“Rhymes with bacon, which we don’t eat. Because we’re vegan…” sang Rose, as we stood on the train platform, eager to begin our evening. We bristled with anticipation, and the warmth of a shared bottle of Prosecco–a welcome sensation in the brisk Berlin air that was chilling the train platform. Tonight was to be my formal introduction into the world of the famed Berlin nightclubs that Rose adores. Though it’s still not really my scene (despite my love of dancing), I was eager to traverse the dark corners of the nightclubs, as well as participate ever so slightly in the local drinking culture.
When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is immerse myself in the local vegan food offerings. Even in Moscow, I unearthed favorable reviews for vegetarian restaurants, though I wouldn’t have been surprised were they completely absent from the local landscape. Given that I had my trusty, local vegan tour guide in Berlin, I did far less research on the vegan offerings before I arrived. From what I had heard, not only were there plenty of delicious vegan foods available, there was even an entire vegan grocery store chain in Berlin!
To start things off after my arrival, we swung by a local burger joint that happened to have late night hours. While neither of us were particularly impressed by the tofu burger, which was actually just a slice of crisp, fried tofu on a bun with lettuce and tomato (we added the ketchup and mustard ourselves), I was just happy to be able to find something filling to eat at that hour. It always surprised me that in a city with clubs that are open for literally 3 days straight, many restaurants still closed on the earlier side, frustrating both hungry travelers (from the land of 24 hour diners at least) and those suffering a case of the drunchies.
The next day, Rose took me to a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of hers, Hamy, which served vegan options alongside their regular menu. The space was small and cozy, and featured a large chalk board detailing the daily specials, of which there were only two. We chose the curry option, and asked for it vegan, with tofu instead of chicken. Within minutes, we were served an incredibly large portion of heavenly curry, which was perfectly spiced and balanced. Even chock full of coconut cream and fried tofu, it didn’t feel heavy or greasy. In my eight months in Israel, I hadn’t had anything that came close (mostly because I only had curry from a restaurant once the entire time I was there, and try as I might, I’m no expert on Southeast Asian cuisine). After lunch, we headed over to the East Side Gallery, a large section that remains of the Berlin wall, which was then covered in various murals by a number of different artists.
Friday was the first rainy day I had experienced in months, but luckily the light drizzle didn’t deter us from our explorations, and we went to the DDR museum, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the years East Germany spent under the communist regime. We had a chance to look at everything from toys, to a model house, to the clothing (which was frequently made of such poor quality fabrics that many did what they could to smuggle American made clothing in from West Berlin). There were also videos discussing the housing of the future in East Berlin, as well as clips of radio and television programs. We quickly passed several hours opening drawers and lifting doors to read about life in the DDR, and how it compared to life in West Berlin at the same time.
As the afternoon cleared up, we took a walk across the city and through the Brandenburg gate to see the Holocaust memorial. On our way there, we took a slightly wrong turn due to an apparent obstruction in our path in the form of a World Cup Carnival (or something like that). Our detour took us on a leisurely stroll through the Tiergarten before we finally found the memorial. One of the things that struck me most on my trip was just how late the sun was setting, late even for a trip that nearly coincided with the summer solstice. As we took in the memorial–both the large stone slabs situated outdoors, which slowly envelope you into their abyss, before receding as you reach the other side–as well as the underground exhibit, we were entirely unaware of how late it was, and just how close to closing the exhibit was. The indoor exhibit was a more personal display dedicated to works of art made by victims, information detailing the destruction that was wreaked upon each specific communities throughout the rest of Europe, and spotlights on several families that were deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust. I was rushed through the final exhibit, as the staff closed down the memorial for the evening. It was a sombre start to Shabbat, which I insisted we celebrate in some small amount, especially after an evening spent connecting to the darker moments of our history. It was then that I finally cracked open my last bottle of wine from the Tzfat winery, and in sharing it with Rose in Berlin, it tasted even better than I remembered.
We spent Saturday relaxing at home, in preparation for our big night out (we also had a tame night out Friday, where I was introduced to Rose’s friends as well as a DJ they were fans of). We decided to eat in that night, in order to be more budget conscious, and just as we were discussing the merits of making homemade pizza for dinner that night, one of Rose’s roommates informed us that he and his girlfriend were planning on making pizza–effectively deciding that pizza was indeed the right choice for dinner. We stopped off at the vegan grocery store that was several blocks from Rose’s apartment, and I marveled at the selection of vegan products I hadn’t had access to during the previous months. I managed to reign myself in, and only bought a vegan candy bar from, GoMax Go (and basically the thing I missed the most in Israel), and a block of Italian style Cheezly, which I’d heard about, but never seen in the US (or Israel for that matter). Rose’s roommate made the dough, and we individually topped our pizzas. I chose to make a white pizza with a creamy vegan bechamel, spiced with some black pepper, and enriched with just a touch of the Cheezly. I also added succulent caramelized onions, razor thin slices of mushroom and yellow bell pepper (two ingredients I’m not generally a fan of, but were totally perfect in this application), some sliced fresh tomato, and then topped the cooked pizza with fresh arugula. It was absolutely delicious, which lead me to stupidly eating the whole thing (despite its relative heft and richness…I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week after polishing off the last bite). Luckily, I had the chance to dance it off later that night, when we finally were admitted to the club.
We started Sunday morning off by going to sleep (and we arrived home early by Berlin standards). Our plan for the day was to check out a vegan cafe near Maur park, and then hit up Bear Pit Karaoke, within the park proper. Fast Rabbit (the cafe) was cute and funky, and its menu featured two different wraps, plus a soup of the day. Rose informed me that they also have THE BEST fries (which I think are named something like the gang bang….). I decided to get the half and half wrap, which combined both filling options. I am well aware as I struggle to describe this meal that I should have taken notes, or at least tried a little harder to document our lunch, however, I’m blaming my subpar memory of that particular hour on sleep deprivation. I do remember Rose having a cauliflower based soup that was so good, I kinda wanted to steal it all from her.