For many, veganism would seem incompatible with the stereotypical German diet. But the animal product-free lifestyle is becoming more popular in the land of bratwurst and schnitzel.
Families in Hanover's city center mill about as sumptuous aromas waft through the air. One of the pedestrians, Birgit Borutta, walks from booth to booth at this food festival taking place on this warm April afternoon. It's not just any food fair: "Vegan Spring" - which has just taken place April 13, for the third year in a row - promotes a vegan lifestyle. And its vendors are astonishingly busy.
"These people have created the first vegan cappuccino," Borutta explains, as a frothing cup of "vegaccino" - the name coined by the St. Wendel-based company of the same name - is poured. Using soy and lupin instead of milk, it tastes just like a regular cappuccino.
"And this is vegan ice cream," she says. Made with olive oil instead of milk, it leaves the familiar sugary aftertaste on the tongue as any other banana-flavored scoop of soft-serve.
Vegan coffee and ice cream are just two offerings from more than 40 different companies and organizations who took part in the Vegan Spring, held near Hanover's main train station. Over 1,000 people came to the event organized by "Veganes Hannover" ("Vegan Hanover"), an organization dedicated to promoting veganism and of which Borutta is a part.
"Vegan Spring is an event to demonstrate two things," she explains. "First, it's to show that there are pretty good reasons for living vegan - living ethically and in an ecologically sound way. And, secondly, there are so many possibilities and options for alternative food choices."
Vegetarianism is of course no new idea. And neither is veganism - abstaining from eating all animal products, including milk and eggs. People such as poet Percy Bysshe Shelley were known to have promoted an animal product-free lifestyle as far back as the 18th century, though the term "vegan" did not come about until the 1940s. But up until a decade or so ago, vegans struggled to gain mainstream acceptance. With growing awareness about climate change and the rise of Internet social networking - which allows people to exchange ideas immediately, things have changed.
According to the Vegan Society of Germany (Vegane Gesellschaft Deutschland), some 600,000 people live a vegan lifestyle. The Vegan Spring itself speaks of veganism's growth, at least in this north-central part of Germany: Veganes Hannover used to just organize a Christmas market - the only one of its kind in Germany - each December. But interest was so great, that organizers decided to serve up a spring food fair as well.
Hiller's was a particularly popular food vendor at Vegan Spring. It opened as Germany's first meatless restaurant in 1955, but in May 2012, it went entirely vegan. The Loving Hut, a Hanover vegan restaurant serving Asian cuisine, also delighted palates with its noodle and tofu dishes.
"There are more and more opportunities [to be vegan in Germany]," says Borutta. "In nearly every supermarket [now], you can find soy milk or meat alternatives, and there are more and more people living this way."
More than just food
Veganism also extends beyond food choices. Another area of growth is vegan clothing.
"Most clothes are made from cotton, so that's no problem," explains Ingmar Vogelsaug, one owner of the Hanover clothing shop co-op called "Bekleidungssyndikat." Items made from the wool of a sheep or of leather are a different matter, he pointed out.
Vogelsaug's co-op shop had a Vegan Spring booth selling various animal-free clothing items such as shoes and shirts, but booth workers also aimed to raise awareness about animal - and human - rights. The idea, according to Vogelsaug, is to make the entire consumption process, from production to purchase, fair.
"If we are trying to be fair to the rights of workers, then we should be fair to those of animals as well," he says.
Call for action
Vogelsaug says the time is ripe for taking veganism to a political level. "Awareness for trying not to exploit the environment, exploit animals, exploit humans, exploit nature is strong in Germany," he says. "That awareness is going beyond just getting organic food [at the market]."
Standing at a booth of a company called "Nature's Food" selling cheese made with coconut oil and potato starch instead of milk, Veganes Hannover member Borutta has a simpler response.
"There are alternatives to everything you need, so why not live vegan?" she asks. "You save many lives and don't harm animals."