Schrill Spanish notes from the band could be heard from the street outside. The smell of fresh baked bread and gooey French cheeses also wafted past, as if the final clue in a foodie-version of ‘Race Around the World’. I arrived at the Markthalle IX opening in the Wrangelstr. kiez in Kreuzberg on Saturday not knowing what to expect. A friend’s partner was one of the three brains behind the restoration of this 120 year old historic market hall. I had read the press release, seen what the hall looked like pre -2011 and was curious to see how an urban project supported by the local community was going to take off. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, the warmest Saturday in October since 1917 apparently.
As Berlin’s newest produce market, Markthalle IX is not just about wanky organic, which seems to be the direction many food markets have taken. The sucessful tender was won because the investors promised to return the building to its original function, a place where people could buy regional produce and local baked goods (that did not necessarily have to be ‘bio’) then sit around and have a chat afterwards.The long,communal tables in the centre of the Halle proved an excellent way to strike up a conversation with strangers. The kids play area was a huge hit. Two and a half years of restoration and hundreds of neighbourhood meetings later, Markthalle IX channels the grand old market halls of Europe (think Barcelona’s La Boqueria or Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar). Its hundreds of windows, soaring ceilings, brick facade, detailed reliefs and historic stall signs have all been painstakingly restored.
This 120 year old building has had a tortured yet fascinating history. Since its opening on the 2 October in 1891, fresh butter, cheese, fruits, vegetables and smoked fish could all be purchased there. It was designated as Market Hall “Number 9”, out of a total of 12 (one for each Berlin council area). Hence its name. It was closed during the Nazi period and suffered extensive bombing during the war, only to be reopened during the post-war boom of the 1950s. When ALDI eventually leased a space to set up its store inside the hall in 1977, it pretty much spelled the death of the individual providores who were gradually squeezed out as they could no longer afford the rent. In the last few years before the restoration commenced, tacky shops selling mass-produced wares from mainland China, a discount fabric store and drug store all entered the scene. By 2014, the drug store and fabric store will be out, ALDI is saying aufwiedersehen in mid – 2012. Then the entire building will be used for the food stalls. Yet the characteristic Berlin kneipe Linie 36 inside has withstood the test of time, standing like a centurion guarding the precious space around it.
The cheap roller – doors masking the chinzy stores have been removed and in their place now stand some thirty stalls, with the produce on full view. Home made bruschetta, organic fruits and vegetables from Brandenburg, Turkish gözleme, a florist, rustic bakery,handmade pasta, herbs from the nearby urban gardens Prinzessinnengarten, a wine store plus a few others are the first stalls. I overheard some people bitching that 6€ for 2 slices of bread with cheese and tomato was hefty. I was kind of inclined to agree. This part of Kreuzberg is still very much blue collar, the locals were always against “schicki micki”. The investors won the tender on the premise that they would not re – create a Prenzlauerberg yuppie scene. Many of the turkish families around the area shop at nearby turkish produce shops and delis, which are invariably cheaper than what I saw at the markt. It is a tough call. The amount of young people that turned out on Saturday is nevertheless a sure sign that Berliners want an alternative to supermarkets and even organic ones at that. There was a palpable sense of of pride that in 2011, that something so old- school could be back in fashion.
As long as the locals speak their mind, (and being Kreuzberg, they invariably will) Markthalle IX can become a down to earth meeting place, stay true to its roots and encourage locals to get out and support their local growers.
Main entry: Eisenbahnstr. 42- 43, 10997 Berlin- Kreuzberg
Fridays 12 – 7pm and Saturdays 9 – 4pm