An American Vegan in Germany – Learning the Differences (GUEST POST)

by JL Fields on August 29, 2013

Meet my friend Shannon, one of the first people I met when I moved to Colorado Springs and now an American vegan in Germany! You can find Shannon at Finding Vegan Strength and on Instagram.

 An American Vegan in Germany

Hello everyone, my name is Shannon. I’m a military spouse and mother of two who loves to journal about vegan food! JL and I met through the Vegetarian and Vegan Meetup Group in Colorado Springs. She inspired me to begin writing my own blog and graciously pointed me in the right direction. I’m honored to write a guest post as an American vegan living in Germany.

“Congratulations, you have an assignment to Germany – you are going to love the travel and amazing food!” An awkward silence usually follows after we inform the excited party we’re vegan. “Well, good luck with that.”

American grocery stores and markets have fed our vegan lifestyle for four years. Needless to say, we weren’t sure what to expect upon arriving. We have quickly learned some tricks to surviving at home and while playing tourist.

Differences – Not Bad, Just “Different”

People usually travel or choose to live overseas in search of new and different experiences. As a vegan living in Europe, you can imagine I’m having a very different experience.

We embraced the German culture, choosing to live off-base in a nearby town. Despite the conveniences of the Commissary (on-base American-style grocery store), we intentionally immersed ourselves amidst the foreign stores and markets.

Here are some initial observations:

  • Shop for 1-2 days but not for the entire week.  Numerous neighborhood markets and bakeries accommodate this lifestyle.
  • German refrigerators are 1/3 to 1/2 the size of their American counterparts.  Fortunately, foods are packaged in smaller portions.
  • Look forward to local, in-season produce.  Learn to identify your seasonal recipes or embrace ingredient substitutions.
    • Where’s the kale? You won’t find a year round supply of fresh kale.  It’s a winter food and from what I’m gathering, traditionally cooked for a long time and never eaten raw.
    • Set aside any GMO concerns – everything appears to be non-GMO.
    • “Bio” means organic. The label pops-up everywhere from gas stations to markets.
    • Everything is closed on Sunday. Everything.

Dining Out in Europe

Imagine ordering a vegan meal at your everyday restaurant. Now, try doing that again in German, Czech, Polish, Italian, French, and well, you get the picture.  Larger cities and popular tourist sights often accommodate with English menus and many people speak some English. The real challenge begins once venturing off the beaten path and away from big cities. We politely stumble through our language barrier and look forward to the creations coming out of the kitchen. Be prepared for the occasional creamy dressings and suspicious butter flavors, which take away from an otherwise perfect vegan meal.  When dining at a non-vegetarian/non-vegan friendly restaurant, seek out salads and sides.

american vegan in germany | salad

Hold the meat and cheese – replace dressings with simple olive oil and vinegar

Needless to say, we do our best to find every vegan friendly restaurant. While Yelp is our go-to resource in the States, Happy Cow wins Europe. Additionally, most Rick Steves and Lonely Planet books offer good vegetarian suggestions, pointing vegans in the right direction.  Definitely plan ahead to avoid the ‘French Fry and sorbet’ meal.  When in doubt, go ethnic by seeking out Indian, Thai, Persian, or your on-every-corner Kebab shop.

american vegan in germany | falafel

Falafel sandwich  – hold the yogurt dressing

Surprisingly, some of our best and most memorable vegan meals (in the 4 ½ years we’ve been vegan and short 2 ½ months we’ve been living/traveling here) have been here in Europe.

Touring Tips

  • Pack a Swiss Army Knife, cloth napkin/bandana, re-usable water bottle, emergency fruit and nut mixes, fruit wash (homemade recipes found online), wine/beer opener, and nylon grocery bag.
  • Pick up fresh fruit, vegetables, spreads and bread at both indoor and outdoor markets.  Bakeries and produce stands are an easy find and inexpensive option.  This is where your fruit/veggie wash, re-useable grocery bag, and Swiss Army Knife will come in handy.

american vegan in germany | market lunch

A La Carte lunch from the market (fresh fruit, vegan spreads, crackers, bread, and juice) 

On the Road

  • Seek out larger roadside gas stations.  We’ve lucked out with fresh pickles from the barrel, fruit, espresso, dried fruit and warm pretzels. 

