Conversation with the founders of Markthalle Neun

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The three partners Nikolaus Driessen, Florian Niedermeier and Bernd Maier have been economists, developmental aid workers, cultural scientists, agricultural scientists and produce retailers before they re-opened the 120 year old railroad market hall in Kreuzberg in 2011 under the label Markthalle Neun. Ever since, they have been demonstrating that this different form of eating and shopping is possible in a city like Berlin.

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Interview

Markthalle Neun shows that a small, regional, and seasonal produce seller can be successful in this city. What was the original impulse for this project?

What we find truly desirable for Berlin is for there to be a connection between the food supply and the surrounding countryside, so you can effectively feed yourself with the produce from the area. We show that this is possible with Markthalle Neun.

But Markthalle is about more than simple regionalism?

Of course. Providing a supply of exceptional, high-quality, mostly regional foods is one thing. The other thing is the cultural value of such a place. It’s a part of our image of Berlin that it’s a place where people from all over the world convene, to live their desires and create something special. This goes for art, for music – and now it goes for food as well. Take somebody like Alfredo Serroni as an example, who grew up by Lake Como and now offers Pane di Milano for us to buy here. The best white bread in all of the city, as far as we’re concerned. The cultural identity is just right, the product is just right. On that same note, however, it’s sold here because he lives in Berlin and studied history here.

So generally you welcome what’s commonly known as globalization?

Yes. We certainly don’t want to condemn globalization, that would be too simple. We believe it holds advantages for all of us. Variety and possibilities. But it would be sad if some day everything is just one big lump, when all over the world you could only eat and buy the exact same things. That would make all the differences dissolve that give life its flavor.

What I really like is your Street Food Thursday. To me, street food is a grand aspect of culinary culture, fresh and regional, but nearly extinct in Europe. Is this due to the hygiene and regulation craze in our country?

Yes, that’s surely a part of it. But it may also be a cultural thing. Although Berlin is a place to which street food fits well. Berlin is international. People come here with their food, their culture. And we offer them a platform to present just that. Also, to make a bit of business with it. The start-up threshold is comparatively low here. Normally, in Germany there’s no end to the lengths of business regulations. You have to be professional before you can get started. This requires investments that make you cautious. You can’t experiment. So in the end, it mostly breaks down to Currywurst or Döner. These concepts are tried and true.

Do you typically go with permanent or temporary stalls?

We try to entertain a good mix. Of course there are things that prove functional and then become a regular format. Over the course of time you automatically become less flexible. Which is desirable. The angle we’re shooting for is to be a 6-day market, a permanent market hall, that of course has permanent stalls. But we also want to be a producers’ market and it lies in the nature of that concept that producers need time to produce, meaning they have to spend time in the field, in the bakery or the butchery. Typically they have one market day a week and in turn need a mobile stand. So we need both.

In other words, a type of infrastructure that combines permanent stalls and mobile stands that are assigned differently according to the day of the week?

Exactly. On Sundays we host a considerable amount of special markets, that is, theme-specific markets, like “Cheese” in November in cooperation with Slow Food, where cheese was all there was. For our “Sweet Tooth Market” we had 58 producers of various confectionaries set up shop in our market hall.

But your concept extends beyond the purely commercial market idea, right?

Yes, we have ideas similar to what you’re doing with the „Contemporary Food Lab“. We want to establish Markthalle as a place in which certain topics are discussed, where people talk about foodstuff topics in general. This means podium discussions, lectures, film presentations. A set date in our calendar is the “Green Days” parallel to the “Green Week”. If the former is a show of muscle for the food industry, in all its facets, then we want to be the skill convention for alternative food culture.

Interview: Ludwig Cramer-Klett

www.markthalleneun.de

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