Germany’s capital is not synonymous with fresh produce. If Berlin has any edible signifiers, it’s prepared foods, like doner kebab, and currywurst.  Try and link the city to fruit and vegetables, and residents will shake their heads and mutter something about Spain or Italy. Or, in the case of street markets in less fortunate neighborhoods, China.

For residents of northern Europe, such scenarios are all-too-familiar. The same very well could be overheard in London. Though the climate is supportive of certain kinds of agriculture, due to the long and harsh winters, a good many daily foodstuffs must be imported from sunnier parts of the world, most typically, from the Mediterranean.

Buying groceries in Berlin’s most Middle Eastern boroughs – Wedding, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln – one would be hard pressed to assume the food came from anywhere else. Not only is the population heavily Mediterranean. The brightly colored grocery stores, overflowing with fresh produce, are their own unmistakeable geographic markers.

It’s not just the visuals, though. Neighborhood sounds are equally important symbols. The recording of grocers above, hawking vegetables on Karl-Marx-Straße, is but one example. Speaking Turkish, the word “paprika” is still discernible. Even though you’re not there, you can imagine that the rest of what’s being said is equally specific .

It’s telling that the only thing comprehensible to English-speakers is ‘pepper’. The allusion to spices is appropriate. It’s not just that it suggests ‘foreign’, but that it metaphorically warms things up. It is also its own ironic expression of Middle Eastern presence. Not just about immigrants contrasting with Germans, but, also, the weather.

Photograph and recording courtesy of Joel Schalit