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The Markthalle: then and now

Once one of the largest cupolas in the world, the Markthalle building has undergone considerable changes.

By Shirley L. Kearney, German by Martin Pütter

For decades it was underappreciated and awaiting resurrection, but in the end patience paid off. The Markthalle, Viaduktstrasse 10, between the Central Train Station and the Zoo, is rediscovered and returns to its purpose of being a market. Since October 2013, authentic and simple foods can be enjoyed under the roomy cupola in an atmosphere of calmness and adventure. A broad palette of ethnic cuisine carefully prepared with fresh produce fits comfortably into the historic construction. And most recently “zweitesDesign” (second Design) sells articles from recycled materials.

The Markthalle was built in 1929 as a fruit and vegetable wholesale distribution centre. At the time it was an architectural and engineering feat, and ranked third as the largest massive cupola in the world, measuring 60 metres in diameter.

With time, and the ever increasing number of supermarkets offering a wider variety of fresh produce, its role diminished. In 2009 the Volta5Art exhibition transformed the atmosphere from one of food to one of art. The city then sold the property to a developer who restored and subsequently converted the Markthalle into a shopping centre. At the same time an office and residential tower was attached to the back of the building. The conversion did not work out, and now the building has, more or less, returned to its original function – as a marketplace.

During warm weather, to the left of the entrance way, people sit at the simple wooden tables with their heads tilted upwards to absorb the sun’s warmth. On the opposite side, a man shovels a wooden pizza paddle into the oven. A nearby chalk board announces the goodies available, triggering one’s appetite and curiosity.

Once inside, the vast space fascinates and satisfies all five senses. Antique and art market stands, artists, limited food stands, and the happy and carefree actions of children, armed with balloons twisted into swords by a performing clown, contrast slightly with a stillness as people sit at tables, some adorned with candlelight, chatting, eating and drinking, enveloped by a feeling of well-being.

On Sundays, the Smörrebröd brunch stand is “manned” by three young men: chef Thierry Boillat from Basel and his partners, Joel Pregger from Leipzig and Philipp Weidauer from Lucerne. Their creations are visual and delectable delights. Thierry Boillat published his first cookbook at the age of 18 and has worked in restaurants around the world, including one with five stars.

DSCN1740A smoked salmon filet resting on a slice of freshly baked bread, set on a layer of pureed sweet potatoes, topped off with a sliver of an orange-flavoured chip is memorable. All canapés, including vegetarian and vegan versions, cost between six and seven francs.

An ebullient Rotterdammer, now a local resident, “womans” her bakery stand directly opposite the Smörrebröd location and supplies the bread for the trio’s creations. Her breads, brownies and other goodies satisfy any further hunger pangs.

A recently launched project “Eat-in Basel” has a simple concept: bring your own food and cutlery and share it with friends and strangers. A giant picnic-exchange, organized by two students!

During Art Basel, 19 – 22 June, the Volta10Basel: New and Emerging Art will replace food for the stomach with food for the eyes. Visit the airy rotunda to encounter another local adventure. You can find out about further events by clicking on this link: www.altemarkthalle.ch

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