Diversion and Solidarity in a German Market

In Moers, flowers and Berliners at the end of winter

By / February 2015

It is freezing, but the snow is gone and everything is sepia toned. Ahead of us, against the dull winter sky, vibrant awnings, red and white, welcome visitors to the Moers-Meerbeck “Wochen Markt.” In the permanent shops surrounding the bi-weekly setup, the butcher, the barber and the baker hustle to satisfy their regulars.

From somewhere, a strong coffee aroma tempts us to stop. Maybe later. We file in with others making their way to the market. Two tiny girls in matching pink coats toddle on pedal-free bikes, their parents close behind. On the corner, a distinguished looking man in black, wearing a plaid scarf and a gray wool hat dismounts an old-fashioned bicycle and scoops his West Highland Terrier from the basket.

We wander through a maze of tents, tables and booths, stopping once to sample some Dutch cheese and again to peruse cheap pajamas. Inside a tent, fragrant blossoms perfume the air, a relief from the pungent odors of fish and cheese, which sit heavily outside. An old lady wearing a man’s dress shoes, too big even with several pairs of socks, leans on her walker and shuffles up to the counter.

She wants daffodils, but there are none. No, she insists, she neither likes nor wants tulips. They are, in her opinion, repulsive. She fusses, but there is something appealing about her sparkly eyes and ridiculous shoes.

The good-natured flower merchant isn’t bothered. She assures the elderly Frau, “I’ll have your daffodils for you next week!” Placated, the woman shuffles out. Then, inspecting us with a smile, she says brightly, “Are you from England?” We chat a bit and my husband buys me two radiant Easter-egg colored bundles of the insulted blooms. I adore tulips.

Hawking and other kinds of yelling are not typical in Germany. The culture prizes serenity above all, but occasionally an eager vendor at the weekly market breaks the rule. Upon leaving the flower tent, a scruffy mustached man hollers in my left ear, “Fresh orange juice!” I laugh at the enthusiastic rule-breaker. Meanwhile, my six-year old grins up at me and wipes a gloved hand over his sugarcoated mouth, both cheeks filled with his Berliner, a German version of a jelly donut.

We carry-on past strings of sausages, kitchen cutlery, and winter produce until a flag flying amidst a bunch of soccer team pennants at a souvenir booth gets my attention. It is black with two white mining shafts – like the A-frame steel structure that towers over us. The words strike me deeply: “Ruhrpott, meine Heimat, meine Liebe” which means, “Ruhrpott my home, my love.”

Moers is in the blue-collar plains of Germany, nicknamed the “Ruhrpott” due to its once thriving coal mining industry. Despite the fact the mines have mostly been shuttered, this flag expresses nostalgic pride. Moved by solidarity, I fish out some cash. A jovial peddler sells me the flag.

The Wochen Markt might just be the essence of Moers. Hard working and defiant against the cold. Colorful, with a quiet kind of satisfaction. A little scruffy on the edges. With full hands and frozen faces, we head back to our car, keeping a look out for that coffee.

 

Tara Thomas is a regular contributor to Ethnotraveler. She lives and writes in Germany.

 

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