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June 2008

Mobile Freshness


Each day—Monday through Saturday—another nondescript Munich corner comes to life, as merchants erect stands laden with fresh food, flowers and other goods. The sight of these weekly markets may evoke the romantic notion of lived history and the century-old custom of marketplace vending. However, the Münchner Wochenmärkte (Munich weekly markets) were established only in the late 1960s. Rather than the outgrowth of an ancient agricultural tradition or philanthropic historicism, the markets are linked to the modern phenomenon of population growth and urban expansion.
World War II was followed by massive reconstruction projects, but by the late 1950s Munich still faced a deficit of about 60,000 apartments. At the same time the city welcomed more than 300,000 new citizens over the next decade, which led to a serious housing shortage. New districts arose to house the population surplus: Neuperlach, Fürstenried, Hasenbergl and Neuaubing among them. But, it did not take long until the inhabitants of the new housing estates started complaining about the lack of infrastructure. While space was not lacking, kindergartens, schools, public transportation and shopping possibilities were not available in these districts. Almost unbelievable from a modern perspective, there were no supermarket chains eagerly waiting to develop new sales areas. Setting up permanent food shops in these neighborhoods was deemed too expensive. To solve the inadequate provision situation, the city developed an innovative solution. As the regular markets—first and foremost the Viktualienmarkt—enjoyed high popularity, local authorities invented the model of mobile markets, which were to supply residents with the most essential goods twice a week. In May 1969, the first Wochenmärkte opened in Neuperlach, Fürstenried and Hasenbergl, and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. The markets were such a success, in fact, that the city feared an explosion of private bazaars that would reduce the quality of life in the neighborhoods and increase competition for local shops. As a consequence, a market administration was founded to regulate the number of mobile markets.
Today, 41 markets with about 120 vendors provide the Munich population with fresh regional food each day. Despite the many supermarkets that have spread throughout the city in the meantime, the popularity of the Wochenmärkte is unwavering. In 1989 Munich’s market administration even added a further novelty to the weekly markets: the Bauernmärkte (farmers markets). The idea behind the introduction of so-called farmers markets was to give local farmers a platform in the city to sell their products directly. This innovation also has the environmental advantage of making product transport to wholesalers obsolete, leading to a reduction of exhaust emission. This eco-friendly side effect and the considerable freshness of the products at the markets may lead to the wrong assumption that all offerings stem from organic farming. To clarify the standards under which goods were grown, the market administration launched yet another subcategory of weekly markets—the Ökomärkte (organic markets).
While the weekly markets do not replace organic food shops, the quality and freshness guaranteed by local vendors generally surpass that of the offerings at common supermarkets. No longer a compromise solution to assure extensive supply, the Wochenmärkte have become vital centers of communal life that counter urban anonymity. A weekly get-together of individual stands in public space certainly helps to create a dynamic and attractive atmosphere, especially in Munich’s newer districts, where architectural uniformity tends to be predominant. To find a Münchner Wochenmarkt in your neighborhood, visit and type “Wochenmärkte” into the search field. <<<

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