Pop Up – Markthalle 9, Berlin / Germany

  • Sharing the love for potato diversity
    Sharing the love for potato diversity

Scroll to the end for the map to find Markthalle 9


The first thing I stumbled across on the Thursday Street Food Night was craft beer. And not an IPA as usual, but a good old Pils from Heiden Peters brewed in the cellar of the Markthalle 9. It was served by an Australian who lives in Berlin since a while did not sound to leave the city any time soon. Good start and setting the tone for the rest of the hall. I have never heard so much in English in a German market, it seemed that many vendors had a background outside Germany: the British guy selling New Zealand beer, wine and pies, a guy from Thailand with dumplings, a French lady opening oysters for clients, an Iranian selling Italian pasta, a Portuguese lady making Pasteis de nata etc. Even the labeling of the street food was often in English only. I got the feeling that the world feels at home in Berlin – it’s a good feeling.

The stalls themselves all showed diversity, improvisation and creativity. Sometimes there were only a couple tables, cooking gear, a banner, social media signs, that’s all. Others came with their trailers, some very functional, some nicely put together. The toilet lady sits in an an old car full of stickers to collect the little fee. And there were the permanent stalls with their production facilities as well, with different offerings on the street food night and the farmers’ market day. This flexible, creative, pop up character of the market with such a diverse offering kept me walking around with eyes and mouth wide open.

I had the chance to visit the market hall on two consecutive days and was fascinated. On “Street Food Thursday” I ate and drank my way through the various stalls. On Friday, the larger Farmers’ Market day, I shopped a little bit without forgetting eating & drinking. Therefore this post will be a longer read.

Why 9 in Markthalle 9?

Markthalle 9, got it’s number from a time in the late 1800’s when the city of Berlin decided to build for it’s boroughs market halls to allow a good supply of food to the growing population. They all had a similar architecture and were just numbered, not very creative but systematic.

The market hall itself is not easy to spot as it is not separated by a street from its adjacent buildings. Getting there with public transportation is easy, still you need to walk a few minutes.

Markthalle 9 is located in the district of Kreuzberg, known for its alternative scene and a large population of (former) migrants, mainly but not only of Turkish background. This lifestyle is also reflected in the Markthalle 9, even though I did not see Turkish style of food – which is unfortunate.

Food entrepreneurship

There were enough stalls that I cannot remember all of them, similar to a nice dream you forget after waking up, just that this one was real. Having taken lots of pictures helped me to get back the mouth feeling of what I purchased along the way.

The vendors I met, I call them food entrepreneurs. They have not built up their business since generations, they are rather into their endeavors since a few years or less. They have not been able to rely on a regular clientèle which might encompass generations of the same family as in other traditional markets. Maybe this made them inventive, leaving traditions behind, to attract crowds with an offering between traditional, experimental, local and global with creative presentation. Lots of buzz words but valid, I believe. And one more thing I observed: most of these entrepreneurs put their efforts only on a very focused offering, meaning not a wide but a clear choice, certainly reducing complexity of the business.

Street food offering

On the more traditional side with a new twist is the butcher Kumpel & Keule (buddy & club) co-founded by the food activist Hendrik Haase. He advocates meat and sausages from quality producers and putting craft into the business in contrast to the current mass production. And that shows on the counter, a decent not overcrowded selection which brings back a true appetite. The guys  sell burgers as street food, but they will cook any other meat or sausage for you to eat on the spot. I chose Merguez and Kreuzberger sausages. The latter ones, similar to Nürnberger Bratwurst were delicious, with the right type of spices – a clear recommendation. And if you like, they also have merchandising, you may wear one of their hats or t-shirts.

On one of the next stalls I noticed that I never had Asian dumplings before, so I tried some with different fillings, vegetarian and meat ones, all great. The most surprising one contained sauerkraut & bacon. I was amazed how that worked out, also with the hot sauce. Despite this not obvious East & West combination it was a true winner. I like when culinary borders are being expanded.

Next the oyster stall. It is impossible for me to go by without eating a few. They had mainly Irish and Dutch oysters and was managed by a German cook and a French lady, friendly people explaining me a lot about the products, one of the reasons why I like to go to markets. I tried the flat oysters which are supposed to be the original European variety, but they did not convince me. I am too much stuck to the taste of the French ones.

Aaah, yes I had another beer in between, a black IPA again from Heiden Peters. Good stuff, not boring at all.

I forgot: before that I had a Portoguese Pasteis de nata from Natas-Berlin. Nice.

Next comes cheese. I love cheese, unfortunately I very very rarely come across German producers I appreciate. So I had to test some from Alte Milch (German for old milk). The stall is very simplistic and has a little more than half a dozen cheeses on offer, again a clear focus. My opinion about German cheeses has not changed significantly despite a rather positive experience. The neighbor stall Menze sold cheeses and sausages from small producers of the Vorarlberg region in Austria. Their mountain cheeses tasted well.

Okay, then there was this guy who once was an agricultural consultant in the pork industry. He started this career shortly after the fall of the wall. The air in the pork stables wasn’t so good for him. His doctor told him to get more fresh air, so he started raising free range pork and became a sort of a celebrity for doing so according to his claims. At the Markthalle 9 he is not only selling produce under the German regional label Echt Fläming, but also “Original German Food” as his banner indicates. It is roast pork with a crisp fat crust and sauerkraut. Very cliché but also very good. He claimed that the market hall wants him, as he is the only one with true German food, something I could not confirm. Apparently many Chinese are attracted to his street food, I just saw one 🙂

I think this is what I ate at this evening, I got heavier and my wallet lighter. Still there is much more appetizing food: quite a few Asian stalls with food I am not familiar with, tapas, rösti (Swiss potatoe cake), Käsespätzle (German noodles with cheese), pasta, tofu, cakes, donuts, ice cream and of course burgers, sandwiches and pizza. Classic Berlin street food like Currywurst and Bouletten (meat balls) is not missing as well. And no worries about drinks, plenty of opportunities.

