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ANIMALS

How veganism is taking over the German capital

Long the European capital of techno-driven nightlife, fastidious hipsterdom and low-cost party weekends, Berlin is adding another string to its bow as a vegan haven.

How veganism is taking over the German capital
Vegan restaurant Dandy Diner in Neukölln, Berlin. Photo: DPA

Animal product-free versions of almost any business can be found in Germany's largest city, from  butchers' shops to singles' nights.

But getting lost in the eyes of a romantic prospect over grilled tofu is far from all that's on offer for the city's 80,000 vegans — around 10 percent of the nationwide figure, vegetarian association Vebu estimates.

“Germany and especially Berlin are at the forefront” of a vegan “movement” that's advancing all over Europe, Vebu vice-president Sebastian Joy told AFP.

That's obvious from the roughly 60 vegan restaurants on offer in the German capital counted by specialist website Happy Cow — far outstripping the 24 in Paris and 40 in London, both cities more than twice the size of Berlin.

That figure has ballooned since 2008, when there were just three completely animal-free restaurants according to Vebu.

'Vegans attract vegans'

Berlin is “younger, more hyped, and more alternative than Munich, Paris or London,” explained Joy.

“There's a snowball effect: vegans attract vegans and more and more people come.”

On top of the roughly 10 new eateries opening each year, a whole lifestyle is falling into place.

Schivelbeiner Strasse in the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood in northeast Berlin, popular with startup workers and young parents, has become a “Vegan Avenue”.

Initiates can stroll from supermarket to cafe to clothes- and shoe-shops and carry their purchases home with vegan consciences clear.

The food shelves without cheese, yoghurt or honey and clothing racks without wool or leather are a far cry from the luxurious treats at KaDeWe – the German answer to Harrods or Galeries Lafayette.

Today in 2016, growth in what's on offer, from soy ice-cream to Europe's first 100 percent-vegan pizzeria, means that “Berlin is almost comparable to New York” in terms of options for vegans, said yoga teacher and long-time adept of the lifestyle Moritz Ulrich.

Enter the 'flexitarians'

But the sudden aura of cool around veganism has uprooted the movement from its woollen-socks-with-sandals origins.

In early 2016, police were called to break up a vegan restaurant opening after hundreds of people showed up to the event, swarming over the pavement and even blocking traffic.

The new fast-food joint had become the evening's hot ticket on Facebook among fans of the fashion-blogger owners.

“Being vegan is no longer an abstemious practise for a few fundamentalist animal-lovers, but part of hedonistic event culture,” sniffed Munich broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The Facebook crowds fit into a growing, fluid category of “flexitarians”, who may see part-time veganism as a way to eat more healthily or care a little more for the environment.

“People are asking more and more questions about where the food on their plate comes from,” said Johannes Theuerl, the owner of a vegan butcher's shop.

On offer at his counter are “meatballs” and slices of roast seitan, a food based on wheat proteins.

“Beyond reducing meat consumption, we see that people also want to eat seasonal and regional produce,” Theuerl went on.

Proponents say that traditional vegans' upsets about such meat substitutes are past their sell-by date.

“I've had enough of the cliche about the activist who expects others to adopt the same lifestyle,” heartthrob vegan celebrity chef Attila Hildmann told Deutschlandradiokultur, complaining of an “ideological wall” around veganism.

Some people just insist that “meat is a crime, without proposing an alternative,” he went on.

But with veganism on the radar of Berlin's entrepreneurs, foodies, and fad-seeking young followers of fashion, more alternatives are emerging all the time.

Nowadays, “people who give up meat aren't doing it because they don't like it,” said Vebu's Joy, who picks a distinctly 21st-Century analogy to drive his argument home.

“You can drive an electric car because you see the damage done by diesel without wanting to switch to a bike.”

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ASPARAGUS

Only in Germany: McDonald’s begins offering ‘Spargel Burger’

Amid Germany's famous 'Asparagus Season', the fast food chain has begun offering an unusual twist on typical ingredients.

Only in Germany: McDonald's begins offering 'Spargel Burger'
A basket of Spargel in Kutzleben, Thuringia marked the start of this year's season on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

How do you know that you’re definitely in Germany? One sure fire way: when you check the menu of a McDonald’s in the springtime and see a ‘Spargel Burger’. 

Germans are so enamored by the ‘white gold’ –  special light-coloured asparagus which is much thicker than its North American green counterpart – that it’s now a featured fast food at McDonald’s Germany, and with classic Hollandaise sauce and bacon to boot. 

On Thursday, the popular American fast-food chain restaurant – which counts nearly 1,500 outlets in Germany – published a photo of the “Big Spargel Hollandaise” saying that it would be available at select restaurants. They assured customers: “Yes, it’s really there.”

But its release was met with mixed reactions. “We absolutely have to go to McDonald’s sometime,” wrote one. Yet another called the unconventional creation “perverse.”

Another commenter showed skepticism: “Hollandaise sauce on a burger? Does that even taste good?”

Others weighed in on social media to point out that the product is a sign of Germany’s fascination with the vegetable. 

The burger is the latest to join the asparagus craze, with a phallic-shaped Spargel monument in Torgau, Saxony capturing the public attention – or bewilderment – earlier in the week.

An annual tradition

Every year, Germany typically celebrates ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season) from the middle of April until June 24th, which many dub ‘Spargelsilvester’ (Asparagus-New Year’s Eve). 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Spargelzeit

The beloved vegetable, harvested heavily around the country, usually has its own special menu devoted to it at restaurants, and is sold in supermarkets – or road-side stands – next to jars of the classic Hollandaise sauce. 

The top states which grow the crop are Lower Saxony, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, but Beeliz, Brandenburg is also synonymous with Spargel in Germany. 

In normal years the tiny town hosts a sprawling festival to mark the start of the season, anointing a Spargel king and queen.

READ ALSO: Here’s why Germans go so completely crazy for asparagus

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