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  • How bureaucratic hurdles forced Thaipark into a new location

The Burning Issue

How bureaucratic hurdles forced Thaipark into a new location

Berlin's beloved Thaipark is home to some of the most delicious Asian food in the country. But after a years-long bureaucratic nightmare, it's being forced to move for the 2024 season.

Photo: IMAGO / Stefan Zeitz

When comparing Berlin’s Asian food scene to similar metropolitan centres, “abjectly garbage”, “bad”, and “generally not great” aren’t uncommon descriptors – at least within the unencumbered annals of Reddit – with one trusted exception. For over 30 years, the Thaipark food market has offered a tantalising medley of Southeast Asian cuisine in Wilmersdorf’s no-frills Preußenpark on weekends from April through October, cementing it as a steady counterweight to the more common ‘pan-Asian’ restaurants catering to scarf-adverse palates.

Sadly, Thaipark’s local popularity and international accolades from the likes of Time Out and The New York Times couldn’t shield it from being uprooted by local politicians who are, let’s face it, probably a little scharf-averse themselves. Despite navigating every obstacle in Berlin’s bureaucratic labyrinth and being willing to answer every complaint lobbied against them, the food market will no longer be allowed to remain at its longstanding location at Preußenpark in Wilmersdorf. As of June 8th, the market has reopened as the Thai Street Food Market in Berlin on Württembergische Straße, directly next to the park.

“It’s a piece of home, it’s a place where families meet, connections are built,” says Thatsawan Te Gude about the Preußenpark location. “You can’t have this same atmosphere on the street,” says Te Gude, a chairwoman to the board of directors for the market, who has been involved since it began. “It’s really sad, not just for us, but also for the people who come here and love it. It’s heartbreaking.”  

The market’s organisers have met their fair share of NIMBYesque complaints over the years.

What began in the early 1990s as an informal gathering of mostly women from Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries to share traditional meals has grown in size and scope but managed to maintain its less commercial, unpretentious charm.

The market’s organisers have met their fair share of NIMBYesque complaints over the years, including those of noise, congestion and being a source of unofficial income – the latter of which ended when Thaipark officially registered as a legal street food market in 2020, operated by the Thai Association in Berlin. Last year, the CDU-Green coalition in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf announced that they intended to relocate the food market out of Preußenpark due to violations of the Green Areas Act and complaints from local residents.

“The alleged reason of garbage is really absurd,” a neighbour told the Berliner Morgenpost after participating in a demonstration to save Thaipark’s Preußenpark location in autumn 2023. The vendors clear their trash, she told Morgenpost, and other parks in Berlin are far noisier, with people drinking and partying well into the night. The SPD’s Claudia Buß, the deputy parliamentary group leader in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and a vocal advocate of Thaipark staying in Preußenpark, noted that moving the market to the neighbouring street would also push noise, traffic and trash directly onto people’s doorsteps.

Still, the coalition held firm. Despite a petition to save the market’s location garnering almost 50,000 signatures as of February of this year, the Committee for Regulatory Affairs and Transport issued a preliminary decision that same month: 2023 would be Thaipark’s last season in Preußenpark.

Dumpling devotees

There’s nothing quite like Thaipark in Berlin. Hungry queues wrap around the 60-plus stands displaying spring rolls, deep-fried plantains, sesame balls, multi-hued dumplings, sweet-and-sour soups, mounds of sticky rice. Steaming woks with aromatic stir fries of every variety sizzle; ladles scoop rich curries. It’s a place you come with Tupperware, park a blanket and stay all day, filling your belly with multiple courses. The market’s loyal following is apparent not only by the crowds that flood the park in summer but also the 50,000 signatures collected online and in person for it to remain at Preußenpark.

Other Berlin food markets also offer delicious cuisines from underrepresented parts of the world, but they often have to charge an entry fee and sell at painfully high prices. Berlin should facilitate international food markets unequivocally, but it seems that the government is only interested in greenlighting community-oriented, small-business projects when it can get a bigger cut. That’s not surprising, of course, but surely hastens the city’s trudge towards soulless, gentrified sameness.

Photo: IMAGO / Stefan Zeitz

Thaipark’s diehard devotees will note that prices have also increased, but the vendors have still been able to maintain affordable rates, even after officially registering the market, instating a deposit system for takeaway containers and limiting the number of stands to reduce the ecological impact on the park – a big component of the CDU-Green coalition’s arguments against its continuation.

For years, Thaipark and its friends have risen to the district’s challenges without compromising its soul. As early as 2019, Technische Universität students drafted several comprehensive proposals for the food market, including modern sanitary facilities, disability access and environmentally friendly waste disposal systems; these were met with a positive response but ultimately did little to dissuade local politicians from their anti-Preußenpark course.

In 2020, all stands had to register as official businesses with power supply and infection protection. After a redesign of the park, the number of stands was reduced from 100 to 60. A zero-waste concept was agreed on, with reduced operating hours, but despite the €2.5 million allocated in the 2022/2023 district budget to address market and neighbourhood needs, the CDU-Green coalition announced in February that the market would be moved to a new location when it opens for its 2024 season.

Fry another day

With Thaipark organisers and supporters offering many reasonable proposals to meet the government’s demands and an already-agreed-upon master plan, it remains unclear why the final decision has so dramatically departed from long-term solutions to keep it in the park. Buß told Berliner Morgenpost that the black-green coalition “proposes a new location every week without having a proper justification or concept or even talking to the Thai community about it”, calling their vague communication style “unbearable”.

Unfortunately, the shuffling is far from over.

Now, Thaipark is being shunted onto a paved street near their former home – a move that may impact the spirit of their three-decade-old venture. “Many of the Omas are leaving; they don’t have the capacity or energy after this big disappointment,” Te Gude says. In its 2024 form, the market will shrink to around 50 stands on Württembergische Straße.

Photo: IMAGO / Stefan Zeitz

Unfortunately, the shuffling is far from over. A second move is slated for 2026, pushing the stands to the sidewalks of Barstrasse and parts of Fehrbelliner Platz, although this has been criticised by the Thai Association and by the BVG, for obstructing a bus turn area. For the months leading up to the 2024 move, which has postponed the market beyond its usual April opening, hungry fans have been able to visit an offshoot, Thai Bridge, every Friday in Jules B-Part in Gleisdreieck Park – but it’s a small consolation prize.

Berlin should facilitate international food markets unequivocally.

While the local Southeast Asian community mourns the loss of a place that tied together distant homes, Berlin risks becoming a hollower, poorer city if it continues to allow its leaders to sieve out what makes cultural spaces authentic and accessible. Meanwhile, keeping Thaipark in Wilmersdorf is essential, says Te Gude, and they’ll do their best with the new challenges, as they always have. Despite a sense of tired resignation, she’s determined to make this work, to ensure the survival of a culinary and community space that means too much to let it fail.

  • Stay up to date with Thai Park in all its various forms on Instagram at @thaiparkinberlin.