cream pie donut on the right (which they call Dulce de Leche) and the pistachio rose water donut on the left. The difference here is donuts are half the price of the US (at €2.50 each instead of the LA $5 vegan taxed donuts) and you can walk right outside to watch the swans swim by on the Landwehr Canal which the Germans are sunbathing all day on the nice days.
Louloute Gourmet Brunch
This was one of my favorite memories from the Berlin trip. Louloute Gourmet is not a restaurant, but instead a private three-course vegan meal made at the chef's house! I found this Saturday morning brunch on Meetup.com, but you can RSVP on the site too https://www.louloutegourmet.com/ . We showed up to an intimate table to seat four and we could choose between coffee, chai, three different mimosas with fresh orange juice and custom homemade flavors like infused Earl Gray syrup, or a Bloody Mary for drinks. Next, we had an appetizer course shown here with my favorite dish, vegan lox. We had a main course which was a middle eastern spicy tomato dish and freshly made chocolate croissants for dessert. The best thing about the visit was meeting fellow local vegetarian/vegan people and meeting the chef. This is highly recommend and a unique event to meet new people and eat great food!
I almost didn't want to put Lucky Leek's review on here because of the just annoying experience we had here, but I will put it because it's on my traveler's lists for a vegan Berlin trip. This is basically the only all vegan fine dining experience you can have in Berlin, it's €50 per person for a 5 course meal..this would actually be the normal price of many dining experiences in LA, NYC, or San Francisco and the food is definitely nice..but not worth the pain. We were stuck in our seat for over three hours while they slowly brought out each tiny dish. They didn't offer any water (usual Germany style), but after hours of entrapment, I just wanted to run out of there and go to Momos where I could get 30 dumplings for like $15 or something. Maybe go to this place once their service improves and they learn how to not trap their guests. Also - Cash only for a €100 meal is pretty ridiculous, so come prepared with a sack full of coins and you'll be good. This is a hit or miss place, so come without being in a rush, bring your own water, and you'll probably be happy.
We stayed in two neighborhoods in Berlin for a 10 day trip: Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg. These are always on the top list for hippest parts of the city. Kreuzberg was just ok. The highlights are some of the best restaurants like Sfizy Veg, Brammibal's Donuts and No Milk Today. Some of these are in the neighboring area Neukoln. It was a run-down area before because it was at the border of the wall. After the wall fell, the best techno clubs and artists moved in. Prenzlauer Berg is a much better neighborhood IMHO because it's more central, has better food and coffee. The area is Germany's number one fertile neighborhood, so kids and families are everywhere. I've heard the streets of Prenzlauer Berg as the "Stroller Autobahn" and it's true.
My first impression of Berlin was just shock. It's so different than every other European city I've seen. Because of WWII and the DDR, the city was completely re-built. It's the newest old city because mostly everything has been built after the 1950's...even the beautiful Tiergarten park. There are so many stats that come from Berlin: #1 vegan city in Europe, #1 green city in Europe, #1 start-up funding in Europe. It's an oddly perfect city for us. We love parks, vegan foodz, and tech. It has 25% non-Germans, so it's full of expats and English speakers. I met a lot of people who packed-up and moved to Berlin including many Canadians and people all over Europe.
The best part of Berlin is just riding your bike through the windy streets, stopping by to get some vegan dumplings and Momos or some vegan donuts from Brammibal's and laying down in a beautiful park with birds chirping everywhere like Tiergarten...while drinking ChariTea Sparkling Mate our favorite drink.
We went to a bunch of meetups because the vegans and techys are thriving there. First, there was Romy's amazing Secret Vegan Dining meetup where she cooks an amazing 3-course meal with drinks and desserts at her house. Next, we went to the monthly vegan brunch meetup at Kopps (best all-you-can-eat vegan brunch in the world for 15 euro). During the week, we went to a barcamp style meetup at Wikimedia called the Social Digital Innovation meetup. The next day was an IOT meetup with a panel of three German start-ups and the craziest pretzel spread you've ever seen. Finally, we went to the C-Base hackerspace for a Crypto-party night...in a crash-landed spaceship that lives beneath the entire city :)
Berlin is a pretty bad place to visit if you're looking for tourist attractions. There is Checkpoint Charlie that will entertain you for 1 minute. There is the Brandenburg Gate which is beautiful. There are many memorials for the horrific history and there is Parliament. There are probably a few more things, but Berlin has no f-ing Eiffel Tower. It's just a crazy city that was rebuilt after the fall of the wall and re-invented itself in the last 28 years.
This is not the old Germany that people think it is. People told me Germans are cold. Germans only eat sausages and I'll die of starvation. None of that's true of course, and the country is really diverse. Berlin doesn't even care about the Bavarian pretzels and beer, so there you go.
Germans were so nice to us and Berlin was so young and thriving, I kept forgetting I was in Germany. I was surprised multiple times when I heard people speaking German because I thought I was at home. I thought it was Los Angeles. This is a place I would live in or visit more often, so my advice is to definitely travel here.