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The Lure of the Market: Here and Everywhere, Now and Always

The large and colorful "Nanas" sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle are iconic public art works along the Leine River in Hannover, Germany, where a large flea market sets up weekly.

A part of me grew up in Germany. It is the part of me that has little patience for bad bread and the part of me that prefers traveling by train, commuting by bike, and shopping at a market. That part of me also loves hot dogs, even American ones.

The last time I actually lived in Germany, it was 1996. So I am thrilled to find (via the internet) that the flea market that hummed behind our downtown apartment every Saturday still continues. The Altstadt-flohmarkt, pictured above, has been around for 40 years (same as me) selling "kitsch, art, odds 'n ends, and junk like you might find in your grandmother's attic" in the heart of the old city along a river called the Leine. 

This summer, on my current home turf, there was an exciting new urban pop-up flea market staged every other weekend along the Yahara River: Mad City Bazaar.  

Meghan Blake-Horst is the co-founder of Mad City Bazaar and a hard-working advocate for both the arts and public markets. I met her after she had returned from the International Public Markets Conference in Barcelona. The conference celebrated the way markets the world over are authentic places where local economic systems function, cultural practices are preserved and evolve and intermingle, and connections between rural and urban people happen. 

The Looking Glass Baker, Stephanie Kaat, had such a sweet display table, I couldn't resist. She bakes at the nearby FEED Kitchens so we don't have to turn our ovens on during hot summer days.

What I love about Mad City Bazaar is that it pumps the well for the Madison Public Market while also pushing for an expanded idea of what a 'market district' can look like. It is also refreshing to see this more industrial stretch of the Yahara River as the setting for truly creative efforts. 

Mermaid Cafe folks selling coffee and amazingly refreshing watermelon ginger lemonade...reminded me I haven't had one of their Bahn Meatless sandwiches in TOO long. That is my favorite sandwich in the city!

The city has been studying the feasibility of a public market for more than a decade. Mayor Paul Soglin has been committed to making this market happen within his own tenure. However, he recently delayed new spending for the market until 2021. I'm sure this was a hard decision for the Mayor to make, after all the thinking that has gone into the planning up to this point, and the magnitude of the discussion around any capital expenditure of this size. 

Janet Chen mixing drinks with her Mad Maiden shrubs. We talked recipes for drinking vinagars and I fell for the Orchard Overload concoction. 

There are Public Hearings from now until early November for the 2016 Capital Budget, which 'envisions' over 10 million dollars for the Public Market in 2021. This is when the chosen site at East Johnson and First Street is due to become available. Of course, six years from now, this area of town, and the politics of the city and state, are likely to look at least a little different. 

Carrie Simon and Live Svande showing their love for the Pudgie Pie. I have only made grilled cheese in my camping pie irons, but I'm inspired by their cookbook full of ideas (like adding a Mallo Cup to create an improved S'more!)

For now, Mad City Bazaar sets up on weekends bi-monthly in the parking lot at 1800 E. Washington Avenue and at the top of State Street every Thursday through the end of September. 

And once again, I am reminded that the city is full of truly creative people. For these wise folks, the 'lighter, quicker, cheaper' path often makes the most sense. Sure, I hope the City produces a Public Market and Market District, but meanwhile, all we need is here


  1. Very nice post. Love the German references.You loved this Flohmarkt as a teenager.

    1. Thanks Dad! And I loved shopping at the indoor market in the afternoons to buy whatever we wanted to make for dinner. What was the name of that market?