Interview with the organizers of the Bazaar Berlin

A look into the Bazaar Berlin 2019, with Barbara Marbook and Mirjam Priemer

November 14th, 2019
Marina Natsia and Marta Faraoni, News from Berlin

Bazaar Berlin is Germany’s most international fair-trade market for handicrafts, design, and natural products. Every year during November, around 500 manufacturers and retailers from more than 60 countries present their high-quality goods and exotic merchandise. 

Members of Berlin Global had the opportunity to talk with the project manager, Mrs Barbara Mabrook and the PR manager, Mrs Mirjam Priemer about Bazaar Berlin 2019.

1. Please introduce a little bit about Bazaar Berlin: why did you decide to organize this multi-ethnic marketplace in Berlin, and not in another German city?

Bazaar Berlin has a very long history. It started in 1962, and in those days, this market was called “Overseas Partners for Progress”. It was started as political project by the German government right after the Wall was built to attract international people to Berlin. They founded this fair for the so-called developing countries and the German Ministry of Economy financed it. They paid for the stand, they paid for the transports of the goods and for the trip of the stand director. And it was organized by government institutions of those countries. I started working here in 1986. So, when I began, it was still like that. The idea was political, but it was not really successful because the entrepreneurs did not come by themselves, but like a state institution who were more interested in going shopping in Kurfürstendamm, actually, than doing business here. And also, we could not attract the best visitors, because all the stands were allowed were things like washing powder and handicrafts. So, when the Wall fell two years later, the money was stopped and we were divided in teams. I was in charge of the African teams during those days, and we decided to host a fair completely different from what we did before. We wanted to hold a fair open to the public where people could come, see the products and buy them directly, and everybody who participated had to pay for their stand. So, we got people who were really interested in doing business. A company here in Bazaar is sometimes only one person, but it was their own business, and we started with one single hall. It was very small in the beginning, and we developed slowly but surely. The first thing we had was a hall for Africa, which had a very practical reason at the beginning. The entrepreneurs from Africa were selling drums, the other exhibitors were complaining. So, we thought “why don’t we put all the drums together?” And we started to get a very special atmosphere like nothing else in Europe, since this is the only fair where there is an African hall, and all the people really come from Africa. So, we started thinking about other concepts. We wanted to add an ecological aspect. We started with the “Natural Living” section, and then we wanted to give a platform to young designers who have great ideas but no money and no marketing experience. So, we created the section “Art and Style”. And this section has simpler stand construction, but it is also cheaper. So, we made it possible for this kind of people to afford it. The last thing we added, it was five years ago, was the “Fair-Trade Market” which is for people who are certified fair traders, or on the way to certification. We are going to expand this section in the future and allow all the social communities to participate. And why are we doing this? Because of globalization, and because consumers are aware of what is going on, and they want objects that have a good story not a bad story. They want things that make them happy and make them feel good. It is our interest and we think that Berlin is the best place in Germany to do something like that because a lot of people think like us.

2. Why is Berlin a “good place” or a “good market” in comparison with other cities?

Because people in Berlin are more open-minded and this city is more international than other places. They have less money but more creativity. They are not so much into status symbols. Berlin is not like other cities where you have to think what to wear. I have been living here since 1982, and I do not care what I wear. I just wear what I like, and I go where I want to go. For me it is the only place in Germany to live.

3. We read on your website that this year you will have five themes: World Market, Natural Living, Art and Style, Winter at Home and Fair Trade. Can you tell us some words about each one of them?

The World Market is the root of Bazaar Berlin. It is an international exhibition about Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America. As I said, “Natural Living” is for ecological products. “Art and Style” is for temporary design and it can be combined with ethnic aspects, but it has to be different, not traditional but modern design. The “Winter at Home” section is done with an agency we are working with who brought things to make your home nicer in the winter.

4. Bazaar Berlin tries to be socially responsible and collaborate with other organizations such as UNICEF and Mama Afrika. Which projects did you realize, or do you plan to realize with these international partners?