The farmers’ market part

Markhalle 9 has also regular produce available, in parts also from young food entrepreneurs as well. And I will only mention those ones I gave a visit and were not mentioned in the section above.

Italian style bread from Sironi is baked on the spot, the whole process can be observed through a glass wall. And yes, they do fresh pizza with a very nice dough.

A couple attractive vegetable and fruit stalls – with a regional focus – were present , too little for my taste. To my delight a wide range of potato varieties were offered. I had been told that on Saturdays the choice is a bit wider and that one particular vendor had superb quality. I missed it.

100 pct., thus the name of the little company, has direct relationships with some small Greek producers of olive oil, herbs and pistachios. I had to say that the wild oregano and the pistachios were really superb.

The fresh Italian pasta from Pasta e Più is not done by Italians, but by an Iranian couple. When I consider Italian food basics nowadays, I have to realize that it has become so global, available anywhere that at some point Italian producers and cooks will not be sufficient to cater for the demand. Anyway, I bought some red beet gnocchi as gift for a friend and was rewarded by a “yummy” a few days later.

The wine stall got my special attention. First the name: “Schöner trinken – Weinhandlung Suff” which may be translated into “Nicer drinking – wine shop boozing”. I believe in German it sounds funnier. Then the choice, really good. They had some of my favorite German wine makers, which speaks for their professional knowledge 🙂 Then they truly knew their stuff and are very pleasant to talk to, no snobbish attitude at all. Their offering by the glass is worth more than one sip.

Besides Kumpel & Keule there is another butcher in the hall. Mr. Frindt is the owner of that stall. He is one of the few remaining independent butchers left in Berlin. In his 6 or more trailers he offers high quality meats and sausages from Germany and other countries. He is a good recommendation and I loved his “Sülze” (head cheese) and Mettwurst.

And yes, the Spanish specialty stall had wonderful cured Iberico ham, a must try, freshly cut of the whole leg on the spot.

The crowd – a difficult topic

The crowd enjoying the place is coming from everywhere and all kinds of language are being spoken. Besides German, English is quite dominant indicating that we are in a tourist destination. But it rather seems – and I might be wrong – that a lot of expatriates enjoy the place and its urban culture, one which might be seen in other larger Western cities as well. In the earlier hours I could see families with their little children, later smaller groups across the generations enjoyed drinks, food and chats together.

Lets reconsider, as one vendor told me, the neighborhood of the market hall is not a rich one, despite an ongoing gentrification. And a lot of migrants are living here since decades. And let’s recap that some years ago the former Governing Mayor of Berlin, Mr. Wowereit, called the city “poor but sexy“. So people were (are) used to low prices for produce & food. The quality of the offering in the Markhalle 9 is certainly above average and so are the prices. The result is that the neighborhood is not well represented amongst the visitors, and certainly the migrant population is not – despite the discounter Aldi being under the same roof.

Mr. Frindt, the butcher I mentioned earlier, explained a similar story when it comes to the food prices Berliners are used to. But he also explained that in this borough there is also a segment of people who are conscious eaters and willing to pay once a week a good premium for meat instead of having cheap one from the super market every day on the plate. This crowd is certainly to be seen here.

The economics

All the food entrepreneurs find a good testing ground in this location. The crowd seems to be curious enough and willing to hop on new trends, so why not giving your passion a try.

The vendors do not look as posh as lets say in the market halls of Stuttgart and Frankfurt in Germany. Most of the stalls look like low invest ones in contrast to the quality they offer. The focus is more on the creativity and development of new culinary fields than on business assets like carts and the like.

On other German markets there is barely any social media activity, here it is just the opposite, those who don’t use them are the exception. These efforts in building customer relations would certainly help other markets to rejuvenate.

According to a vendor I talked to, it is often  struggle to make decent profits and to build a life based on this type of business. It may take several years to reach the first milestones of sustainability, probably only somebody with a strong passion or other side business will make it. I hope for the best.

Bonus track: the owners and their concept

The market hall varies the focus from day to day, on Thursdays evenings there is a lot of street food, whereas on the other days there is more produce to buy, even though the difference does not seem to be large. I have been told that on Saturdays the farmers’ market becomes more vivid. From time to time the location transforms itself according to the needs of theme days such as on cheese, sweets etc. or for special events like “Stadt Land Food” which promotes sustainable food and agriculture. This pop up character contributes further to my fascination for this market hall.

Funny enough there is still the discounter Aldi in the hall giving it an intersting contrast. It seems that this presence is based on old contracts when the current three private owners took over the building. I assume that the contract will not be prolonged since I have been told that the owners pursue a concept of sustainability. According to Wikipedia this is supported by the city of Berlin. When the city sold the asset in 2012 the current concept of renovation and establishment of the market was preferred over an 1.1m € higher (!) offer from a large investor. He would have teared down the building to construct a type of mall with underground parking. I am happy for the wisdom of the city of Berlin.

All in all: A must see for food lovers in Berlin, the many food entrepreneurs exude creativity and passion for great food

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