Markthalle Neun's Resurrection In Berlin : NPR FM Berlin Blog Kreuzberg's newly reopened Markthalle Neun is a commercial experiment in economic and social justice.
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Markthalle Neun's Resurrection In Berlin

A confectioner at Markthalle Neun Florian Niedermeier hide caption

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Florian Niedermeier

A confectioner at Markthalle Neun

Florian Niedermeier

In Berlin, nothing screams gentrification quite like biomarkt.

When a neighborhood becomes home to one of these boutique, organic grocers, it either heralds or confirms the steady supplanting of one demographic group for another: those who can afford to and have interest in the purchase of luxury foodstuffs replacing those who can't and don't.

While the shifting tides of city life are inevitable, so-called progress is a cultural and economic Renaissance that comes at the expense of existing populations unable to pay increasing rents and participate in a locale's burgeoning consumer lifestyle.

This is not so at Kreuzberg's new Markthalle Neun, a historic, covered marketplace originally constructed in 1891.

Nestled just south of the Spree on a nondescript stretch of Eisenbahnstra├če, the hall's October re-opening coincided exactly with the building's original unveiling 120 years ago. Rich with old world legacy, Markthalle Neun is anything but a fossil of the past.

During WWII, its windows were blackened with paint and commerce ceased. In more recent years, the hall played host to a smattering of cheap discount markets, leaving it with the stale scent of a dying strip mall.

With the building in a state of cultural vagueness and financial decrepitude, Berlin's municipal government placed it on the real estate market. Kaiser's, one of Germany's ineluctable big box chain grocers, easily swept in and scooped it up.

Kreuzberg's residents, however, had other ideas.

In the winter of 2009, 500 neighbors gathered at the market hall to sip coffee, discuss the future of commerce in Kreuzberg, and send a communitarian-based message to City Hall: Rethink your contract with Kaiser's.

Berlin complied, and Markthalle Neun went back on the market, only this time to the "highest concept" instead of the highest bidder, for a set price of 1.15 million euro. A competition was held in which 18 different organizations and individuals proposed original ideas about how to reclaim the hall and usher it into modernity.

A group of three German businessmen and entrepreneurs, Bernd Maier, 43, Florian Niedermeier, 44, and Nicolaus Drissen, 34, won.

Their concept, while perhaps intellectually simple, carries with it powerful implications about social and economic justice: to create and nourish a market hall for all.

Kreuzberg's population is working class, comprised of approximately one third Turkish immigrants and perhaps as many anarchist-leaning punks and bohemians.

At Markthalle Neun, the founders are committed to cultivating a truly inclusive marketplace that reflects the cultural and political composition of the area, one that is from and of the people.

A cheese monger talks to customers at Markthalle Neun. Florian Niedermeier hide caption

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Florian Niedermeier

A cheese monger talks to customers at Markthalle Neun.

Florian Niedermeier

They are proponents of the new agricultural revolution and human scale slow food production; artisanal cheese mongers sell wedges and rounds, traditional bakers hawk handmade loaves of dark-brown bread, and regional farmers purvey seasonal produce.

At the same time, in lock-and-step with the true makeup of Kreuzberg, customers can also visit one of the red and white awnings where a Turkish butcher sells meat or a Lebanese woman sells her famous homemade pita.

This is the beauty of Markthalle Neun, a community-based celebration of Berlin's bountiful population and its inhabitants. Founder Mr. Niedermeier explains that they don't intend for it to be a market hall alone but also a meeting place for real-time education about ethical, sustainable food production.

He says the most northern Germans are unaccustomed and unwilling to pay the true cost of groceries, instead setting aside only a small allotment from their monthly budget to buy industrially produced food from chain stores.

"It's partly a product of Prussia's history as the land of bureaucrats and soliders," Mr. Nidermeier says, "whereas in Bavaria, there were peasants and agriculturalists who kept alive traditional food culture, a legacy that endures to this day."

He goes on to say that in Berlin, people are slowly developing an increased consciousness about how food has the power, not only to properly nourish their bodies, but also their communities.

Markthalle Neun intends to be a vital contributor to this conversation.