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Berlin once played host to numerous market halls, 14 to be specific, that were built at the end of the 19th century. The largest of these markets used to stand just a few minutes’ walk from Hotel Indigo Berlin – Centre Alexanderplatz. The Zentralmarkthalle was a pre-war marvel, occupying two enormous halls that housed hundreds of stalls and food from all over Europe: grapes from Turkey, onions from Bosnia, meat from Austria, and fresh produce from all over Germany.
Alas, war damage destroyed much of the market, and the remnants closed in the 1960s when this part of the city was in East Berlin.
The revival of Market Hall Nine (Markthalle Neun)
Thankfully, you can still get a taste of the old-fashioned Berlin market hall at Markthalle Neun (Market hall nine), in Kreuzberg, which has become the epicentre of Berlin’s growing food scene.
Purchased from the city by three friends (Nikolaus Driessen, Florian Niedermeier, and Bernd Maier) in 2011, Markthalle Neun brings together many of the city’s finest small producers including Sironi Bakery, Heidenpeters Brewery, and Kumpel & Keule Butchery. The red-brick exterior, wooden tables, and high partly-glass ceiling form a welcoming space with food at its heart.
“When tomatoes taste the same all over the world, then it’s time to come up with a new system.”
“We want to build a platform for good food in [the] centre of Berlin,” says Driessen, who used to work for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. “We have a new generation of food entrepreneurs. They’re doing what our grandparents did, but with a new approach—like the guy who opened a bakery, Alfredo Sironi. He sells very high quality bread, and he lives off his approach and enthusiasm. His values are transparent; everything is there in front of the customer.”
Berlin’s culinary culture reflects its tumultuous history. The city was largely destroyed in World War II and its aftermath. In 1961, when construction of the Berlin Wall began, Markthalle Neun and the rest of West Berlin were cut off from the surrounding countryside.
Berlin’s best small and local food producers
“In terms of food culture, there was so little here,” explains Driessen. “With the wall surrounding the city until 20 years ago, you couldn’t use local food! But we could start from scratch, find our own way. It created this playground to try out new things. We have lots of young people now who want to get involved in food; it’s a fertile environment.”
That much is clear from the range of events that take place at the market. Thursday night is street food night, while Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for farmers’ markets. There are permanent stalls too.
Of note is the bar run by Heiden Peters, which makes beer in a former butcher’s cold storage under the market.
The Markethalle Neun philosophy: mixing old and new cultures
Driessen feels there is still much more to do. “We’re very happy to have so many interesting people here, but it’s also very difficult. We are still building. If you come in on a Monday, it’s almost empty and you think ‘What’s the fuss about?’ But if you come in on a Thursday, there’s street food, on Saturday, there’s a full farmer’s market.”
Driessen is optimistic, as well he should be. A historic market that is central to a new and burgeoning food culture is something to celebrate. He sums up the market’s essence: “It’s an old culture and a new culture.”
He adds, “When tomatoes taste the same all over the world, then it’s time to come up with a new system.”