Holzmarkt: Retailing Berlin Style

Ready for your trip to Berlin? If you want an authentic taste of Berlin, be sure to stop by this great retail insider tip: Berlin Holzmarkt, in the former East of the city.

Are You a Traveller or a Tourist?

Summer is well under way and everyone, myself included, is getting ready for the holidays. If you pride yourself on being a traveller rather than a tourist, getting a feel for local people, culture and food is likely close to your heart.

Should your plans take you to Berlin this year, I have an insider tip for you that will give you a true taste of Berlin. The place is called Holzmarkt and is located directly on the bank of river Spree in what used to be East Berlin.

insider tip Berlin Holzmarkt

View of insider tip Berlin Holzmarkt across the river Spree (Photo: Christoph Berendes)

Balancing Authenticity and Commercial Success

As you can see in the picture above, Holzmarkt is not your typical sleek and polished Hipster location but an eclectic home to a creative and alternative crowd. To me, it’s one of the best showcases of Berlin’s struggle in balancing its “poor but sexy” image with its ambition to be a bustling global capital and home to a thriving startup and Tech industry. Visiting Holzmarkt, you can see this struggle between commercial success and authenticity on two levels.

The first is found within the location as such. While the overall look and feel, the crowd, and staff of the stores and cafes at Holzmarkt are on the alternative side, there is nothing particularly alternative about the prices. Whether you opt for artisanal bread from bakery Backpfeife, drinks at one of the bars, or art and souvenirs from Trash Royal, you will notice that the prices are on par with trendy locations in posh central Berlin.

insider tip Berlin Holzmarkt

Trash Royal art shop and a bar at Berlin Holzmarkt (Photos: Christoph Berendes)

If you watch the crowd more closely, you will also notice that many tourists and better-off families visit to take a quick break from an exciting but exhausting city trip. Perhaps more so than the alternative students, activists or artists you might expect. This exemplifies the fine line between selling an alternative “poor but sexy” retail format to those who can afford it and losing authenticity because the prices are out of sync with what the format is trying to sell in the first place. Judging by the length of the queues I encountered, Holzmarkt seems to manage this balance well enough for now, and you may indeed wonder to what extent it still counts as a Berlin insider tip!

The second level of the balancing act between commercial success and authenticity becomes visible in the relationship of the Holzmarkt area with the surrounding city. Located directly on the bank of river Spree, lots of office spaces and high-end apartment buildings have cropped up around Holzmarkt. And there is an ongoing discussion about the long-term future of this location as a creative enclave.

Both Holzmarkt and Berlin struggle with their positioning and how to evolve it into the future. If Berlin wants to at least partially retain its image of being the “poor but sexy” capital, places like Holzmarkt need to be given the space to breathe. And if Holzmarkt wants to remain credible in selling its image of an authentic Berlin experience to tourists and locals alike, it needs to keep its pricing in check.

insider tip Berlin Holzmarkt

Impressions from Berlin Holzmarkt (Photos: Christoph Berendes)

Elements of Great Retail Experiences

Whether you are a Berlin local, a tourist or a travelling retail enthusiast, make sure to stop by and have a look at the concept in detail. After the holidays it will come in handy to have some food for thought ready, for example when thinking about aligning your own retail concept with your target shoppers.

Whether it’s the assortment mix and pricing, the store design and staff appearance, or other potential contradictions – everything needs to tie together to truly deliver the excellent physical shopping experience that is so crucial, particularly given all the competition from digital distribution channels.

If you are looking for more inspiration, make sure have a look around our blog. We have many more case studies of best-practice retail concepts like Rapha, DEUS, or even all things chocolate in store for you. In the meantime, I wish you very relaxing holidays (or a quiet and productive time in the office) and see you back here soon!


About the Author:

Christoph is a consultant focusing on strategy development and process optimisation for fashion brands and retailers. He has more than 15 years experience as a consultant, line manager in the sports wear industry and in the area of e-commerce marketplace distribution. Read more of Christoph’s contributions here and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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