One by one, friends move out of this city over the twenty years I’ve lived in Philadelphia, but the perk is that I get to visit friends all over the world. One such friend, Kim, moved to the Netherlands with their young daughter when her husband was relocated back to his home country. Kim is one of those solid, loyal, dependable, hilarious, honest gems. I cherish friendships with good people like Kim. She also loves to eat as much as I do and doesn’t waste stomach space on anything mediocre!
Before my epic trail running adventure around Mont Blanc, I was down to visit a new place with Kim and get used to the time zone. We decided on Berlin. For me, to see how amazing of a vegan wonderland this city is and for Kim to experience the Communist roots of East Berlin. As I write this, I already miss traveling. After three years of restricted travel, it is so freeing to explore new cultures and environments. I love visiting places where English is not the official language. I love seeing how other people live. Visiting grocery stores is one of my favorite ways to peek into how the locals live. I lost count of the number of neighborhood organic grocery stores in Berlin, and there was also a chain of all vegan grocery stores called Veganz! My mind was blown by Berliners' acceptance of plant-based and healthful eating. It was so normal, instead of being the exception to the rule as it still seems in the United States.
Their sustainability efforts were also inspiring. Many places do not even offer bags (for take-out or groceries). The few places that do, will charge you. To-go utensils? Forget they even exist. Guests or customers seem more well behaved or respectful, too. I never once saw a guest or customer throwing a tantrum or speaking rudely to retail/restaurant employees. The restaurant staff also seemed happy to take care of us. And if someone wasn’t particularly chipper, it doesn’t come off as rude or personal, just people being human. It was refreshing to see kindness flow both ways.
Here are the highlights to my 4-day stay in quirky and unique Berlin.
Vegan Breakfast Spread at Hotel Luc - this was in a touristy part of the city surrounded by classic landmarks and government buildings. I loved this hotel, the staff and amenities. (But prefer to stay in a more neighborhood setting next time to really feel like a local). My Marriott reward points covered this beautiful stay as a free reward night, so how could I say no? The point redemptions in Europe were so much more generous in the U.S. as well. This hotel also helped me get back on track with my strength training and yoga after a crazy 2 months running the shop while chaos was ensuing from all directions.
I love to make Google maps of all of my pit stops for the day. It’s not a strict itinerary, but a helpful guide to save us from searching where to go next and also makes an efficient itinerary to hit things in geographical order. I love to walk from one place to the next to 1) burn off one meal to make stomach space for the next tasting, and 2) discover hidden gems only visible by foot.
We hit every vegan ice cream shop (or with vegan options), every vegan donut shop (or with vegan options) and every well rated vegan dessert shop. They were all shockingly disappointing. The only flavor was sugar or the texture was dry for baked goods or the ice creams were icy instead of creamy. How does a touted vegan city who nails a plethora of incredible savory menus (even a Sudanese vegan concept), fail so terribly when it comes to sweets? I was hearing Jerry Seinfeld in my head say, “I…don’t…get it!”
Daluma serves 100% organic, cold-pressed juices and raw desserts that were just as good as any I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying (like Pure Food and Wine good). They also have delicious breads (not gluten-free) and savory options to win over vegans/vegetarians and omnivores alike. We hit this place up twice. They also have a bathroom for guests - which is a hot commodity in Europe!
Frea - I still dream about the amazing breads. Flakey breads, amazing sandwiches, brioche that you can’t believe is vegan, croissants, their breads were so good I could eat those for dessert. Their savory options were beautiful, healthful, nourishing and hit the spot for all of my rainbow veggie needs. Oh, Frea, I fell in love with you. How I wish you would open locations in the U.S.
I can’t eat as much as I did in my 30’s. (I’m not complaining because my metabolism is also not what it used to be in my 30’s!) We had room for one more restaurant during our stay in Berlin, that was a Vietnamese restaurant called Good Morning, Vietnam.
There were so many Vietnamese vegan options, it’s hard for me to include this one because I’m not sure how it compares to the many other vegan restaurants, but Kim and I got to satisfy our Asian food cravings and were blown away by such flavorful broths that are rare to come by in Vietnamese restaurants. Check out Kim enjoying a Vietnamese Coffee!
Enough about the food, or is it never enough about food? The art scene in Berlin was also not to be missed. Check out our photo grabs of the art of the Berlin wall during Communist rule. Kim wanted to stay in East Berlin and experience what it was like to stay in a Communist era apartment. It was like we were staying in a relic much to Kim’s fascination, but I was secretly wishing to return to my luxe hotel!
The stark contrast between the former East Berlin and West Berlin made me appreciate the freedoms we have as Americans. Even though the Berlin wall no longer separates the two areas of the city, the architectural contrast and urban landscape was still hauntingly recent. It is hard to fathom that the two parts of the city were only unified in 1989.
Berlin, thank you for showing me a civilized and orderly city who embraces a sustainable, plant-based lifestyle. We also learned Kim and I make great travel friends! Can’t wait to meet my dear friend again for our next adventure in Europe.