One of my favorite pastimes when I’m in a town I haven’t visited before is checking out its markets – and I’m especially thrilled when I find a market hall. Maybe I was conditioned by my hometown, Stuttgart, because it boasts of one the world’s finest market halls, an architectural jewel filled with amazing produce and products. Maybe because I became conscious there that the world is filled with marvelous produce and creative ideas what to do with it.
Stuttgart has always had its markets, ever since it was declared a city in the 1300s. As early as 1450 it had its first market hall, a half-timbered building with two floors that offered produce on the ground level and court services on the second floor. This place lasted until 1820 when it was demolished and replaced by an even finer one 44 years later. This one, modelled on Les Halles in Paris, France, was an iron construction with a glass roof – I guess that was simply a fashion statement, as iron constructions had just been discovered. Think the Eifel tower, the London Glass Palace, and countless bridges. But as the population exploded with increasing health management and better nourishment, the market hall soon became too small.
Shortly before WW I, on January 30, 1914 the new market hall was opened – and it must have been even more gorgeous than what I have ever known, as in WW II the building was heavily damaged in the Stuttgart bombings. I have no idea whether they rebuilt all of the arcades and turrets the original by architect Martin Elsaesser featured. The glass ceiling was obviously restored. And of the formerly three floors only two remain today, with a gallery running all around and, back then as today, open to the public. I cannot even picture what a bustle it must have been in the beginning years with 400 sales booths inside a hall that today features a tenth, but probably no less colorful.
It’s hard to imagine that, during my early childhood years, there actually was a city council vote to replace the market hall with a multifunctional center – whatever concept that would have involved. The fact is that by one single vote the destruction of one of Stuttgart’s finest art deco buildings was saved. Shortly after it was placed under monumental protection.
I remember that in the early nineties there was a fire in the Stuttgart market hall, and the building had to be closed for renovation. But ever since the façade and its insides have become what I remember so fondly.
The last time I passed by, shortly before I emigrated, I admired the gorgeous frescoes and reliefs on the outside and walked all along the arcades, pondering the heavy old-fashioned doors. I went inside the turret that is also the entrance door to a fancy interior decoration store connected to the gallery of the market hall. I walked all around the gallery that is the home for further beautiful stores of exquisite products. Just to look up to the ceiling and wonder how the glass ceiling has been put in there … Or to watch the busy people below thread through the aisles with their colorful stands and fantastic array of produce. There is a stylish restaurant at one of the small sides of the market hall, too, from which you can observe what’s going on inside the hall, as well.
Downstairs, there’s a beautiful ceramic fountain dedicated to Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Its water is actually potable, though I have never tried it. But as Stuttgart’s water is of excellent quality, I guess I might do so next time I visit.
Also always intriguing were the tram tracks that were at one end of the market hall. Originally it must have been meant to connect the Stuttgart market trams right with the inner hall for unloading; but transport found other ways to get market carts there, and so the tracks were never connected with the actual tram grid. A remnant from 1912, it is now the oldest part of Stuttgart tram tracks.
As we go through the aisles – there are butchers and bakers, there are cheese and honey specialists, there are fish mongers and flower stands. The nationalities range from very locally Swabian via Italian, Hungarian, Croatian, Greek, Spanish, and French to Turkish, Persian, and Eastern Asian. The displays are mouthwateringly appetizing and colorful, and often enough there are tidbits out for the tasting. It was here where I got my first taste of Greek Taramosalata, a smooth spread made from roe. It was here that I bought a huge box of dry ice for an outdoors party. It was here that I learned how to use Barberry berries in Middle Eastern cooking.
When I walk Pike Place market in Seattle, there is a slight echo of this gorgeous, elegant market hall that has inspired me to cook from when I was as young as ten yeas old. And I remember with fondness the market halls I visited in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. But none reverberates in my heart like the Stuttgart market hall does.