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I have just come back from a week long holiday in Berlin, and food was the focal point (as it should be). Germany is the home of the big and the cheap when it comes to supermarkets, being the founder of both Aldi and Lidl. However, juxtaposing this, I was struck to see how the organic, environmental and Slow Food philosophies are already very much embedded in the culture. How? Berlin’s environmental, ethical and food movements are premised on the power of individual, everyday choices towards a sustainable system.
|There is a sense of subtlety in Berlin’s approach to food. This is also seen in the War memorials, with bullet holes on buildings and golden cobbles humbly reminding us day-to-day of the devastation that once consumed the city and its people. There is also a sense of trust and reliance on individual, moral choice. One example is the Drive Nowscheme, allowing people to ‘rent cars’ (in the same way as you rent Borris Bikes) and drive around the city. It’s based on trust and a small fee, and encourages a greener, less congested city while still providing the convenience needed for everyday living.
The same applies to the food culture: in supermarkets, you will find bottle banks which pay you for each bottle you give; in cafes, you see photos of the farmers and animals that have played an integral role in the production of your food; and in coffee shops, your drink comes with an information leaflet giving you the story behind the bean, the production process, and the institution its served in.
A fantastic Berlin Food Tour with a local and knowledgeable guy named Bastian led us to several great examples. One favourite stop was the Vom Einfachen Das Gute deli, translating as ‘From Simplicity Comes Good’ (or something along those lines…). Germany is famous for its 5pm ‘coffee and cake’ tradition along with delicious, cold dinners of meat, bread and cheese. This deli definitely helps with the latter, selling a delicious range of local, organic cheeses and meats including wild ox and 15 year old strips of beef. You know everything about the products, the suppliers, and it tastes all the better for it.
The best thing about the tour was that Bastian emphasised just how intimately connected food is to the wider cultural scene in Berlin: art, music, heritage. Backstreets were filled with traditional bakeries next to new burger joints, separated by walls decorated with colourful graffiti. Farmer’s and organic markets are dotted around the city on nearly every day of the week, including one in Kreuzberg even having a ‘Slow Food’ fridge to prevent waste. The Slow Travel Berlin’s blog gives a great summary of one market in Prenzlauer Berg, located in the Kollwitzplatz.
|Bastian and Berliner Pfannkuchen
|On our own wanderings, we found The Barn; a speciality coffee shop adopting the Slow Food philosophies. Once again, foods relationship with the wider culture and environment of Germany was shown. Coffee is for enjoyment and reflection, not just for a caffeine kick. As they say: “Like in wine or slow food, a close bond is created between micro-farmer, speciality roaster and coffee shop to protect the high qualities of coffee beans from Crop to Cup”.
You have the values, you have the information, and you are being given a choice to act on this. This is the same goal as more ‘radical’ movements which work outside existing infrastructure, however the above, subtle inclusions within existing systems could make it easier and more convenient to progress towards a more sustainable, ethical food system, especially for the ‘ordinary consumer’. In this sense, the ‘value to action’ gap is arguably lessened. Moreover, those who act on the values and lifestyles promoted by environmental and ethical movements are a small (but evergrowing) minority. Whether this is an issue of money, of cultural background, of education or simply of stereotypes, it exists and needs to be confronted. This subtle movement is, to me, one clear way to do so.