Just a little over twelve months since my last visit to Berlin, a last-minute press invite landed in my inbox, and seven days later I found myself back in Germany for less than 36 hours, tunnel vision forever set on the burger trail.
Although I wasn't by any means alone for my entire trip- (I stayed in my best friend's beautiful flat for the night) I am beginning to see, for the first time ever, the charm in travelling alone. Specifically moving around a city, working out maps for yourself, unwinding directions someone's given you in a language you're really not at all proficient in, realising one mistake in a cafe's street number has led you two miles off course. Until my trip to Manchester earlier this year to research vegan food there, I'd never eaten a meal alone before, but I have to say I am firmly convinced that sometimes, maybe just a few times a year, a solo trip is really the way to go. It's a different kind of indulgence than a meal together or as a huge group- you come away with something else, but I like its novelty.
Last time I came to Berlin, Guac and Roll was in quite a different place and I wasn't travelling with the idea of hunting out vegan places per se- it was more about how easy it was to rock up to any joint - (cafe, restaurant, Turkish bakery or otherwise) and order vegan. This time around I explore. There is a LOT to try that's meat, dairy, fish and egg-free in Berlin, and you could honestly spend weeks doing this. Working around my press commitments, I chose a handful of places in areas I'd have time to roam around, and went from there.
Let It Be had me at hello. I'd heard about this vegan crêpe and burger cafe from Stil In Berlin (you could pretty much plan an entire vegan sabbatical from the trove of information on there) and decided to make it first on my list.
It was quarter to three by the time I wound my way down through Neukölln and arrived at Let It Be. A small crowd had already formed in a laissez-faire way - everyone keen to be the first person in, no-one keen to be that person. I took a walk around the block and came back at five past.
Despite the staff still sorting out the outside tables, menus still being written and the kitchen still getting to grips with the day's prep, I stepped into a cafe I'd be happy to spend hours in. A menu that would risk feeling gimmicky in London (burgers, sandwiches and crêpes are named after some pretty cool famous people... Thom Yorke, Prince, the entire cast of season one of True Detective...) somehow just felt playful in this slice of Berlin, as I tried to work out which ingredients the chefs there thought a seitan patty, mustard and ketchup make something especially Chrissie Hynde.
Everything I consumed in Let It Be was delicious- from the chilled Club Mate that was the perfect pick-up after my 4am start back in London that day, to the mound of potato wedges and vegan mayonnaise. I cannot fault Let It Be. I only wish I could have eaten more (impossible) and that they could also operate in my city. You might not think you need a vegan crêperie in your town, but you'd be wrong.
My next stop on the vegan trail needed to be a Wifi cafe as I had work to do. Unfortunately, without said Wifi to match up Google directions to my guidebook map, I wrote down the address of the place I was aiming to get to - Café Treibholz- wrong, and ended up basically two miles in the opposite direction without a clue of how to get anywhere. On my hour-long meander back into the centre of Neukölln, I noticed a vegan cafe sign and popped inside for a coffee. Feeling a little dejected I started examining the menu and realised I had in fact, finally, made it to Treibholz, I'd just added a few digits to the Hermannstrasse. 37 address. All's well that end's well- I now bunked down for the last few hours of solo time before Heather finished work with soy flat whites and free Wifi. I was way too full to try any of the cakes, croissants or bread that was available, but I think if you were staying in a hostel or Airbnb nearby, this would be a great place to stock up on breakfast supplies for the following day.
(Bad iPhone photo alert... but it was amazing...) Here's what sharing with an omnivore looks like in reality! If you're not all that familiar with Berlin, as well as burgers, there's also an amazing Turkish food culture you have to try. Falafel, lentil soup, fava bean dips- it's all some of the best I've ever eaten, being a sucker for canteen vibes and fast food the traditional way, sans commodification. So for dinner Heather and I set off to one of her favourite Turkish places, of which you can find plenty around Kreuzberg and the centre. Our food was super cheap, Heather warning me not to over-order for once in my life as the portions are massive anyway. The guys in the shop got a bit too enthusiastic with the yoghurt dressing, so we just halved each falafel and shared the plate. The ultimate in vegan/omnivore cohabitation.
Heather's neighbourhood, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, is full of organic and 'bio' stores that offer the kind of health food shop fare you get in the UK but in small-supermarket formats, meaning there is a lot to choose from if you're cooking for yourself while you stay in Berlin, and you don't really have to sacrifice anything from usual meat and dairy-free alternatives. For breakfast the following day Heather made us both almond milk and muesli with frozen berries and industrial-strength black coffee before we each had to head off to work (sob).
After walking off to my press day and taking in the Berlin Wall (I'd never seen it before and wasn't quite ready for how moving I'd find it) I decided to give another area a try, so I walked up from the Ostkreuz station in search of Yoyo Foodworld, which I'd seen my Instagram friend @yesitsallvegan talk about before (follow her, she's great), and the mini-adventure was seriously worth it. Yoyo Foodworld lives in the Boxhagener neighbourhood- a grid of streets packed full of little gift shops, art stores, galleries, Wifi cafes, parks and bars. If you're ever a bit Kreuzberg-ed out, I'd head here.
Yoyo Foodworld is pared down- you can tell it's from an older league of vegan places than Let It Be- but to be honest, anyone that lets a slightly shabby interior put them off here doesn't deserve what's getting served. Reading the menu, it's like reality has done a 180 and you're in a diner where you can eat everything. Not just a generous three-vegan-options place, but everything. Faux-fish patties, avocado mayonnaise, grilled doner meat salad....a little bewildered by the ridiculous amount of choice on the menu, I chose a plain fried tofu burger with fries and salad, and as you can see, the result could barely fit on one plate.
Rough and ready and probably not the kind of place your parents are going to be impressed by, is also the total appeal of Yoyo... my entire meal and Club Mate cost €8.20, so I am definitely not complaining.
Finally, reluctantly, it was time to head home. Back in 2013 my 8pm flight back to London was delayed until 3.30am in the morning, so I got to know Schönefeld airport a lot better than I had ever intended. Back then the closest thing the cafes offered as a vegan option was taking the cheese out of tomato and cheese sandwiches, but I'm pleased to say this has now been upgraded to a dairy-free couscous salad, which was actually just about right after two days of burgers and vegan mayonnaise. I topped it off with a trusty pot of watermelon, and a final call home before my flight.