A market can be full of stories. This one delivered many.
Schlebusch is a neighbourhood in Leverkusen, a city close to Cologne, which is not known for being a touristic attraction. You will probably travel there only if you are fan of the successful soccer club Bayer 04 Leverkusen or the even more famous company Bayer AG.
The market itself is in a residential neighbourhood and not the only one in town. It might have a few dozen stalls or so. It has all the stalls necessary for daily needs: fruits and veggies, lots of meat, fish, cheese, eggs, honey and the like.
The customers all looked like they were coming from all directions of the neighbourhood, most of them seemed to bring their own bags saving plastic in the city with this famous chemical company (Bayer AG).
The little stories
Talking to strangers is rewarding.
The butcher I talked to, serves the market since 35 years. He won’t have somebody taking up his business when he retires in the near future. It is just hard work, starting very early in the morning – not appealing to many. And business is not easy. He had a pre-ordered Barbary duck from France but the buyer failed to show up. Selling it for 25€ instead of 35€ was still a hard task.
80 to 90% of his clientele are regular ones. They mainly come because of the better quality and a wider choice in comparison to supermarkets. There was boar and deer in the offering, not for much longer as the the hunting season was ending. He has rabbit all year long, in the past this was also only a seasonal product. Rabbit has its fans, I am wondering how people learned to appreciate it, as it is not widespread in German cuisine. He could pinpoint to a certain category of people buying it.
German markets are in decline rather than on the rise, he stated, and a solution on how to change this did not come up. For sure social media as a tool to attract a new clientele was not his worry. This always puzzles me a bit, as I see US & UK markets being active in this field.
The vegetable seller
He had a cold and was not in the most talkative mood. But at least he allowed me to take some pictures. And he told me that truly the demand for sweet potatoes, US import in this case, was on the rise, even though there a certainly not as common as the good old potato.
The fish ladies
The fish ladies had a much clearer opinion on how to make the market more attractive: shift the operations to a later hour when young families have already done their breakfast and are ready to go on a Saturday. And offer them also some street food as they enjoy eating something different but on a budget.
The fish ladies knew their customers and have seen some of them getting old, suffering from dementia and even dying. They see themselves not only as business persons but also as companions of their customers. They enjoy this a lot, even though the stories were not always jolly.
For one story they pitied me because I had no chance to see it on this day: every Saturday there was these two big dogs waiting at the entrance area of the market on their own, while their “master” was doing shopping. They sit here, do not move, watch the scenery and do not bother anybody. A pleasure to everybody.
When I wanted to take pictures of the merchandise, the ladies first made sure that everything looked pretty. I was not used to it, but the wait was worth it – check the pictures in the gallery above with a large choice of smoked fish: kipper, mackerel, eel, halibut, herring and more.
The Sorb lady
While I was discussing with the fish ladies on how to get a younger crowd to the market, an old lady approached me. She first told me that the younger preferred the organic farmer’s market not so far away. She had a bad experience there: money was stolen from her purse once. Therefore she does not go there anymore.
And then she told me a bit about her own history: she is a Sorb or how she preferred to call it: a Wend. I tend to forget about this centuries old Slavic speaking population in Eastern Germany. It turned out to be more than a recap. I learned about the complicated times during the Nazi regime, where efforts were made to teach the Sorbs/Wends to speak the German language only. Apparently they got teachers even from the Alsace region, whereas the Sorb ones had to got in other areas. She continued with a few other stories about frictions between different cultures in Germany and that led her to believe that tolerance was a necessity in life.
I made a few purchases: smoked fish and some Gouda with cep, both very nice. But what I will remember most are the chats I had during the short visit with all the locals.
All in all: A nice neighbourhood market, which is just missing a little spot where people sip a coffee and exchange their stories
A little link list:
- Overview on the markets in Leverkusen, incl. Schlebusch – German but easy to translate
- There does not seem to be a lot on the Internet on this market