Markthalle Neun (Market Hall Nine) in Berlin does not just sell food: for the many people involved it is a workshop, delivery service, and professional network all in one. A home for a new kind of food sector.
In the entrance hall to Markthalle Neun, a woman prepares ravioli; at the cheese stand there are stacks of huge, bright yellow cheese wheels; the smell of authentic Italian bread and pizza wafts from the Sironi bakery. Between colourful bouquets, Turkish tea and regional fruit and vegetables, we meet Nikolaus Driessen. He is one of the three directors of Markthalle Neun and together they are customers of Triodos Bank. He met his co-founders Bernd Maier and Florian Niedermeier when he became involved in a neighbourhood initiative to prevent the sale of the hall to a major investor. ‘They were going to build a large supermarket,’ explains Driessen. ‘We stepped in and demanded that it should at least be discussed.’
Nicholas Driessen, together with Bernd Maier and Florian Niedermeier, who also founded the Meierei restaurant in Berlin and had wanted to open a market hall for some time, submitted an application with a concept to revive Markthalle Neun. And with success. ‘For the first time in the history of Berlin's real estate policy, a building was sold not for the highest price, but for the best concept. And that was ours,’ says Driessen.
Eating and shopping differently
It’s now ten years since the reopening of Markthalle Neun. Instead of a large supermarket, there is now a market, open Mondays to Saturdays, offering products for everyday use and specialities from all over the world. In addition, themed markets, such as Street Food Thursday, the Coffee Festival or the Berliner Naschmarkt are held regularly.
Nearly 30 companies have now set up shop in the market hall and several hundred jobs have been created, according to Driessen. An important part of the concept is to show that 'eating differently' and 'shopping differently' is possible within the city: showcasing regional and seasonal produce, made with respect for people, animals and the environment. Many of the products sold are organic and come from producers in the region.
The team also want to pass on their knowledge of sustainable food to their neighbours. Many of the products in Markthalle Neun are offered at premium prices and some can be hard to afford for some families in the area. Time and again, the fear of gentrification is expressed but, according to Driessen, ‘good food comes at a price. We cannot increase the Hartz IV rates (i.e. benefits for the long-term unemployed), but we can pass on our knowledge of food to the residents. Because often there is a lack of knowledge about how to cook healthily with little money.’
That is why the three founders are currently implementing a model project, financed by private donations and foundations. Primary-age children from the neighbourhood schools come to the hall, learn about the products, cook together, take a look at the artisanal food sector, and even visit farms.
More and more companies not only sell, but also make their produce in Markthalle Neun – often visible to visitors. At Domberger Brotwerk bakery, a man behind a window reaches up to his elbows into a huge bowl of dough. Then he cuts off a piece of dough and, with a flourish, throws it into the next container. ‘This is a completely self-sustaining cycle,’ explains Driessen. ‘Everything they sell is made here on site.'
Butcher's shop ‘Kumpel und Keule’ also produces food in the hall. On the left they sell meat and sausages, on the right they cut and process the animals. In this way, the butcher's shop wants to make the production of meat visible again and give back pride in the craft. Driessen continues: ‘On-site production has the advantage that the traders can work more flexibly. If there are few customers, they use the time for production.’ There is now also a delivery service in the market hall – through 'Platform 2020' local gastronomy is supplied with ingredients from the companies.
Reflecting on the history of Markthalle Neun, Driessen continues: ‘The more distance you have, the more incredible what happened here appears. Every day you read in the newspaper that another shop has to close. Everywhere – especially in the food sector – small-scale businesses are disappearing. What we managed to do it is really a miracle.’
In the future, they want the hall to be able to 'feed' itself from its immediate surroundings and become an integral part of the daily lives of people in the neighbourhood. With the help of Triodos Bank, they purchased the land next door. This aims to offer more space for logistics on an undeveloped site. Until now, for example, there has been no separate supplier entrance, which is very impractical for stallholders.
Shared love for the product
As we walk through the market hall, Driessen tells stories about each of the stalls and the people behind them: the Italian baker initially studied history, but then returned to his Italian roots. Many refugees work at the Domberger Brotwerk bakery, and the brewer used to be a sculptor. The professional know-how of the three directors is also a colourful mix: Driessen studied economics and used to work at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the field of micro-credit. Florian Niedermeier is a photographer and cultural scientist, while Bernd Maier graduated in horticulture and was an IT project manager for a long time. ‘I think it is this combination that makes us successful, we all bring our own stories,’ says Driessen.
Markthalle Neun is a food microcosm, a network of makers united by a shared love of sustainable products. ‘Little by little, a certain kind of people have turned up here. That is why many customers like to come here,’ continues Driessen. He is not sure whether the concept of Markthalle Neun can be transferred so easily, even though they often receive requests from local authorities that want to revive their old market halls. ‘No one is going to get rich from this, of course. You also need a city like Berlin, with producers who want to work this way.’