After the anarchic New Year’s Eve experience I slowly got better. A trip to Vabali Spa and some homeopathic doses of sparkling wine and I was right as rain. I decided to become a vegan. Well, I decided to think about becoming a vegan and to take some steps towards it. I also made Scott promise he would become a full vegetarian as opposed to a flexitarian. He said he would, as soon as he had eaten a huge steak and smoked a cigar with Zach. I think in Scott’s mind being a vegetarian has little to do with vegetables, and more to do with chip barms – Manchester food… it’s even in Wikipedia…
In parts of North West England and Yorkshire, a barm or barm cake is a common term for a soft, floury bread roll: menus in chip shops offer chip barms consisting of chips in a bread roll, these are also known as “chip butties” in some areas.
I had been a vegan twice before. The first time was in 1988 when I had just left home to go to university in London. Goldsmith’s College was not in the cool literary campus in Bloomsbury, but in New Cross, the south east fag end of London. Now my Mum was no longer in charge, I decided to go full vegan, which in those days was not easy. I found the local health food shop, and spent most of my student grant on bean sprouts and hummus. It was not a success – I was more interested in running around drinking and smoking weed than I was in being healthy, so I just lost weight and turned grey. I gave it up quickly. The second time was about seven years later when I combined it with going raw. It cost a fortune and took many hours drying and chopping and mixing each day to prepare a small salad. I gave that up too when I had to take on more work to pay for the privilege of not eating pastry.
So this time I had more money, more interest and more knowledge. I also couldn’t fool myself any more that animals in the production line of dairy did not suffer. Watch this if you don’t believe me. They did, and they didn’t even get to die like the ones raised for meat. I booked a vegan tour of Prenzlauerberg, the hippy mums area of Berlin, using an app called Bitemojo. Their concept is a walking tour passing places of interest and trying small tasters of food from cafes and restaurants en route. A bit of sightseeing, a bit of walking and a bit of food. What’s not to like?
We met at the station. Scott had put on his walking boots for some reason – I think he thought the word tour meant hike. I was determined – by the end of the tour I’d hopefully be a vegan.
Prenzlauerberg is the area I lived in when I first moved to Berlin. It has coloured apartment blocks, ivy-covered balconies and cobble stones. The light is always glancing, the trees always rustling and every cafe has a poetic looking hipster with a small laptop and a latte. It is also the area of a thousand yelling toddlers called Jasper and Poppy and an array of vehicles in which to cart them from the kita to the ice cream shop to the park. Seriously, I could not believe my eyes when I first arrived in Germany. I had had a small grubby folding buggy when Daisy, my daughter, was little. In Berlin there are 6-seated toddler babycarts with handles, pushchairs for you and all your friends, bikes with trailers, baby seats and baby slings, backpacks and baskets – no under-five in Berlin could question its cosseted supremacy over all other forms of transport. The babies in Prenzlauerberg are dressed in handmade organic cosy-as-you like practical all-in-ones, and the older ones bounce along the cobbles on baby bikes, feet whirring and laughing back at lackadaisical calls about checking for cars. This is the reason I don’t live in this quarter any more…
We followed the route from the Bitemojo mobile app on our phones starting at the incongruous planetarium. Then we walked to the various restaurants via a graveyard, a church that was closed and an old converted brewery. There were boutiques and flower shops, kitchen shops and delicatessens, little parks with smoking kids sitting on concrete ping pong tables. Midwinter is not the prettiest time to explore Berlin, but the cold and the deepening sunlight and the empty streets seemed to work, and we had a circuitous, meandering afternoon. The friendly sweet shop was a point of interest, although the lashings of gelatin in most of the sweets did make me raise my tentative vegan eyebrow.
Two of the five vegan bites were closed due to the season or because they were in Berlin and pride themselves on bad service. We were not put off as we were used to it by then, and soldiered on to the others. In the Italian we had a plate of anti-pasti. The only vegan thing I could tell from my plate is that it didn’t have any cheese on it. The only vegetarian thing Scott noticed is that his didn’t have any meat on it. Not so much of thinking of vegans as opposed to begrudgingly removing traces of animals. It was just like being a short person. At five foot three and a bit, I am usually overlooked in all senses. Rather than catering for me I am sometimes given a box to stand on, on a good day. It was like that, being a vegan, but I did think that a tour that calls itself vegan should be celebrating it, as opposed to ‘catering’ for it. As a long term vegetarian, having the single option of pasta is par for the course. So in actual bona fide vegetarian restaurants where I am overwhelmed with choice, I get a bit giddy and order pasta. Nevertheless, the anti-pasti was delicious, the delicatessen a glittering, bedecked visual delight and the service cheerful.
Later on we went to ‘Rawtastic’ which had kelp strings of something akin to pasta. Good show. Tasty enough, but it could have done with some cheddar. The end of the tour was the highlight. Oak and Ice for ice-cream. The Question, which had been leaning towards cheese and sad cows, swung all the way back to vegan happy-dancing-cow-svelte-Jinpa. It was the smoothest, darkest softest chocolate ice-cream, hand-crafted in Poland, I had ever tasted. The busy road with cold traffic didn’t matter whilst this ice-cream existed. I looked smugly at Scott’s run of the mill vegetarian ice-cream and licked my spoon.
Bitemojo was a really good way to explore a city, have a leisurely chat, a rest and some food on the way. I will definitely try another; maybe the ‘Berlin Lovers’ one… as long as Scott doesn’t wear his walking boots.
Veganism is a wonderful thing in Berlin. I will now start trying all it has to offer, using this blog to help me…http://vegannomnoms.net/2012/10/berlin-vegan-guide.html