|Inside the Markthalle, via http://www.markthalleneun.de/|
Take my corner of Kreutzberg. When I moved in, it was a sleepy street with one cafe and a grubby burger stand, along with an abandoned betting office and barbershop. A few years later, the two closed storefronts became two insanely popular restaurants (pizza and tapas) that clog the sidewalks in summer time with mamph-ing tourists, street performers angling for change, and clumsy children playing dangerously close to traffic while their parents chug red wine. Not everyone is happy with the practically overnight shift- as exemplified by plentiful "Fuck tourists!" graffiti and the occasional screeching neighbor yelling out her window at drunken passerby, "Go back to America, Touristen-Schwein!"
There are also, obviously, more thoughtful critics of gentrification and rising rents, who point to the fact that long-time residents get pushed out by newcomers willing to pay higher rents, and shops hawking precious olive oils, soaps, and innovative forms of yoga.
I'm on board with debating about the issue, but I sometimes think that the tendency to blame foreigners for what are, essentially, real-estate and urban planning issues is a bit short sighted, and in the worst cases a cover for plain old xenophobia. I mean, really, isn't it a bit of a chicken and egg issue, blaming foreigners for raising rent? Like anyone comes to a country and wishes to pay more than locals do for housing? Shouldn't we rather be enlisting newcomers into neighborhood politics, instead of a knee-jerk reaction to alienate and blame them for long-standing political problems?
That brings me to Markthalle Neun, either one of the worst examples of yuppie gentrification OR an awesome urban renewal project, depending on who you talk to. (You can guess which side I stand on.)
A few years ago, a building on Eisenbahnstrasse was home to a discount grocery store and a tacky drugstore, both of which were crowded in the corner of a voluminous space that once housed a rowdy neighborhood market before the wall fell. After years of failure, the government decided to auction off the mostly empty space in 2009, until a gang of foodies decided to occupy it for their own purposes: to start a weekly market showcasing local produce and food artisans. Surprisingly, they won! (Score one for direct action!)
Although the first few years were shaky, with poor attendance and bad sales, Markthalle Neun has suddenly exploded. Now you have to wait in a line to get house-smoked local Barbeque, sample Spanish chickpea stew, or grab a giant slice of gluten fee cake. To me, the rambunctious atmosphere is refreshing after years of stifled potential inside of this picturesque building. If you are so inclined, you might view this hall, with all its young hip Italian and Spanish people hawking organic and gluten-free wares to hip young neighborhood parents with 5 bio-babies, an annoying example of gentrification. From my side though, I'm seeing a vibrant community meeting place, supporting small ethical businesses inside a once-abandoned building that could have just as easily been sold off to a corporation or made into lofts.
I went there this weekend with S. and was surprised to see new stalls, more people, and plenty of interesting vegan food on offer. But my favorite thing has been there since the beginning: Vegan Burger, a small stand featuring several types of smoothies and juices, and one kind of burger. The 'Sunday Burger' is a few slabs of marinated and grilled tofu, cucumbers, beets, sprouts, lettuce, and three homemade sauces (chipotle, peanut, and mango) all on a sturdy whole wheat bun. While chewing my delicious burger, sipping on a carrot-orange juice, and watching cute grubby kids play and grab at organic produce, I can't help but think that this is a giant improvement over cold empty space.
Song of the Day: Blumfeld- Status Quo: Vadis