Saturday, 18 September 2021
The idea was simple: Instead of flying – why not travelling climate-friendly? Most certainly this would take some time, but travelling Oslo–Berlin–Paris took time for the famous painters, writers and artists more than a hundred years ago, too.
Upfront research showed that it would have been possible to reach Trondheim within a little more than two nights and a day during the summer 2021, but we were restricted to travel in the first half of September by the date of a family festivity, limited days off from work and the end of the Bavarian school holidays. With only 10 minutes connecting time in Hamburg and, in case of a miss, the next possible connection one week later due to change of timetables on the Swedish part, we gave up on the plan of the fastest possible route. Instead two additional nights, one in Hamburg, and one in Copenhagen, would not only give us a little leisure to re-visit these cities, it would also increase the amount of money to spend: If you decide to travel Europe by train and do not have all the time of a university break a reasonably priced Interrail ticket simply won't suffice.
Finally the travel itinerary came up to
Altogether four nights and about three and a half days involving six train companies – most of them not co-operating. Had we had the time and money for a return trip it would even have been possible to take bicycles on the tour (at least to the Norwegian border).
Amidst the covid-19 pandemic a new privately held German train company took the courage to re-establish over-night travel by train on the North-South line through Germany, one part of the train departing from Salzburg, another from Konstanz by the lake Bodensee to be united on their way to the island of Sylt via (among others) Munich and Hamburg. The train is operated two times per week and tickets can be booked online only. The company informed by e-mail that the departure of the train wouldn't be visibly announced at the train station, but sent time, platform and car location for all stations on the route.
With this information at hand I didn't get nervous when the display at platform 6 in Munich Ostbahnhof announced that all trains would depart from platform 11 or 12 (presumably due to the strike of the Deutsche Bahn train drivers in the summer of 2021). Some fellow passengers found out that this also applied to the Alpen-Sylt-Express, and the entire crowd moved over.
What didn't show up in time was the train by the time of arrival and not even by the time of departure, and as announced, there simply was no information. A helpful staff member of the Austrian train company ÖBB reassured us that the train would arrive here, and finally it appeared on the platform display and, by about half an hour delayed, arrived.
From now on everything went smooth (at least until we reached the Norwegian border). Due to the pandemic no strangers were booked into the former Deutsche Bahn couchette compartment which came at a price of 300 EUR for the two of us. The interior as well as the common wash and toilet facilities were clean, though a little worn. The almost doubly priced (or, in luxury class even more expensive) sleeper (with private room) is of French origin, and there's a very competitively priced seat car (starting at around 70 EUR).
On the train it would have been possible to order a pair of organic soft pretzls, organic tomato soup and organic porridge for dinner and breakfast, though no organic drinks.
Clean sheets were provided for all six sleeping places, and despite being a German train the proper way of sleeping was the Southern way wrapped into the sheet and covered with a blanket. Needless to add that in the couchette car you are expected to make your bed yourself. Complimentary drinking water to brush your teeth was not provided.
Hamburg–Copenhagen by DSB/DB
Danske Statsbanen (DSB) and Deutsche Bahn (DB) co-operatively run the city connection between Hamburg and Copenhagen via the Storebelt bridge, so buying tickets more or less spontaneously and without providing personal data, at a German or Danish train station usually shouldn't be an issue. The direct IC train runs four times a day to and fro and keeps waiting at the platform in Hamburg central station between arrival and departure. Unfortunately you aren't allowed on board more than fifteen minutes before departure – the train will be closed while the staff is having their break.
There are more connections where you have to change trains, but with almost all of them the journey takes around five hours.
The direct Intercity train is comfortable and – just as the night trains – has capacity for bicycles. Ticket prices vary, depending on whether you have a Bahncard discount card, as well as on how long in advance and where you buy it.
Copenhagen–Malmö by regional train
Effectively an urban train line over the Öresund bridge tickets for the Öresundtåg regional train can be bought from the ticket machines at København H – anonymously as long as you see away from the card payment which is the most comfortable payment method if your stay in Denmark isn't long enough to use Danish cash.
Since we travelled during the covid-19 pandemic passports had to be provided in the train which stopped but was closed during the border control.
Malmö–Åre/Storlien on the Snälltåget night train
As far as I know night trains between Stockholm and the Swedish-Norwegian border at Storlien have been running for ages, and quite recently the privately held Snälltåget has extended its network to Berlin (via Copenhagen and Hamburg).
During the summer we could have travelled Munich–Berlin with Deutsche Bahn, with four hours the fastest train connection within Germany, and taken the Snälltåget from there, but as the Swedish company changed to their autumn timetable this connection did not work out.
