Visiting once-loved spaces, now reborn in 2022, Ryan Enslin rekindles an old flame in Braamfontein.
When I heard the old Neighbourgoods Market, once the very heartbeat of inner-city Braamfontein, was to relaunch as The Playground this last weekend, it was literally the best news I had heard all year. Having said that, it was only 20 days into 2022 when I heard this news, so the best news of the year attribution could have been somewhat premature, but my excitement was palpable.
No, scratch that. It was through the roof.
As a kid, and while on school holidays, I used to, from time to time, fill those potentially mind-numbing, monotonous days by going to work with my mom. She worked in Braamfontein and I would spend those mornings wandering the streets, watching people go about their lives and taking in, what travel writer and explorer me now understands, was the energy of the place. Like the diverse cultural mix I was afforded a front-row seat to, or the liquorice aroma of fennel and the smoky dried ginger fragrances wafting from the food and spice shops I passed, to the shiny wares on sale. Such started my love affair with the inner city, and her unique energy.
Fast-forward to 2012 when I first discovered the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. It was like tapping straight back into that energy I had discovered all those years before, but never properly understood. The Neighbourgoods Market, similar to her namesake at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town, was a melting pot of South African society. At that time our society felt like it was going through an identity crisis, battling to define itself; fellow South Africans struggling to connect with each other on just about any meaningful level. Rainbow Nation hangover was in full force and the headache was real.
But not at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. Each Saturday morning people would gather, connect, converse, eat and dance in that inexplicable space. And in the process, seemingly in complete contrast to the South Africa ‘outside’, they would discover one another. It was an inspiring place just to be present in, made that much better by bringing along friends, and making new ones at the meters-long table where the eating and drinking of the market fare took place. It was electric.
COVID-19 dealt a death blow to the Neighbourgoods Market and for a while, the space was deserted. And then Play Braamfontein founder Adam Levy, also a co-founder of the original Neighbourgoods Market, applied his mind to the situation once again.
And so it was that this past Saturday I took myself down to that familiar building at the corner of Juta and De Beer streets in Braamfontein, eager, yet filled with anticipation at the prospect of meeting the new incarnation of the market, now The Playground.
Retaining all the original qualities that made going to the market an event, rather than a mere shopping destination, I found The Playground bursting with a heightened level of creative energy. All around me I felt that energy as I watched people celebrate this newly interpreted space while dancing to the beat of the hypnotic music, similarly experiencing a unique moment in time. Attempting to capture the moment, they posed for selfies, proudly displaying outfits inspired by the iconic mokorotlo straw hat of the Basotho. And they smiled, laughed and made merry.
The original offering has evolved, as one would expect, the key drivers behind this being a combination of an intentional curation of the space and the strength of conviction underlying Adam’s drive to leave a legacy for the city.
“Life is about storytelling…” Adam shared with me as we discussed what I saw unfolding before my eyes, continuing “…give people a voice and a platform, and let them tell their tale”. And that is precisely what The Playground provides via this carefully curated space – an opportunity for the creatives of Joburg, artists of all genre’s, to weave their tale and share a little piece of themselves with you and I.
Whether that be at the artisanal food and drink stalls, the emerging streetwear designers given retail space to showcase their wares, the musicians and DJs performing on the purpose-built stage or the performance based artists, such as Tyler B Murphy working on his protea mural as you enter the building. Or doodle artist BlckTagg, who created Braamfontein’s very own Cistern Chapel (go check out the new bathrooms at the market, then look up).
I once again caught a glimpse of South African society last Saturday morning at the market. I beheld a multi-cultural cross-section of South African’s at play, in 2022 now better able to define what society means, and that much better at connecting with each other. We have indeed come a long way.
And this is the platform that The Playground both offers and facilitates. Adam put it succinctly when he summed it up “The Playground is a reminder to people that there are some amazing things to be done, there are some amazing people to be seen and there are some amazing experiences to be had”. And I whole-heartedly concur.
The Playground is still at 73 Juta Street, is open every Saturday from 9am to 6pm with weekly, live music performances; boasts 30 food traders, a purpose-built bar area with stunning views over the Nelson Mandela Bridge and an expanded wrap-around balcony, with never before seen spots from which to watch life go by in Braamfontein.
My excitement was truly well rewarded last Saturday. See you on The Playground of life in Braamfontein?
Follow more of Ryan’s adventures in and around Joburg here.