A German Farmer’s Market in Covid
08 June 2020
At the time of writing, here in the beautiful German spa town of Wiesbaden we’re entering our eleventh week since lockdown began. Measures have eased considerably over the last three weeks – I spent a couple of gloriously sunny hours in a beer garden a couple of days ago, albeit with impressively implemented safety measures – but during full lockdown, which lasted approximately eight weeks, all I saw outside of our second floor flat was our local park (for exercising our small children in) and Wiesbaden’s excellent twice-weekly farmers’ market, where I’ve done my food shop for the best part of the last ten years.
A welcome excuse for fresh air and socially-distanced chats with familiar faces, the market has remained a reassuring constant over the course of the last ten weeks. Things have changed there dramatically during that time, 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, there were spirit-lifting signs welcoming stockpilers and offering free loo roll with purchases over 50€. As the severity of the situation became clear, the odd mask began to appear – they’ve been compulsory only since late April – and stallholders started wearing disposable gloves. By the end of March, the eighty or so stalls had been rearranged completely to ensure they were as far from each other as possible (I’ve still not located my regular honey dealer), and chalkboards and signage had been dismantled to allow for more space for customers to navigate their way around.
Orderly queueing – something for which the Germans are not well known – has been firmly embraced, with gaffer tape marking out 1.5m spaces so customers know how and where to line up. The largest, most popular vegetable stands now pile up plastic crates to create makeshift customer booths; one of my favourite seasonal fruit and veg sellers instructs shoppers to form separate queues for asparagus and strawberries. My butcher, Mr Löffler, has spotless perspex shields hanging above his domed glass meat counter: these started as rather flimsy efforts fastened on with gaffer tape and LEGO, but these were quickly replaced with secure, custom fit panes. He’s even erected huge grey corrugated plastic dividers to ensure that customers remain a safe distance apart.
The exchange of money has remained the only real safety issue across the market stands: cash is king here in Germany, and card payment is something almost no one seems willing to adopt. Instead of each customer paying individual staff members at the end of their order, Mr Löfller’s daughter now sits outside the van to collect payments at the end. I only know of one producer who has started accepting payment by card – and that’s not even for all of their fruit and vegetables, just for Germany’s favourite seasonal ingredient, the widely celebrated white asparagus.
I’m hugely impressed at the ways in which the market has adapted, and grateful that the authorities saw fit to help it do so, rather than close all their traders down. Whilst the rest of the city remained silent, the streets empty and the shops all shut up, my market trips have been a source of comfort and cheer. I’ve always considered my weekly shop here a luxury, but never more so than now.