The ticket for two in a private couchette came at 4000 SEK (about 400 EUR) and had to be booked on-line. Due to covid-19 restrictions the remaining four beds weren't filled up, but we were given all six complementary packs of drinking water. The choice at the restaurant car dubbed "Krogen" was limited due to the pandemic, and did not include any single organic item.
Washing facilities in the couchette car are limited to the common toilet.
The beds are a little wider than on the Alpen-Sylt-Express which might have been the reason for that my sleep was deeper and less disturbed during that night. On this train we were given duvet covers.
The train is provided at Malmö C in good time before departure, so we were able to board almost an hour before.
By the way: The train company's name, Snälltåget, is a play on words. The Swedish word "snäll" means "nice" and is a false friend with the German word "schnell" meaning "fast". Before IC and ICE trains took over the city connections in Germany, the then faster trains were referred to as "Schnellzüge", "fast trains".
Åre/Storlien–Trondheim: The last miles
What should have been a 1.5 hours train ride with the Meråkerbanen regional train
from the Snälltåget's final destination Storlien to Trondheim, turned out to be a show stopper for climate-friendly travel as well as a tedious money sink.
When planning the journey in June 2021, the timetables of Meråkerbanen were still on-line, although we expected a rail replacement bus service due to the ongoing electrification work on the route (just like on our last train journey from Stockholm to Storlien in 2017). What we did not expect was that there was no public transport service at all!
Locals told us that the connection has not been operated for the entire covid-19 pandemic, mainly because the Norwegian and the Swedish side wouldn't agree on the test and vaccine control procedure at the border.
So we had to hire a cab from one of the taxi companies in Åre: Taxi Åre did not have any cars left, but Topptaxi was willing to drive us from the train station of Åre over the border to the nearest Norwegian village, Meråker, at the hefty price tag of 2100 SEK. Due to an initial misunderstanding on behalf of the taxi operator we ended up paying only 1700 SEK for the 1.5 hours ride which would have been the price from Åre to the border. Given the fact that Storlien–Meråker would have been much shorter, this was probably a fair deal for both parties.
Since it was raining (the expected weather) we asked the taxi driver to drop us in front of the Coop Xtra hypermarket in Meråker where we could wait inside the "cafe" corner for the bus to Trondheim. A little more than an hour later we were heading over to the bus stop at Meraker school from where the bus no. 670 would take us to Trondheim. (Mind you that this 1.75 hours public bus service does not run on weekends.)
[The_Conscious_Traveller, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Salzburg, Munich, Konstanz, Hamburg, Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo, Stockholm, Storlien, Aare, Trondheim, eco, nighttrains, trains]
Monday, 21 June 2021
Taste- and love-less, standardised conventional breakfast buffets are still league in Berlin, but if you have the chance to decide where to stay you can easily start your day in a way that's good for you and the planet: If you don't mind hotel chains the easiest bet are the hotels of the Motel One chain. All over Germany they offer partially organic breakfast for 11.50 EUR in addition to the room charge. They promise organic dairy products, plant-based drinks, jam, honey, apple juice, coffee, tea, apples and muesli at all hotels, and if you are lucky there may be more organic and fairly traded options.
But you can have it even more luxurious, at welcoming, owner-run boutique hotels striving for a fully sustainable overall experience.
Both of them are located in the city centre, and you may even be surprised to find that they aren't necessarily more expensive than the chain.
If you do yoga or adhere to a minimalist lifestyle Hotel Almodóvar in Friedrichshain is a must-go (but neither of the two is a prerequisite to feel at home here). The reduced geometric minimalist chic in white and dark-brown, with carefully selected design objects to light the room, beanbags, and yoga mats generate a very special, focussed room atmosphere.
All food and drinks here are organic: In the morning you wake up to a gorgeous
vegetarian breakfast buffet with lots of regional produce and tasty home-made spreads and preserves at Bistro Bardot; on Sundays you can have brunch until 3 pm, with (among others)
vegan curry "sausage" and scrambled "eggs". Given the pleasantly styled location it's sad that the bistro isn't a public bar in the evening, but as a hotel guest you can have a glass of
organic wine to quit the day.
While the Almodóvar building is quite new (opened in 2013) the Guldsmeden hotel Lulu
in the vibrant neighbourhood of Potsdamer Straße in Tiergarten/Mitte is located in a
beautifully renovated 1850’s building. Part of a small Danish family-owned sustainable hotel chain which carefully and individually decorates the rooms you can expect
the breakfast and bar service to be fully organic. The hotel restaurant and bar dubbed Sæson (Danish for "season") is currently closed.
