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Berlin's Best Weekly Markets

Shopping with Locals and Basking in the Atmosphere

Fruits and Vegetables in Prenzlauerberg. Photo © Beebe Bahrami.

When I turned a corner in the Schöneberg neighborhood’s biweekly market, Winterfeldtmarkt, a mountain of chanterelles, stood before me. I came to a halt. This was one of my ideas of heaven — many involve culinary delights — and I wanted to stand there indefinitely and take in the brief glow of each just-hunted fungus. Never mind that my fingers and toes were stinging with a seeping cold, it didn’t stop the vendors from setting up their tables and tents in below-freezing weather twice a week on the square. The chanterelles shared the table with a small basket of black truffles and a medium-sized heap of morels.

I was in Berlin with my husband Miles in November. Temperatures never left the 30s (Fahrenheit). Yet, without fail, the city’s weekly markets continued to set up and sell local fresh produce, handicrafts, and specialty foods for the season. Granted, it was an unusual cold spell for November. But I learned through it that no matter the weather, these markets went on without missing a week; people must eat. In this new capital city, people still shop like their predecessors, buying just enough for a few days and then returning to buy fresher ingredients later in the week. These year-round markets cast a warm, colorful glow on an otherwise gray, frosty winter palette.

Even in those plummeting temperatures, I could smell the pungent leather, peat, butter, must, and sage smell of the riotous collection of mushrooms before me. The chanterelles (pfifferling ) had a lamp-lit-within glow with shades of amber, ivory, and shimmering brown. Their elegant necks swept upward seductively to capture one’s attention. I was broken out of my reverie, planning mental meals — wild mushroom pasta, mushroom bisque, sautéed mushrooms in olive oil and garlic, decorated at the last moment with thinly minced sage leaves.

In our enthusiasm to take in the weekly neighborhood markets in Berlin, after renting a place to stay in the eastside neighborhood of Prenzlauerberg, we were initiated to the environmentally sane German practice of not offering plastic carry-home bags for food purchases. Oh, they exist at an extra charge. Germans are blessedly the most earth-conscious people I’ve ever encountered, and plastic bags are not an item to take for granted and expect when shopping unless you are ready to pay a few centimes for one.

I pondered how such a simple custom would affect our coastlines, highways, and landfills. What if we all bought beautiful, sturdy baskets and took them to the supermarket each time we went shopping? I love this custom, which quickened our need to find a strong basket to be like other Berliners and carry home our edible treasures.

I also pondered the apartment we rented in Berlin through Fine & Mine, an agency specializing in short and long-term rentals. The collection of buildings in which our apartment resided had a recycling center at its center. Residents were expected to sort their trash — paper, plastic, glass, metal, Styrofoam, cardboard, and cartons — into labeled receptacles. There was even an urban compost can where all vegetable peels and egg shells should go. What was left, often one-eighteenth of the original went into a trash can. I saw this alone as a fantastic contribution to sustainability, a critical aspect of Slow Food, organic food, and basic good living.

As I warmed my fingers and satisfied my taste buds with freshly baked goods, I cast my eye over the market scene. Greengrocers were singing spontaneous songs extolling the virtues of their produce to pull in customers. Nearing Christmas, a greens seller offered decorative mistletoe, holly, hawthorn, and other cut branches with glossy green leaves and white berries I have yet to identify. On the walk to Winterfeldtmarkt, I noticed that homes and restaurants used these organic items on tables and doors to create a festive feel. The mushrooms, the whole-grain bread, and the eggs — deep yellow-orange yoked and from happy chickens — made gray northeastern German winters warm from within. Each neighborhood has a biweekly lamp, sending a golden light across the frost-lined streets. In addition to food, these biweekly markets also offer handmade crafts, from one-of-a-kind sweaters and handbags to homemade beeswax candles and wooden children’s toys.

In a city that is constantly changing, where clubs and cafes are listed in a guidebook and gone in six months, the weekly neighborhood markets will remain constant; they’ll be there year after year, twice a week, with the most current foods available, nourishing a city that is reinventing itself at light speed without forgetting its bone-chilling dark past or its splendid light-inspired past and present.

Wine shop on Bergmanstrasse in Berlin. Photo © Beebe Bahrami.

Berlin is a big city, spreading out into diverse districts and suburbs from its center, known as Mitte. The best way to get around is to take the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn to the desired neighborhood and then explore it on foot. The U-Bahn is the city’s central subway. The S-Bahn covers outlying areas and is an excellent way to reach the city’s outskirts and suburbs.

The U-Bahn covers the city well, and you can find a stop near just about anywhere you need to go in Berlin. You can purchase tickets at the subway stop from a ticket window, if open, or a machine on the platform. Tickets must be validated (punched) at another machine on the train platform before boarding. No one will check your ticket each time, but random ticket checks occur frequently (with a fine to the empty-handed). It is a good idea to buy and validate a ticket before boarding. There are also buses and trolleys.

In addition to food markets, there are a few flea markets throughout town that likewise offer a fun and insightful view into the life of Berlin. They are well worth visiting, if anything, to gain a contemporary perspective of the city’s past relics, much like an archaeologist on a dig or a historian in a manuscript library. You might even find a treasure you must take home, one as old or as kitsch as Berlin.