On the Train

  • Snacks and drinks on the train are expensive. Plan ahead and pack your own lunch, snack, dinner food and drinks (this includes beer and wine).
  • Larger train stations will have markets, fruit stands (sometimes all organic), and a “food court” area with vegan options.
  • Pay the extra $5-7 on longer trips to reserve a train seat with a table.  It will make cutting, assembling, and eating your meal more enjoyable.

american vegan in germany | market train food

Market offerings at Salzburg train station (tofu, avocado, hummus, bread)

american vegan in germany | train station market lunch

Market and fruit stands that can be found in train stations (and sometimes malls) 

At the Hotel

  • Book hotels with complimentary or inexpensive breakfast.  Typical European hotels will offer bread, Müsli, preserves, cucumber, tomato, fruit, juice, and coffee/tea.
  • Cucumber, tomato, and bread make a good sandwich.  Add Dijon for some kick.
  • Bread with jam is always good.
  • Müsli, loaded with wonderful nuts, dried fruits and seeds makes a good form of “oatmeal”. Just add a little hot water.

american vegan in germany | breakfast

Typical breakfast – we’re enjoying them

  • Without a hotel breakfast option, you will probably land at a nearby bakery.  The bread and coffee are excellent but may leave you wanting more.

american vegan in germany | bakery breakfast

Shopping for the Home

I’m learning our new “home” has many vegan options. The packaging, brand name, and language may be different but the products are just as good. Vegan is written on many processed items, making them easy to identify. I’m prepared for the odd looks as I stand in front of a product, with my phone, trying to translate ingredients and names.

american vegan in germany | vegan grocery store items

Vegan spread/dips, vegan cheese, numerous tofu products, vegan butter, miso, vegan chocolate spread, etc.

Similar to the States, some stores offer a better selection than others and some cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans. I find myself meandering through the aisles a little more slowly and am always excited to stumble upon a familiar favorite.  I’m embracing extra time in the kitchen, learning how to veganize German foods, such as currywurst, and continue to make all my favorite recipes (some needing creative substitutions). With enough research and patience, I believe any committed vegan can find healthy staples or substitutions almost anywhere.

When talking to anyone about their time in Europe, you can be guaranteed they will reminisce about the cuisine.  I am convinced we will also leave with great, albeit “different”, memories – with no luck needed.

***

A huge thanks to Shannon for this incredibly informative post! I hope you will head over to her blog Finding Vegan Strength and continue to follow her adventures!

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  • Cortney Peacock Jacobs

    This is so great! Our family is gearing up for some overseas living and I have been a little worried! Would love to see another guest post from an overseas gluten free vegan!

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL

      I’ll be there are overseas, gluten-free vegans blogging, @cortneypeacockjacobs:disqus! Probably worth a Google…

    • http://www.findingveganstrength.com/ Shannon

      @cortneypeacockjacobs:disqus I know here in Germany, spelt is commonly used. I just picked some up and plan to make bread. When traveling, you may find packing your own bread helpful. If oats are okay in your lifestyle, then you should be good with the wonderful Müsli. The variety and selection of gluten-free products you are accustomed to in the States may not be present, but I think you’ll be okay. I’ve seen gluten-free bread mixes and gluten-free sections at various stores. You might find yourself making more from scratch and hopefully, wherever you land, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Plus, as JL mentioned, finding the gluten-free vegan bloggers will be helpful.

  • Nutrikate

    I don’t know whereabouts you are living in Germany, but they have an awesome range of Vegan-only supermarkets – Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and a few other places – called Veganz. (http://www.veganz.de/) They’re really taking off and they seem to be opening new branches quite regularly. I, unfortunately live in the UK, so am waiting for a London branch!

    • http://www.findingveganstrength.com/ Shannon

      @Nutrikate:disqus The closest Veganz to us is in Frankfurt (a two hour drive). However, we did go to one of their stores while touring Berlin. Although we didn’t buy anything, it was exciting to see an all vegan store. Hopefully they’ll make it your way. Closer to home, I’m having good luck with Reformhaus and Edeka.

  • Marshall N Halee Holland

    Everything your friend said is true. I have been living here for a little over six months. I love it, but when we are out and about I do find it difficult to find acceptable food to eat. Planning ahead is a major must!

    Halee

  • Angi

    I just found this post while searching for Shannon’s blog. I first saw her site a couple of months ago but haven’t spent much time online lately and thought to look for it again tonight. I noticed that it isn’t at the address I had for it. Does anyone know if it is down for maintenance, has moved or if Shannon decided to stop blogging?

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL

      Hi Angi, I saw Shannon post something via social media and when I clicked couldn’t get to it – maybe website trouble? She’s active on Instagram: http://instagram.com/findingveganstrength

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