I haven't had the chance to stay here yet but given my absolutely positive experience with the Guldsmeden hotels in Copenhagen and Oslo I'm pretty sure you won't regret your stay here. All body care products there are organic, so I expect them to be so at the Lulu, too.
Closed during the covid-19 pandemic
- Sæson restaurant & bar, Potsdamer Str. 67, breakfast Mon–Fri(Sat–Sun) 6:30(7:30)–10:30(11), lunch Mon–Sat 12–14:30, evening Tue–Sat 18–22
[Berlin, organic, hotel, accommodation, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bar, restaurant, covid, corona]
Saturday, 18 May 2019
When you're captured in the boring conference centre Moa-Bogen (not far from the Berlin main train station, Hauptbahnhof) where not even the tea bags in the conference area are organic (with the notable exception of one type of simple black tea which was available from one single tea bag dispenser) all you want is to go for a stroll at lunch time.
But this is not Kreuzberg and it's not so easy to find organic food options. What I discovered in the vicinity were two vegan day cafes with more or less limited use of organic ingredients, both not more than a five minutes walk away (though in opposite directions).
Around Birkenstraße tube station
For cheap and simple, filling vegan food find the ice-cream-shaped neon light of
vegan Café Geh Veg next to the Birkenstraße tube station (the name is a mesh up of the literal translation of "go veg", the German word for pedestrian way -- Gehweg -- and the German phrase "Geh weg!" meaning "go away"). This small and somewhat shabby place serves breakfast until 2 pm as well as black bean burgers, salads, bagels, wraps and cakes. Unfortunately it’s only partially organic: The bagels, the tempeh and the soy and the oat drinks are organic, most of the tea bags and soft drinks are, too, but veges, yogurt alternatives and the ice-cream usually are not. The coffee is even cheap conventional supermarket fare.
Questions about the origin of the ingredients were dealt with in a friendly way, but the staff does not seem to be very knowledgeable. Note that the toilets are next door.
For way nicer surroundings in Spanish style walk in opposite direction: Directly located at the pleasant retreat of Stephansplatz with a nice children's playground surrounded by Wilhelminian style houses you'll find Valladares Feinkost. It's not only a
100% vegan café, but
also a small organic grocery selling organic dry products, dairy alternatives, wines, lemonades, water and even natural cosmetics.
The coffee is roasted in town but not organic, the plant-based drinks are.
According to the barrista fresh veges used in the dishes would usually be organic, but there's no commitment to what's organic and what not. Unfortunately the cakes aren't.
The oat-drink-based cappuccino I found too sweet (due to the brand), so here the one from Geh Veg was better, despite the inferior coffee.
From Birkenstraße take the U9 tube one stop to Turmstraße, and you're in the heart of Old Moabit, with busy shopping streets and pleasant residential areas. Here you'll find
the Domberger Brot-Werk, a true
artisanal bakery with an open bakehouse as part of the shop. It smells deliciously here and you may be surprised by the limited selection of items -- just a few types of bread and rolls, and one type of cake if you come in time for the latter. But the taste! I still regret that I did not buy a loaf of bread to take with me, since the Bavarian-style pretzl I had was overwhelmingly tasty: fresh from the oven, with an intense flavour of wheat and baking stone (although Bavarians would probably complain about the softness). The bakery itself is not certified organic, but uses
certified organic flour, eggs, and milk. The fruit for the cake and other ingredients come from the Kreuzberger Markthalle 7 and may not be organic. Needless to say that you can have a coffee, too, probably also in front of the place when the weather is nice.
For 100% organic ice-cream head for the
Eisbox ice-cream parlour a few corners away. Unfortunately I run short of time, so share your experience with me if you come here.
There's also an organic supermarket of the small Berlin-based LPG chain a few meters further west which also offers fully organic lunch. Their bakery counter opens an hour before the supermarket, at 7am.
The LPG groceries are organised as a co-operative with a focus on regional producers and neighbourhood welfare, offering discounts to its members. Its name matches the common abbreviation for the agricultural production cooperatives in former East Germany.
At the main train station
Within the city's huge main train station, Berlin Hauptbahnhof (which you can reach within a few minutes on the TXL bus from the Turmstraße stop located on Alt-Moabit street) it's hard to find a supplier of organic provisions (you'll have to fall back to the conventional Rewe supermarket or the Rossmann drugstore and check for organic labels). I could not find any eatery using organic ingredients, but you can at least have organic coffee drinks and tea at the Pret a manger self-service cafe. When you enter the station from the southern exit at Washingtonplatz this is the first place to the left. They use fresh organic milk from the Bavarian Andechser dairy, but unfortunately none of their cakes, cookies, sandwiches and other own-brand snacks are organic.
