12 December 2013 – Berlin

I just read a short piece called ‘Market’ written by Robert Walser at the beginning of the 1900s (it’s in Berlin Stories, translated by Susan Bernofsky in 2012). W.G. Sebald refers to Walser as a ‘clairvoyant of the small’, and I’ve reproduced a short passage below where he vividly captures some of the sights and smells of his local market in Berlin at the turn of the last century. Great stuff.


A weekly market is something bright, lively, sumptuous and gay. Through the broad streets that are usually so still stretch two long rows of stands, interrupted by gaps, where lies and hangs everything that households and families require for their daily needs. The sun that in these parts can usually lie about haughtily and idly is now compelled to leap and glint, to flail about, as it were, for every mobile thing here present, every object, every hat, apron, pot, sausage, absolutely everything wants to be given a sparkle. Sausages bathed in sunshine look so splendid. The meat shows off in all its glory, proud and purple, on the hooks from which it hangs. Vegetables are greening and laughing, oranges jesting in stunning golden profusion, fish swimming about in wide tubs of water…Flowers here, crockery over there, and right beside it cheese: Swiss, Tilsiter, Dutch, Harzer, with the accompanying odors. If you gaze off now into the distance, hundreds of subjects for landscape painting come into view; if you look down, you discern apple peels and nut shells, scraps of meat, bits of paper, half and whole international newspapers, a trouser button, a garter…The market always leaves behind an inkling of country life in the city neighbourhood, as if to shake it out of its monotonous pride. How lovely it is that all these wares are lying out in the fresh open air.


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