Markthalle Neun

Inside the Markthalle, via http://www.markthalleneun.de/
Anytime you live in a neighborhood long enough, you are sure to witness some surface and demographic changes. Here in Berlin, those changes seem to take place at lightening speed.

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


Bianca said...

That burger looks delicious! I love that it's made with tofu!

I'm experiencing something similar in my neighborhood. There are plans to redevelop a $1.4 million square foot empty former Sears HQ into a medical and arts center with a vegan cafe! It's expected to completely transform my neighborhood, which is currently a little on the rough and tumble side. A few artists already in the 'hood are worried about rising rents though. We'll see. I'm excited! But as a homeowner, I don't have to worry about rising rent, so.....

Amey said...

what an interesting and thoughtful post. it is so interesting to watch a space evolve over time. gentrification definitely comes at a cost, but I often end up on the side of enjoying the changes. When I lived in Seattle, there was a really grimy and icky neighborhood that I had to walk through every day (from one job to the other job)... and over the course of just one year it transformed into fancy bakeries and baby strollers. But from my perspective, as a lady walking down the sidewalk, it was a huge improvement in both safety and offerings. Also, your place sounds especially fun because it's all about food and there are vegan burgers! Everyone MUST get behind this project! :) ha ha

w said...

This market sounds fantastic. Been following your blog for a while now – felt compelled to comment on this entry since you mention a bit about planning and that is my background :)

The way local politics works has a tremendous impact on the “rate” and extent of gentrification. Although engaging newcomers with planning can be a step towards creating a more inclusive community, it's sort of like a band-aid solution when other underlying political issues are present.

Some examples: if rent control exists in the city, if there is a natn'l housing strategy that focuses on rental rather than ownership and if special incentives are given by the city that make it more affordable/profitable for a business to locate in a district/neighbourhood (usually the case to create distinct neighbourhoods for tourism). Where I am from moratoriums can also be put in place by a local council member to stop rapid development (like when they feel a disproportional # of restaurants or bars are popping up on a street) without community consultation.

These political factors can influence socio-economic/cultural characteristics of a place. I am not too familiar with how newcomers are integrated into German society or even how planning works in Berlin/Germany but would love to find out! Currently working on my German so I can read gov't documents and am planning a visit to Berlin to scope out the city.


^This article is about German Parliamentarians visiting a local neighbourhood where I am from to learn about newcomer integration/multiculturalism. If you have time I would appreciate your thoughts on if what is described in that article is reflective of the situation in Germany. I am fascinated in learning more about Berlin's ethnic population, neighbourhoods, and of course food! If you could, please drop a line on any vegan recommendations within the city's ethnic neighbourhoods. Thanks!

T said...

Thanks for comments guys! I definitely agree that its a complicated problem, but in general I always think its dangerous to blame one segment of the population for a complex set of problems, and I see that happening in a lot in Berlin. (Of course, that's probably easier to notice since I belong to the blamed population.) :)

@W: I have a lot of thoughts, but one thing I would say for sure is that politicians, particularly conservatives, tend to see Germany and German culture being "erased" by foreign cultures. This politician claiming that no children of different cultural background play together, all speaking the same language? This is just fear-mongering, that may be reflective of her experience but is not universal (esp. in places like Kreutzberg.)

I would def. agree that neighborhoods need a "toolbox" of methods to counter the negative effects of gentrification. (An example you can see in Kberg is empty lots being bought up for glam hotels- if there had been any way to prevent this, the community certainly would have tried to do so as the tourism is at unmanageable levels already.)

Basically, there is a divide on this issue between "hipster/tourists/ easyjet set" versus the immigrants that have come in the last several generations and settled here. On the one hand is the sentiment that young rich touris come here and snatch up apts. in cool neighborhoods, forcing lower classes out and destroying the authentic character of the neighborhhood in favor of an internationalist "cool" aesthetic. (In other words, destroying what drew them there in the first place.)
On the other hand, you have the sense that settled migrants in this country have failed to integrate, learn German, appreciate German culture. These are two very different problems and, again, politicians might see it as a "foreigner" issue but thats bullshit. If you invite workers into your country for generations without the opportunity for citizenship and political engagement, you create major identity issues.

Ok, well there's a lot to discuss, but in short the discussion is very influenced by fear- of loss of culture, especially- and does not resemble the "nation of immigrants' mentality of Canada and the US. But I think they will still manage to sort through these issues...

I'd be happy to send some vegan restos as well, why don't you shoot me an email when you are coming to Berlin. Might be nice to meet for coffee, my husband also works on these issues and ALSO recently visited Canada to learn from example. :)


covnitkepr1 said...

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w said...

How Berlin works with this international tourist/hipster attraction is interesting. Like settled migrants before them, this new crowd could also be facing identity issues which impact their involvement with politics & planning. Lack of official citizenship and nomadic lifestyles that deemphasize permanence in place can really impact an individual's interest/desire to contribute to change within a community. High resident turnover rates could inhibit positive community change when nobody stays long enough to take on a leadership role, making the easyjet set mentality of this new population potentially damaging at various scales (neighbourhood, city, maybe national).

Then again North American planning/city politics tends to provide more opportunities for citizen involvement compared to other places even if they are democratic societies. As for the hotel situation you mention could be that level of public engagement in planning/politics is different.

I found this journal article about American vs. German planning
Mentions: The (German) system is organized around mediation and consensus building, and allows for input and participation from lower levels, as long as the plans are consistent with higher-level goals and objectives, once these goals are (often collaboratively) established.
In North American planning there is emphasis on citizen engagement through the entire process and at different levels.. so there are differences.
Cities are also expensive to operate and when the people staying there don't contribute much to the local economy (like situation described here http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/magazine/in-berlin-you-never-have-to-stop.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=todayspaper& ) but end up draining a city for its resources then there will probably be greater problems for the city to take care of. Not totally sure if that article is reflective of the actual situation for many but am interested in knowing what you think!

I will be in touch via email :)

Chromshop said...

Kiedy następny wpis?

Anonymous said...

hey - thanks for this well researched artikel! lilith from sun day burgers

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