[Berlin, Moabit, organic, vegan, cafe, restaurant, eatery, coffee, ice-cream, supermarkets, grocery, bakeries]
Thursday, 16 May 2019
Nowhere in Germany it is easier to adhere to an organic lifestyle than in its capital -- provided you aim for appropriately inhabited neighbourhoods all you have to do is to keep your eyes open. Many of those neighbourhoods can be found in the administrative unit of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, and this blog will cover only the tip of the iceberg, i.e. the places I found during a two-days visit. The places covered in the first two sections are all located in Kreuzberg 61, the neighbourhood considered the bourgeouis part of Kreuzberg.
The German Museum of Technology near tube-station Möckernbrücke clearly is a place to spend hours in -- but what if you start to feel hungry or the urge for a coffee? For the occasional tourist this wonderful museum seems to be located in the middle of nowhere, but don't dispair! Head East and follow Tempelhofer Ufer back to the tube station, and turn to the right after the second traffic-light. A few steps into Großbeerenstraße you will find an organic gem with roots back in former West-Berlin's green-alternative past. Today it's a friendly though a little worn-out grocery cum eatery dubbed Ökotussi ("eco-Sheila") run by a bunch of practical women. Stop by for a hearty vegetarian (usually vegan) lunch (the vegan lasagna we had was delicious and sufficient for two), a salad or snack or an Italian-style coffee drink.
Follow Zossener Straße from tube-stop Gneisenaustraße in Southern direction, and you'll end up in a neighbourhood that most eco-conscious people will consider the ultimate paradise: three organic (or predominantly organic) whole-sale supermarkets, four organic bakeries, four at minimum partially organic restaurants and eateries, and a number of other shops offering selected organic products, everything within a five minutes walk, all with liberal opening hours compared to the rest of Germany. The eateries of this neighbourhood dubbed Bergmannkiez try to outdo one another in advertising their vegan options -- it seems a luxury to point out that vegan even here usually does not imply organic.
Restaurants and eateries
Promenading Bergmannstraße (which makes for the Southern border of Marheinekeplatz) to the West you will find Fratelli La Bionda, a decent Italian pizzeria using organic flour and tomatoes for their pizze. No place for lunch since the restaurant does not open before evening. If you take your seat around the tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, opposing a park with a children's playground you will kindly be asked to move inside around half past 9 pm. Since the eateries covered below all close between 8 and 9 pm (or even earlier during the weekend) this place is the only option for your evening out covered in this post.
A few steps west enter crossing Friesenstraße to the left, and you'll find Glück to go, serving ayurveda-inspired healthy vegan or vegetarian burgers with organic buns alongside organic beer and softdrinks. Unlike the eateries within the Marheineke-Markthalle next to the playground this place is open on Sundays.
This nicely restored mall is a Mekka for foodies. Opposite Friesenstraße you will find Piechas Bio-Buffet, a slow-food whole-organic grill. Although vegan and vegetarian dishes are offered, too, their focus is clearly on organic meat, from nose to tail. Arguably Berlin's best beef burgers are served here, and unlike other places they won't cook your meat to death when you forget to order rare. If you want to try Berliner Currywurst (curried sausage) and other German meat dishes at all -- so here. Heavily frequented during lunch hours service can be a bit bumpy, and more frequent cleaning of the bar tables would often be nice. You can choose from an impressive range of organic softdrinks, or have beer or very decent cider made from apples organically grown in the wild of Berlin's surroundings. Mayonaise and ketchup for your fries have to be ordered separately.
If you walk around the booth you will find the counter of the organic butcher's shop where you can buy sausages, offal and all the cuts from free-range cattle and pigs kept well at small-scale organic farms in the vicinity and slaughtered respectfully.
Lunch and coffee drinks are also being served by organic bakery Beumer & Lutum, a few steps north on Zossener Straße. If you want your coffee on the go make sure to bring your own mug which entitles you to a small discount. While the two organic bakery boothes within the Marheineke mall -- Mehlwurm in the centre of the market hall, and Biobackhaus in the North-Eastern part -- are closed on Sundays and open at 8 am, Beumer & Lutum keeps open on Sundays and is catering for the early bird Monday through Saturday from 7 am. It also offers a small selection of organic food items to complete your breakfast table. In return the bakery boothes in the mall have longer opening hours in the evening, but do not serve coffee or lunch.
