Living Vegan in Germany

By Ruby Sturm, VRG Intern

I’m a German-American teen, and I’ve been
traveling to Germany every year since I was two. We missed our trip last summer
because of the pandemic. This year I became a vegan (after being a vegetarian since
I was born). I wondered what it would be like to return to Germany with my new
lifestyle. I have to say, it was not what I had expected it would be.

Our trip there in August started out rough. During our 8-hour flight to Zürich, we had nothing to eat. My mom had called the airline before our fight, and whoever answered the phone assured her that they had meals for us. But spoiler alert they didn’t. United Airlines used to let you reserve vegan meals but stopped after the pandemic. At least we had croutons … I remember journaling (at I’m not sure what time in the morning), and writing about the exquisite “flavor” of the croutons. Once we arrived in Switzerland (my Oma’s house in Germany is close to the border) we snacked on overpriced dark chocolate and bread at the airport. Sometimes, you just have to make do. 

Once in Germany, the rest of the trip was much
different. After only two years of not being there, things had changed so much.
At the gas station, a huge ad for Burger King’s plant-based Whopper mentioned,
“now with vegan mayo!” Two years ago every swimming pool still sold ice cream,
naturally. But now most of them have at least one type that is actually labeled
vegan! That’s right, they did the work for you. There was a big green “V” label
on any food that was vegan, and it was honestly incredible! I remember the
first supermarket we went into after arriving. I started to excitedly run
around and photograph everything vegan I saw. And, believe me, there was a
lot!  

In the meat-and-cheese-loving southern German
town where my father grew up, the grocery stores now seemed to be competing for
the largest billboards and posters, announcing, “We have more than 600 vegan
items!” “Look at our selection of vegan and vegetarian products!” Heck, Lidl (supermarket)
even had a vegan yogurt cup for 75 cents, 75 CENTS! The new vegan products
were also highlighted on a full-page insert, in the daily newspaper my Oma got
and showed me. At the thermal bathhouse in Überlingen that I’ve visited since I
was little, the café had a vegan chicken nugget kids meal! And it cost less
than the regular chicken nugget meal.  

Living Vegan with The Family

At my Oma’s house we mainly just ate vegetables.
Of course, she didn’t know exactly what to feed us. She bought us a box of
chocolate and didn’t realize it was milk chocolate. Oma also wanted to make us
Semmelknödel but couldn’t find any packages that were vegan. Eventually, we
baked vegan shortbread cookies together and they were delicious! Later, at my
aunt and uncle’s house, they and my cousins surprised us with vegetables and
rice in a coconut curry sauce, and for dessert, they even baked a vegan cake!
It was a really good cake! My cousin Luisa took the photo. It wasn’t
always easy to eat vegan while living with relatives, but everybody tried their
best to feed us!

Eating Out

Of course, at some restaurants the only choice on the menu is salad and fries. At a café in the Black Forest they made an interesting meal out of this —Pommes mit Hummus und Falafel “fries with hummus and falafel.” I added guacamole. It might seem strange, but it tasted delicious! The only problem was that at first instead of falafel they gave me meatballs. For five minutes, the waitress argued that it really was falafel, just fried differently. Eventually, I got my meal. The funny part was that afterward, the waitress started a conversation with my parents to get tips on being vegan. Apparently, she had tried hard and failed. 

A lot of German restaurants have veggie burgers.
You could ask them to take off the cheese to make it vegan. After visiting
the Meersburg Castle, on the Lake of Constance, we went to a restaurant on the
market square that had tasty, but expensive, homemade veggie burgers. 

To get a break from eating out, when we were in
the Black Forest we stayed at a lodge where we thought we’d have our own
kitchen. But we didn’t. The lodge did have a vegan soup–but I wasn’t going to
live off of soup after having to live off croutons, vegetables, and Pommes so
far! We ended up eating out at a lot of places, but we also brought groceries
back home to cook at my Oma’s. The German grocery stores were amazing! They had
so many vegan products that don’t exist or are hard to find in the United
States. However, they do have fewer international foods, such as Latin
American and Asian. Now that I think about it, a lot of the
going-out-to-eat places were overpriced. But I suppose the food was good, so it
was worth it. A lot of German supermarkets, like Aldi, Edeka, and Lidl were
filled with vegan and vegetarian products that were cheaper than at home. I
hope some of the products, such as Lidl’s vegan mozzarella sticks, will come to
the United States.

The Shoe Store and More

So this is quite an interesting story. We
were shoe shopping and I had bought some Rieker shoes (my new favorite pair)
made out of vegan leather and on sale for 20 Euros; what a bargain! My Papa
bought sports shoes, and my Mama was at a different shoe store. When we found
her she was in a deep discussion with the owner about apple leather. Apple
leather is quite interesting. After researching, I discovered that to make it
you need to purée and dehydrate apples and mix them with polyurethane. The shoe
store owner was explaining that the apple leather shoes weren’t selling well
yet because the price was high (120 Euros) and many people didn’t trust the
material well enough. After we all had bought some new vegan shoes, we left the
plaza for the day. We ate lunch and then took a walk. While we were wandering
the streets we saw some local political signs posted around the square
advertising candidates for the upcoming September elections. The signs were for
a local vegan political party! That’s right, in addition to the Green Party,
Germany now has a Vegan Party, V-Paretei3!  It was founded in 2016. They
are still new and I have no doubt that this year they probably didn’t do well.
But Germans are very environmentally aware, so who knows what will happen in
the next four years?

I asked former VRG Intern, Alicia Hückmann, from
Germany, for her input. “In the big cities, vegan products in supermarkets are
the usual standard, and restaurants usually have at least one vegan option,”
Hückmann said. “But I am not so naive to think that in a few years every person
in Germany will be vegetarian or vegan. People might be ready to not eat meat
and animal products once a week. But to fully give it up, only a few would do
that. Also, the trend doesn’t really seem to be happening in rural areas and
with older folks. Because meat is still a big part of German cooking and
culture, deeply rooted, and still counts as a symbol of masculinity and
strength.” Hückmann says that the German vegan movement is being led by
the young. “Things are changing for the better, mainly thanks to the
younger generations who are second-guessing the status quo, and loudly fighting
for our planet!”

This was Alicia’s perspective from a few years
ago: https://www.vrg.org/blog/2016/08/03/is-it-reasonable-to-travel-to-germany-as-a-vegan/