Vegan Food in Frankfurt

DSC_0714Germany is one of the most welcoming countries for vegans. A search of any German city on Happy Cow will give you a long list of not only vegan-friendly restaurants, but many options for dedicated vegetarian and vegan eateries. As I tend to do when I travel, I booked self-catering hostel accommodation in Frankfurt. This means that, should I have trouble finding vegan and gluten-free food, I always have the option to cook for myself. Self-catering can also work out a lot cheaper, although not always. As there are so many vegan options to choose from in Frankfurt, I treated myself and ate out for every meal. Well, it’s only my duty as a vegan blogger right? 🙂

Here are all the restaurants, cafes and coffee shops I managed to cram into my few days in Frankfurt:

Elia (Greek restaurant) – This was actually the one place I ate where they had no vegan options on the menu. Once I explained my dietary requirements, though, the friendly Greek staff were more than happy to request a vegan and gluten-free meal from the chef for me. I enjoyed a plate of rice with vegetables that was beautifully cooked and presented and tasted delicious.

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Saftcraft – On the day I arrived in Frankfurt, I sought out Saftcraft because I thought some fresh juice might perk me up after a long night of travelling. The café is 100% vegan and they have a lot of gluten-free options. The staff were super nice and helpful. Their quinoa Bolognese pot is one of the best vegan lunches I have ever tasted. I’m not usually a fan of iced tea, but as their homemade version was part of the meal deal I thought I’d give it a try and I’m so glad I did. It was so refreshing and tasty, and along with the Bolognese pot just what I needed to restore my energy. I loved Saftcraft so much that I went back for a breakfast smoothie the following morning. The first floor of the café is also a really nice place to chill out with a coffee, and I was happy to hang out for an hour or so whilst I checked my emails and caught up on admin. Wi-Fi connection is far from functional in Frankfurt, which I found strange for a business hub. Saftcraft is a Wi-Fi hotspot, though, which is really easy to sign up for and offers better than average service.

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Coffee Fellows – This chain of coffee shops makes a mean soya latte, and seems to hire some of the happiest baristas on the planet. They do also offer vegan sandwiches if you’re OK with gluten, and their ice-cream bar has an impressive selection of vegan options. You can just about make out the list of vegan flavours on the glass in my photo, but the real reason I took this picture was because of the cute step they have in front of the counter so that children can see all the ice-cream flavours. What a brilliant idea!

Vevay – As someone who travels solo regularly, I’m used to eating on my own. It can feel like you are a burden to restaurants, though, as they are missing out on the money from the extra seat at the table you are taking up. I’ve had restaurants admit me only on the condition I eat at the bar, crammed in next to either the glass collection point, the bathrooms or both. This was  far from my experience at Vevay, though. I was welcomed with a friendly smile, invited to sit where I wanted and not pressured at all to rush and vacate the table. I opted for the protein bowl, which had so many components to it I wouldn’t want to list them all here for fear I would forget some and miss them out. Needless to say it was delicious, and totally different from the food I would prepare at home so a nice treat for myself.

Pho Ngon – This Vietnamese restaurant is a hidden gem in the heart of Frankfurt, and I almost don’t want to tell you about it in case it becomes too popular. A friend who works in Frankfurt took me there after it had been recommended to her from a colleague. They have a few vegan and gluten-free options on the menu, and the young man serving us was happy to advise on what I could and couldn’t eat. We shared the vegan tofu summer rolls to start, which can be made with rice paper. They were huge, and I’m glad we decided to share as a whole portion to myself would have left no room for my main course. I opted for rice with fried tofu and vegetables, which was also a very generous portion. The food was delicious, and the restaurant a really nice setting to eat it.

Kuffler & Bucher Asian Restaurant – Frankfurt airport is either the second or third largest airport in Europe after Heathrow, depending on what information you read. Once you get through security, your options for food depend on which departure area you are in. Kuffler & Bucher is one of the options in Terminal 2B, which is where my flight was departing from. There are two totally different sides to the restaurant, which is a surprising but actually very clever idea.  While one side caters to very traditional German tastes, the other side offers all Asian food. Presuming I had more chance of finding something vegan and gluten-free to eat, I went for the Asian side. They have vegan and vegetarian options clearly labelled on the menu, and the lovely waitress swapped the udon noodles for rice noodles to omit the gluten. She also kindly put the chillies on the side of my dish so I could make it as hot as I wanted to. I could not have asked for a nicer airport meal to finish off my trip.