For the sweet tooth
Italian-style organic coffee drinks can also be had from the Tanne b ice-cream parlour on the crossing of Zossener and Bergmannstraße. They use organic milk for their all-natural ice-creams served in vegan cones, and offer vegan options, too. Children are served slightly smaller scoops for the price of 80 cents (instead of 1.20 euros for regular servings). In 2019 the ice-cream season has been announced to start 7th March.
Around the corner from Fratelli La Bionda you'll find cosy Cafe Conni Island where you can treat yourself with lovely home-made, partially organic cakes and a coffee drink made with organic milk. The place is run by an artist whom you can hire to paint your walls with art, and since she usually serves herself the opening hours are restricted to afternoons and the second half of the week.
Opposite Beumer & Lutum you will find Doçura Chocolate, a confectioner's shop offering a decent selection of organic chocolates and tisanes. Since about two-thirds of their sweets are conventional check for organic labelling.
With a branch of the vegan supermarket chain Veganz on the first floor of Marheineke-Markthalle facing Marheinekeplatz, a branch of Berlin-based organic wholesale chain Bio-Company on Bergmannstraße/Friesenstraße crossing and an Alnatura branch on the East-side of the park, all with liberal opening hours compared to German standards it's hard to find an excuse for not buying organic.
While the latter two sell exclusively organically certified items you have to be careful at Veganz: The grocery products and most of the German and Austrian brands on display are organic (and can be found in almost any other organic supermarket), but they also offer a lot of imported vegan products, and a great deal of them are not organic. Unfortunately these are not clearly marked on the shelves, so you should be familiar with organic branding outside the continent. On the plus side this Veganz supermarket introduced self-service dispensers offering more than 80 different dry products waiting to be filled in the containers you brought with you.
If you're on a shopping spree or in search for a gift, and the body care sections of the organic supermarkets seem too boring, there's an organic beauty shop dubbed Belladonna in Bergmannstraße. Light and inviting, with a great selection of all kinds of natural creams, body lotions, perfumes, hair care, make-up and much more, both for men and women, this is a must-go for everyone, not just beauty addicts.
Also need new clothes? One of the three Berlin-based shops of the Dresden-based organic fashion and interior design label Tranquillo is located right in the vicinity.
The Japanese go mad about Trippen shoes, and if you go for fairly and eco-consciously produced leather shoes of unusual design (some of the soles alone can be considered art) the Trippen factory outlet near tube stop Schlesisches Tor is definitely worth a visit. Unlike in their stylish flagship store within Hackesche Höfe you have to browse shoe boxes for your size, and all the pairs are remaining stock or have small defects like miscolourings. In return prices are well below usual market price. You will find children's, women's and men's shoes (even the ones better described as sculptures are astonishingly comfy), and the staff is very helpful.
If you happen to feel hungry after shoe-shopping pay a visit to Schulz&Korn, a small partially organic delicatessen cum eatery on your way from Trippen back to Schlesisches Tor. You can choose between two simple, predominantly organic vegetarian dishes (like pasta or baked potatoes with salad), and shop your daily supply of grocery. The dry goods, drinks and veges are organic, but most of the cheeses and meat-based products are surprisingly not. You'll probably want to avoid the Argentinian empanadas made by a friend of the shopkeepers as they are made using conventional minced meat. The staff is friendly and doesn't turn grumpy when you enquire about the origin of the ingredients and supplies. The shop looks like an organic grocery of old which has adapted itself to its neighbourhood, and is frequented by locals. Note that they are closed on Saturdays.
Another of the probably many organic groceries turned partially organic eateries and delis is Der Milchladen ("The milk shop") near tube stop Moritzplatz. More styled than Schulz&Korn, in the heart of what is dubbed the wild and autonomous migrant Kreuzberg you can have a hearty lunch, sandwiches, coffee and (cheese) cake as well as breakfast, vegan, vegetarian and omnivore.
The place is situated a few steps from the flagship store of one of the oldest eco-conscious Berlin fashion labels, Luzifer in Oranienstraße. All their clothes are made of linen and hemp, and unlike other labels they don't have short-lived collections: If you wore out your favourite dress, shirt or pair of trousers, you will usually be able to buy a replacement. When my favourite dress (of which I had two copies) after ten years continous use had too many holes they happily made a new one of the good parts for a very competitive price. They offer both, a men's and a women's collection, and you will often be served a tisane or a cookie in their light and friendly showroom.
The following places are closed for good:
[Berlin, Kreuzberg, organic, vegan, Italian, pizza, coffee, ice-cream, supermarkets, fashion, bodycare, household, shoes, deli, grocery, eatery, zero_waste, bakeries, butcher, burgers, confectioners]
Thursday, 15 January 2015
[The_Conscious_Traveller, Germany, Berlin]