I wrote about the changes that have been implemented at Wiesbaden’s twice-weekly market during the COVID-19 lockdown for a recent Guild of Food Writers members’ newsletter. I have seen very little sharing of this sort of “on the ground” information, so I thought I’d publish a version of my piece here, too.
At the time of writing – 24 May 2020 – we’re entering our eleventh week since Germany went into lockdown. Measures have eased considerably over the last three weeks but during full lockdown, which lasted around eight, all I saw beyond the walls of our second floor flat was our local park and Wiesbaden’s farmers’ market, which takes place twice weekly on the cobbled marketplace in the centre of town.
A welcome excuse for fresh air and socially-distanced chats with familiar faces, the market – where I’ve done my food shopping for the best part of the last ten years – has for me, remained a reassuring constant. Things have changed there dramatically during the course of lockdown, but despite the increase in restrictions and the unsettling sense of unease that came with them, the mood has remained almost unwaveringly positive.
In early March, the Gärtnerei Stoll vegetable stall erected signs welcoming stockpilers and offering free loo roll with purchases over 50€. As the severity of the situation became clear, the odd mask appeared, and stallholders began wearing disposable gloves. By the end of March, the eighty or so stalls had been completely rearranged in order to ensure they were spaced as far from each other as possible and chalkboards and signage had been dismantled to allow for more space for customers to navigate their way around.
In late April, masks became mandatory for traders and shoppers alike; and I’ve counted a grand total of two people not wearing them since. Orderly queueing – something for which the Germans are not well known – has, after some initial confusion about who was queuing where and for what, been firmly embraced. In front of a number of stalls, gaffer tape marks out 1.5-2 metre spaces so that customers know where to stand.
Aside from the various compulsory measures, some stallholders have implemented additional safety precautions. The largest, most popular vegetable stalls now arrange stacks of plastic crates in front of them to form makeshift customer booths. One of my favourite seasonal fruit and veg sellers encourages shoppers to form separate queues for asparagus and strawberries. One of my favourite butchers, Mr Löffler, has perspex shields hanging above his domed glass meat counter that started out as rather flimsy efforts fastened on with gaffer tape and LEGO but were quickly replaced with secure, custom fit panes. He has even fitted huge grey corrugated plastic dividers on the customer side of the counter to ensure that shoppers remain a safe distance apart.
The exchange of money has remained the only ongoing safety concern for many shoppers. Cash is king in Germany and card payment is something almost no stall holder seems, even during a global pandemic, willing to embrace. I only know of one producer who has started accepting payment by card – and that’s not even for all of their fruit and veg, just for the most beloved of Germany’s late spring/early summer produce, white asparagus. To my knowledge, only a couple of other traders seem to have made any changes at all in this regard: on Saturdays (generally much busier than Wednesdays), Mr Löffler’s daughter now sits outside their van door to accept payment rather than each customer paying whichever member of staff they’ve ordered their meat from.
There’s only been one occasion on which I’ve not felt comfortable doing my weekly shop, and that was on the Easter weekend. Sandwiched between bank holidays on the Friday and Monday – days on which all shops are shut in Germany – the market was already heaving when I arrived at 07:30, and police regularly circled the market place in a car, shouting something incomprehensible out of a loudspeaker. With meeting in groups banned, lingering after shopping actively discouraged, and security officers patrolling regularly to ensure shoppers are adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing rules, the bank holiday carnage was, however, an exceptional circumstance. I’ve felt entirely safe and much happier shopping at Wiesbaden’s weekly market than I would inside the narrow aisle of a windowless supermarket.
For the livelihoods of the small scale producers and local traders as well as my own sanity, I’m very grateful the authorities found a way to keep our market open over the last three months. Whilst the rest of the city remained empty, the streets quiet and the shops all shut up, my market trips have been a huge source of comfort and cheer. I’ve always considered my food shop here a huge luxury, but never more so than now.