Most flea markets are quickly learned about in a guidebook on the city. Still, my favorite flea market has yet to be widely divulged to travelers. It was in the neighborhood where we rented our apartment, Prenzlauerberg, right along where the old Berlin Wall ran through and separated this eastern neighborhood from the west. I like the flea market there, held every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. because it reflects the east-west shift still in progress. When my German failed, I asked if a merchant spoke English, and several people shook their heads. No. Spanish? No. French? No. But Russian, yes. Called Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, it is, as the name implies, the flea market on the edge of Mauer Park, the park next to the old Wall. The flea market is right along where the Wall once stood, now an open space with hodge-podge stands and kiosks filled with old record albums, clothes, household goods, furniture, musical instruments, jewelry (including Balkan amber), homemade preserves, and a hot coffee stand with baked goods to fortify oneself while in the quest for the ultimate bargain. The nearest U-Bahn stops are Eberswalderstrasse and Bernauerstrasse.

A Sampling of Weekly Markets in Berlin

Berlin is a city in palpable daily change, be it from the new graffiti that goes up overnight, illuminating new cultural undercurrents, to the opening and closing of myriad cafes and bars, to the unstoppable creative zeal of the artists and musicians who flock to this city on the rise because of its desire to bust out of old, dark definitions and reincarnate into a more wholesome and humanistic center in the world. The markets are an anchor in this world of rapid growth and flux. Every week, they are there to fuel and sustain their city’s immense energy.

Every neighborhood has a weekly market. Below are some more famous markets, famous for their riotous color, whether from the fruit and vegetable stands or the panache of its sellers and buyers.

Winterfeldtmarkt on the main square, known as Winterfeldplatz in the Schöneberg district, operates every Wednesday and Saturday. In addition to the foods, if there were a Slow Clothes movement parallel to that of Slow Food, you would find excellent examples here. In the heart of the market is a woman who makes one-of-a-kind clothing pieces. I bought from her a woman’s top in a cobalt blue heather wool fabric, with flaring sleeves and princess seams along the torso. It was tailored with such precision and beauty, and when I looked closely at the stitchwork, I saw it was all done by hand. Then the maker and designer, I learned, told me it cost 35 euros. I was sure I misunderstood her and expected to pay more. She insisted it was a reasonable price for her. Now I am spoiled; like a locally grown, seasonal vegetable, mass-produced versions are unpalatable once you wear something like this.

Another woman sells elderberry wine, juice, and preserves from her own trees. She joyously expounds on the antioxidant qualities of her beloved berry and gives out samples of the juice. It is refreshing and slightly less tart than pomegranate juice but has a similar feel of intense fruit and vitality.

Concerning seasonal foods, as I was there in November, there were winter mushrooms, root vegetables, leafy winter greens, edible gourds of every imaginable variety cut into more manageable and portable pieces upon request, woven garlic and dried straw flower wreaths, every possibility of fruit and berry jams and jellies, wildflower honey, myriad varieties of German and Polish sausages, red currents ready to turn into unique sauces (to accompany wild boar, for example), and mountains of free range eggs.

The nearest U-Bahn stops are: Büllowstrasse, Kurfürstenstrasse, and Nollendorfplatz.

Türken-Markt in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, sets up along Maybachufer. This street flows parallel to the Landwehrkanal, a lovely tree-lined canal with bridges and swans. This market, often referred to as the Turkish market, is a wonderful way to see the Turkish influence and presence in the city with its eastern Mediterranean delicacies, such as Turkish olives and cheeses, bread (including a mouthwatering yeasted flatbread with black caraway seeds), giant oyster mushrooms, spices, herbs, shallots, and dried fruits. The fresh ginger root at one of many vegetable stands had a vibrant aura like none I’d ever witnessed. I could understand why ginger is a delicious cooking ingredient and a healthy food (some believe ginger enhances digestion and circulation). A pleasant rotisserie chicken vendor sold his golden, crispy rotating chickens like hotcakes. A Turkish fish vendor handed me a list of his fish: the left column listing the names in Turkish and the right in German. The middle column noted the prices per kilogram. (Herring, German hering, is known as tirsi in Turkish. It’s a helpful list as 75% of the vendors and 50% of the buyers are Turkish.) The Türken-Markt operates on Tuesdays and Fridays from 12-6 p.m. The nearest U-Bahn stop is: Schönleinstrasse.

Marheinekeplatz Markthalle in Marheinekeplatz in the Kreuzberg neighborhood is open on Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is a covered market, offering a reprieve from the cold outdoors in winter. It is like walking into old Europe, with merchants selling fresh produce, fish, German cheeses, wine, eggs, and sausages. Dogs wait at the entrance for their human companions, and the smell of baked goods from a warm oven matches the sound of an espresso machine making a hot elixir and pick-me-up. The nearest U-Bahn stop is: Gneisenaustrasse.

For More Info

1) Rental agencies, known as mitwohnzentralen, are an excellent way to forego hotels, have a kitchen to cook market fare, and save much money on truffles and wine rather than spending it on hotel rooms. We went with local agencies, though Airbnb and offer many options in Berlin, as they do across much of the globe. Many other rental agencies also responded to our queries efficiently and professionally, with photos and prices on several rentals via email.

2) If you are like me and love mushrooms and you read German, you will want to check out their website. (Pilze means mushroom; the site’s name is “Pilze, Pilze, Pilze” to convey their enthusiasm for the subject. It is rife with everything about mushrooms expressed through a hearty enthusiasm I’ve best seen among Germans when they speak about locally procured foods.)

3) A great English source on German food covers the world of locally and nationally harvested and produced foods, wines, and beers (including an article, “Only Germany can provide a beer that’s good for every personality!” I like the implied health benefits of beer in the title.) It is the official website of the German Agricultural Marketing Board.

4) Every January, Berlin holds a International Green Week, a week-long event featuring events focusing on food, agriculture, and gardens.

Related Topics
Culinary Travel
Articles and Resources on Germany

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