We just gave a free stand to UNICEF that is not our partner. But we had some projects with partners. For example, at the moment, we have two partners, one is an association in Berlin is called “Global Project Partners”. They are doing a project in Turkey with Syrian refugee women who designed beautiful things, which you can see on the ground floor. Unfortunately, this is the last year of the project. And then we have another project called the “Develop Project”, which is co-sponsored by the German government. You have to have partners in a country. We have a fashion school in Cambodia at the modern design center, we have the German partner Messe Berlin, a fashion institute in Dusseldorf, and a project in Hong Kong. Our partners can bring their work here, and we give them the stand for free. The other part of the fashion institute in Dusseldorf sends a student to teach young designers in Cambodia, and the project management in Hong Kong organizes the whole thing. They are in charge of the fair-trade certification and workshops in Cambodia for those who produce things. This project that is also in Hall 1 has been running for the past year. But we have began the process to start a new project with the same partners in Cambodia, and it will start next year. 

5. Do you believe that the Bazaar Berlin fills the cultural gap between Germany and other involved countries?

Of course. People have made friends here. This morning we honored an exhibitor from Nepal who has been coming for 40 years and he told us he has made friends here. In the beginning they were business partners and now they are friends. We also get phone calls in the office asking to come back this year. People, visitors and exhibitors are all looking forward for this big event.

6. Which media do you employ to promote Bazaar Berlin?

The best media are the social media: Facebook and Instagram have been very successful. We moved a lot of work and content to social media to directly reach the audience, and it’s been very successful. You can receive a great amount of information about Berlin Bazaar on our social media and our webpage.

7. Do you think that you can improve the media you use to reach a broader audience or are you satisfied with the media that you chose?

Yes, we are pretty satisfied. Of course, there are more possibilities, so we try to get to know the background stories of the exhibitors and the products we have here. Because next to the experience of shopping here, the history and the stories are the most important things about Bazaar Berlin. In the future we will put more force into sharing these kinds of stories, with the audience and the media. These stories show exactly what Bazaar Berlin is. We have some stories on our website and on Instagram but unfortunately only in German, because visitors are 99% German. The main visitors to the Bazaar Berlin are German speaking people from Berlin and the surrounding areas. We don’t have many visitors from abroad, only exhibitors. Bazaar Berlin is a market for direct sales, where people come to buy Christmas presents and things for themselves.

8. How difficult is to organize this kind of multicultural event?  Which challenges did you face?

I love this question! One of the main problems is that if you work with people from Asia and Africa, they often have VISA problems, because they are not companies. They are dealers and handicrafters and if they are new and young and they don’t have any money, the chance to get a VISA for Europe is very low. Also, it depends on the Embassy of each country so we can never predict with which country we will have a problem. For example, this year was the first time that we had problems with India and Indonesia. Africa is always difficult as well. Another problem is that if they get the VISA, but they don’t get their goods. In Ghana they shipped a 20-foot container, which is really a lot, but they just left the ship because it was not full. Although the lady had paid, they didn’t send her goods. Other goods disappear on their way. It happened from Latin America in Peru or Madrid and these people have no goods. These are the main problems we have every single year. But also, every year there is something new which makes this job so interesting. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s not really a problem of cultural mentality, it’s either political or organizational problems. In a lot of these countries their forward agencies are really bad. Its difficult for the exhibitors to ship their goods. Those who come regularly usually store their goods here in Berlin to make sure they at least have something when they come back next year. 80% of our exhibitors come back. A lot of them have been coming for 20 years. 

9. Is any government or Embassy from another country in Berlin involved in the organization or promotion of Bazaar Berlin?

No, but there is one thing. There is a club of the foreign office for women; female ambassadors, wives of ambassadors and women who work in Embassies, and they have an invitation for the Friday morning every year. They will attend the Bazaar Berlin this year as well.

10. For the last question we would like to ask you to say a few words about the future of Bazaar Berlin.

There will be a Bazaar and I hope it will continue, as we have started to shift towards social issues, focusing on quality, design, and sustainability. This is the future because they cannot find a shop this big to sell and promote these kinds of products in Berlin. In Bazaar Berlin you can find things that you can’t find anywhere else, and we want more of this kind of exhibitors to come. That’s the idea of the future, and it will have a long future. It’s a big fair-trade market and it grows every year.


News from Berlin