Berlin has a lot of Markthallen - Market Halls. Like many other substantial changes to Berlin’s urban infrastructure (including the Central Slaughterhouse in the last third of the 19th century, the construction of market halls was undertaken to address the needs of a quickly growing city. Quite simply, there weren’t enough indoor, hygienic places for people to buy groceries and other food supplies.
So Berlin’s city planners got to work, building 14 separate market halls where people could buy (reasonably) hygienic food. The first was built between 1884-86, and the 14th was finished by 1892. Yet another example of how quickly authoritarian states can get stuff built…. but that’s a story for another day.
The reason I’m focusing on Markthalle IX is for three reasons: first, I love going there myself; second, it still exists in more or less its original form, whereas many of the other Market Halls have disappeared; and third; I think it’s a great example of “back to the roots” urbanism.
The Markthalle IX was completed in 1891, opening to the public in that year. It continued operations for the next several decades, through both world wars. It was damaged in the major Allied bombing raids of Kreuzberg in February of 1945, but local residents quickly repaired it and it continued operations.
After the war, grocery traders still sold their goods to local residents, even though everyone was using ration cards. People just carried on, and the Markthalle remained true to its mission even as many other of Beriln’s market halls fell into disrepair and/or disappeared.
In 2011, after years of neglect and gradually declining visitor numbers, the City of Berlin sold the Markthalle IX to a group of investors for about 1 million euros. The hall was refurbished and re-oriented to focus on local high-quality food manufacturers. The interest in this kind of “craft” food happened, not surprisingly, in tandem with Kreuzberg’s gentrification.
As the neighborhood transitioned (and is still transitioning) from a poor worker district into a higher-end neighborhood for professionals, the Markthalle IX has kept pace. Most of the discount shops are gone - although there’s still an Aldi in there - and in their place are specialty cheeses, coffee for 3.50 per cup, and so on.
After more than 125 years, the Markthalle IX finds itself where it began: as a comfortable, hygienic place for local residents to buy groceries. How many other buildings in Berlin can say the same?