 

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The Many Sides to Frankfurt

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As much as I love ticking famous landmarks and tourist attractions off my bucket list when I visit new places, I also like to see and experience their other sides. Having grown up in a tourist town myself, I am very aware that what most tourists see is only a small part of a town or city. For the people who live there, life is far from a vacation.

During my time in Frankfurt, I signed up for the Frankfurt Free Alternative Walking Tour. Organised and guided by a group of students, the free walking tour aims to give visitors an insight into the different neighbourhoods of Frankfurt and what it’s like to live there. Well known sights such as the old town, the Iron Bridge and the river Main are included. However, the guides also show you areas of the city that might not be an obvious choice for some.

Like most cities, Frankfurt has its fair share of problems. Unlike most cities, Frankfurt takes a very positive approach to tackling these issues. When drug use became more and more common in the city, moving around from area to area as each neighbourhood was gentrified and addicts were moved on to somewhere else, the city council designated an area where taking drugs is not illegal. Covering about 4 blocks, it is still against the law to sell and possess drugs, but drug users can feel safer in the knowledge they will not be arrested for a being a victim to their addiction. This approach to the problem puts the responsibility on to the drug dealers, not the users, who are after all the people that the police really want to target. There are ‘shooting galleries’ where drug users can obtain clean needles and use a clean, private space in which to inject. These centres also make it easier for people to receive medical attention should anything go wrong, and deaths from overdoses have greatly reduced since Frankfurt initiated  the policy. The acceptance of  drug use in Frankfurt has also led to another loophole in the law. Urinating in the street is illegal in Germany. Just like drug taking, though, the city council and police still know it’s going to happen. Rather than trying to stop people from doing it, they have instead constructed urinals in the streets. The small structures have been tastefully designed, and if you didn’t know what they are you could be forgiven for thinking they are works of modern art. Whilst I was on the walking tour I witnessed one young man crossing the road to use one of the urinals. Having witnessed many men in Cardiff, where I live, peeing wherever they stood, I can’t help but think this tactic would work in other cities too.

Our next stop on the tour was the red light district. Prostitution is something that is legal in Germany, so seeing brothels in the city is not so much of a surprise. Our guide showed us the outside of one of the biggest brothels in Europe. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any photos as the brothel is rumoured to be owned by the Hell’s Angels and they have previously requested that people don’t photograph the building. It reminded me of something you would see on Route 66, with mannequins  in outrageous costumes displayed on the balconies alongside the residents’ drying laundry. The building is huge, and as a legal business they must pay taxes. Apparently, the German government earns millions of euros per year just from this one brothel. Although there are usually no female visitors allowed, Frankfurt has an annual evening where brothels are encouraged to open their doors to everyone. This means you can speak to the women who work there directly and ask any questions you may have about their life and occupation. Just like the city’s approach to drug use, I wonder if this more open approach to the oldest job in the world might work elsewhere.

Usually when walking through cities you are encouraged to look up and observe the buildings and features that you might otherwise miss. In Germany, one artist encourages you to look down. Berlin-born Gunter Demnig is the man behind the idea to place small brass stolpersteine (‘stumbling blocks’) outside where people killed by the Nazis once lived. Once you’ve had one of the blocks pointed out, you realise they are everywhere. And not just in Frankfurt, many cities in Germany and other European countries have joined in with the project. The plaques give the name of the individual, date of birth, date of death and how they died, if that information is available. As you would expect, many of the plaques are in memory of Jews killed in concentration camps. The first group of people to be murdered by the Nazis was actually the gypsy community, and they were soon followed by homosexuals and anyone with physical disabilities or mental health problems. Basically, anyone who did not fit the ideal of the regime was a target. Some people think it disrespectful to remember the victims with these plaques, and don’t believe we should walk over them. The artist’s intention, though, was that we should walk over them. They are made from brass so that, as more and more pedestrians brush over the plaques, the more they shine. The stumbling blocks are a reminder that, as we go about our lives, we should never forget the victims of past mistakes. Modern Germany has accepted its past and the errors made by some of its country men and women. Hopefully, with the help of thinkers and artists such as Gunter Demnig, we will learn not to repeat the same mistakes.

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If you are interested in art, there are lots of examples around Frankfurt. My personal favourite is the spidermen. A group of art students placed 8 models of the superhero around the city. Good luck spotting all 8 of them, though. Our guide told us that, even though they walk around the city every day with visitors, they have only been able to spot 3 of the spidermen.

Drug addicts, brothels and maybe even spidermen might not be on your wishlist when you visit Frankfurt, but I would definitely recommend the Frankfurt Free Alternative Walking Tour. The guides have nothing but respect for all the inhabitants of Frankfurt, and simply want to show a balanced representation of the city. Spending an afternoon with them has encouraged me to seek out other alternative walking tours when on my travels.

