I meet Elodie, a French lady who has married and settled in Germany, outside Wildeküche, a large, welcoming vegan café in Kreuzeberg, and so my private green tour of Berlin begins.
Berlin is a rebellious city, defined by its alternative edge. It’s natural that you would find incredible social enterprises and projects that are dreaming up new products and turning consumerism upside down.
GreenMe Berlin is the brainchild of Claudi Sult, who has a degree in sustainable tourism. Tired of the preaching and passive approach that the ‘green’ industry is known for, Sult found that Berlin gave her new motivation.
“Berlin is full of cool, creative, eco-minded projects. Food, fashion, zero waste, bikes, urban gardens, from one-man/woman shows to grassroots to social startups - it's all around us.”
Sult would literally take her friends by the hand to show them all her discoveries and show them the ease of sustainable shopping. Working for the tourist board of Berlin, what started as an idea for a downloadable travel guide, in 2017, Sult decided to set up a public tour, and began running public tours every second weekend for up to ten guests.
“It’s a beautiful experience when a group of like-minded strangers meet and connect. Travellers dive right into Berlin’s creative, entrepreneurial and unconventional culture…locals discover the hidden gems that are in their own backyards.”
Sult began receiving requests for private tours, and so she now creates tours for the corporate world, universities, student exchange programs and interested individuals.
“Instead of talking about sustainability, we go out to experience it.”
Already, Sult has expanded her team of guides to six freelancers and two volunteers while she establishes GreenMe in Melbourne, Australia, and Detroit in the USA.
When it comes to finding the right green tour for you, Sult gives the following advice: start with a theme you are passionate about, such as food, zero-waste, cycling, or fashion, and keep your focus to avoid having a jam-packed experience.
I was lucky as my guide Elodie had tailored a tour just for me that allowed me to see an array of experiences.
After a slice of vegan cake and juice at Wildeküche, Elodie takes me to Original Unverpackt. This is Germany’s first package-free supermarket dedicated to zero waste products. It’s a cosy store with everything on tap – literally. Pensive shopper’s buzz around each of the dispensers filling up with their various individual containers of choice they’ve brought from home – mason jars, steel tiffin boxes, and even little baskets. It’s a very personal affair. The store also sells a range of zero waste food, homewares and beauty products from various Berlin-based start-ups, including ManuTeeFaktur, which produces delicious kombucha. My eye is drawn to Kaffeeform, cups that have been made from recycled coffee grounds, also produced in the neighborhood.
Right next door, Elodie points out Supermarché, a fair fashion store selling streetwear, baby clothes and beauty products.
We head to the concept store of DingsDums Dumplings, a zero-waste business started by a brother and sister duo Mauritz and Jilianne Schröderand, and their friend Anna Wohlrab, after a heated conversation about supermarket food waste.
They knew that most of the food could still be used if it was made into a product that could be frozen. The only downside was that with food waste, you never know what you’re going to get, so it had to be a food that could be sympathetic to different flavours. They came up with the idea of dumplings for this exact reason. Dumplings also meant that even ugly vegetables that had been rejected by the supermarkets could be given a second chance as they could be minced and no one would know the wiser.
The DingsDums team now works with the supermarket chain Sirplus and purchase food that is about to expire at a reduced rate. Depending on what is available, recipes are whipped up.
The concept store exists to raise awareness of their brand, selling delicious savoury and sweet dumplings at just a couple of euros a plate, while the team offer mass catering services for events.
I meet co-founder Mauritz, who tells me their plans for the next six months: to close the cycle by selling the ready-to-eat frozen dumplings back to the supermarket. It’s so simple and I suspect will be adopted by supermarkets themselves.
Meeting the green heroes of the tour, like Mauritz, is a fundamental aspect of GreenMe, as Sult explains.
“We strive to build a connection between participants and the people behind the projects by opening up a chat. That way, they can have direct feedback and a connection to those who are willing to support them or buy their products. It’s super important to me that we create a friendly, open atmosphere where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas, visions and experiences. The beautiful thing is that I’ve seen many of them evolving and somehow finding their own story since we started.”
Elodie then guides me to Folkdays, a boutique celebrating artisanal items from across the world. The founder Lisa Jasper personally works with the artisan groups to forge new contemporary ethical fashion and homewares that suit European tastes.
Many of Folksdays products are one-of-a-kind and ideal collector items, and while I’m there I admire the limited-edition pottery that’s been adorned by renowned global artists.
We end our tour at Markthalle Neun, a refurbished covered market that’s been restored to its former glory. With a nod to its historic roots, this is the place to meet many regional organic farmers and local producers who radiate passion and hospitality.
Naturally, Sult and her team have their work cut out for them, as they are dependent on interested individuals googling green tours in Berlin and being seen on travel portals that don’t particularly highlight green credentials.
There’s clearly a need to balance the interests of the small business owners and manufacturers Sult introduces with the needs of her tour group. Some guests can be interested but not wish to purchase anything during their tour, which is understandable given that most participants are already thoughtful consumers trying to steer away from overconsumption.
GreenMe always donate part of its profits to local NGOs and reinvest the rest into promoting and supporting Berlin‘s businesses.