 

Useful Info:

The Frankfurt Free Alternative Walking Tour is, of course, free but tipping is strongly recommended. The walk lasts 2-2.5 hours.

 

The Highlights of Frankfurt

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As a lot of keen travellers will know, there are some trips that you plan for years. You dream about where you’re going, wondering who you’ll meet and what experiences you’ll have. You save every spare penny, living off instant noodles if it means you’re one step closer to getting that ticket. Then, there are some trips that simply fall into your lap like a gift from the god of adventurers. I’ve just come back from a great city break in Germany that definitely falls into the latter category. A friend of mine is working in Frankfurt-am-Main for 3 months, and invited me to fly out to visit her. Naturally, I said yes immediately

As a local student said to me whilst I was there, Frankfurt isn’t a place people visit unless they have a specific reason to. And that’s true. It’s not a big tourist destination, and there are no attractions that are targeted with luring the visitors in. What Frankfurt is is a busy, business-orientated, working city. If you want to know what it’s really like to live in a European city in the modern world, this is the place to come. I’ll be talking more about the different sides to Frankfurt in a later post, but for now I wanted to concentrate on the highlights of Frankfurt that should be on everyone’s bucket list when planning a trip there.

The fifth biggest city in Germany, Frankfurt is a capital of finance and business. It is home to one of the world’s largest stock exchanges as well as the European Central Bank. Of the 5 million inhabitants, over half are immigrants. Once a Roman garrison town, about 80% of the medieval city centre was destroyed and 1000 people were killed by Allied bombs in 1944.

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It’s really easy to get around Frankfurt. I walked to most places, but the S bahn and U bahn are both fairly easy to navigate. Or you can hire a bike. There are bike lanes all over the city, which actually join up to each other (believe me, anyone else who lives in Cardiff will understand my amazement at this). Be careful if you are on foot, though, as the bike lanes often look like part of the pavement.

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Although the city walls are long gone, Frankfurt does still have an old town. Where the walls once stood is now a strip of parkland, which adds a nice touch of green to the city. Although the old town looks authentically quaint and historical, most of it was rebuilt after Frankfurt was bombed during the war. The one mainly original building is the Alte Nikolaikirche. You’d like to think that the bombers left the church alone as a sign of respect, but alas the truth is that they simply used the church spire as a navigation point and destroying it would have caused them an inconvenience.

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Aside from the old town, in my opinion the other scenic area of Frankfurt is the River Main. Tree-lined park areas line the river on both sides, and are set below street level so you really feel like you’re getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are a few points at which you can cross the river, but by far the most interesting is the Iron Bridge. Following a trend that seems popular in a lot of European cities, couples engrave their names onto padlocks then lock them onto the bridge. They throw the key into the river, supposedly sealing their love for eternity. As has  happened in other cities, the custom has become so popular that the number of padlocks poses a risk to the structure of the bridge. Since an incident in Paris where part of a bridge fell into the water under the weight of all the relationships, Frankfurt council have taken the decision to remove old locks after a period of time. I don’t know what this means for the future of those couples whose locks have been sawn off, but I did spot a few padlocks that had combinations instead of keys so I’m not sure all the couples had so much faith in their relationship in the first place!

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Running along both sides of the river is the museum embankment, where most  of Frankfurt’s museums have been handily condensed into one easy-to-navigate strip. There are lots of museums here, covering history, modern art, Jewish life, film and architecture. Unfortunately, some of the museums were closed when I was there and I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked to explore the ones that were open. I did manage to get to the German Film Museum, which houses an impressive permanent collection telling the story of every aspect and department that must come together to make a movie. The also had a temporary collection, ‘Zusammen sammeln’, which gave a fascinating insight into our personal relationships with film. The museum asked film fans to lend them their souvenirs of movies, and the range and number of responses they got is incredible. From scrap books filled with ticket stubs to a replica Darth Vader mask used in rehearsals on the Star Wars set, anyone who has ever seen a film will find something in the exhibition that will bring back nostalgia and emotion.

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For a city that’s ‘not really for tourists’, there sure is a lot to see and do in Frankfurt. I could have happily spent another couple of days exploring the city and visiting museums.

 

Useful info:

Return flight Bristol to Frankfurt with Lufthansa: £250 -£300

S bahn Frankfurt airport to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (city centre): 4.65 euros one-way

2 nights in a 12 bed dormitory at United Hostel Frankfurt: 34 euros

Joint entrance to permanent and temporary exhibitions, German Film Museum: 10 euros