Hella Witte, fisherman at the Viktualienmarkt, has written a book – Munich

“When the press is there, they only have eyes for you,” smiles Klaus Witte, who is standing quite unnoticed behind the sales counter while his wife Hella poses for the photo with a whole monkfish. It is a scene that could not be more emblematic of the Witte couple. He pulls the strings in the background, she is the face and heart of the operation. “That’s a nice quality about my husband, he lets me,” she later explains in a deep voice that sounds more like a cigar shop than a fish shop. It was the same with the cookbook “Fischverliebt”, which will be published by Callwey Verlag on March 20th and for which Hella Witte, with the help of her stand chef Domenico Tamburro, has compiled almost fifty fish recipes, supplemented by excursions into fish science and the stand history of fish Witte.

38 years ago, the then 23-year-old Hella took over the business at the Viktualienmarkt, initially just a single small stand. Ten years later, a second one was added, and ten years later a third one, which, in addition to selling fish, made bistro operations possible. In the mid-1980s, however, Witte could only dream of today’s rush. At that time she was still standing alone in the shop. She already knew her husband Klaus, a trained forwarding agent, “but it wouldn’t have been enough for two, back and forth,” she says.

Hella Witte found out from her father-in-law that her predecessor Franz Willinger wanted to give up his fish stand at the Viktualienmarkt. “I’m not one to hesitate for long, so I just went there,” Witte describes her undeterred negotiation with Willinger. She got the necessary hand for people and the good business sense from home, especially from her grandmother, who ran the “Himmisepp” inn in Miesbach. Even when she was young, Hella helped out there during the holidays and at the weekend, not always willingly: “Do you think I saw Miesbach? There was always work. But I learned a lot.” Perhaps that’s why Franz Willinger, who was used to strong women from his own family, didn’t probe further when a young woman wanted to take over his stand alone, Witte suspects.

For the trained druggist, it was no big deal to trade the scent of perfume for the smell of fish. First and foremost, it was about independence and selling with customer contact. Witte says: “I could probably have sold just about anything, it just had to be high-quality goods. And fish is something special.” Witte implements her claim to the fine in dealing with customers and goods; every guest and every fish should feel valued. A curt “Hello” would not come from Witte’s lips, only after the “Grüß Gott” and a few sentences would the salmon be presented elegantly, as if on a velvet cloth. Then the perfume saleswoman in her comes through.

Control one day before Good Friday? Then Hella Witte gets grumpy

Hella Witte attaches just as much importance to a well-groomed appearance as to a well-kept business, she would never leave the house without lipstick and perfume. Wearing a white blouse, a light scarf and pearl earrings with blonde hair tied at the back of her neck, she could just as easily be working in a Munich law firm. “We work with food, so that’s part of it. I also think it’s nice when a woman prepares herself.” If a woman doesn’t get ready and wants to carry out a food inspection at Fisch Witte on Maundy Thursday of all days, in the middle of the Good Friday boom, Hella Witte can also be very direct. “That’s pure harassment,” she thought, and the lady kindly pointed out that each of her employees was dressed neater than she was. The inspector should please go home and change before the hygiene check. She didn’t come back anymore. “In such situations you have to rethink quickly. I’m lucky that I can do that.”

“Walk in!” the lobster seems to be waving to passers-by in front of the Wittesche shop on the Viktualienmarkt.

(Photo: Florian Peljak)

Hella Witte must also be able to rethink quickly when it comes to her customers. A wide variety of people come together at a location like the Viktualienmarkt. “Young, old, Mrs. Countess, the pimp is crouching next to you. That’s the nice thing,” says Witte. Just last week at Bayern’s game against Paris Saint-Germain, for example, the stand was overrun by Bayern fans, and Moët’s top boss was there on the same day. Witte googled his photo in advance and asked a French employee how to pronounce the name so that she could greet the important visitor appropriately. As a businesswoman, she thinks pragmatically: “If a reservation goes wrong, we can discuss overnight who is to blame. Now the gentlemen are here and a solution is being sought.”

Hella Witte finds it easy to stay cool in every situation and with everyone. Witte describes herself as quick, solution-oriented, resolute but always friendly, that’s how she acts in difficult situations. “I can switch down to zero right away,” she says. Don’t be cheeky, listen, “first serve, then earn”. These are the things she would like to pass on to her two children when they take over the business one day. Only if they want to take it on, of course, because passion for the work is Witte’s top priority. The work ethic of her generation, getting up at half past five and standing in the shop every day, as Witte has been doing for almost forty years, is something she would not expect of her children. “But passion is very important, otherwise you will never be successful.”

Her children, Michi and Liserl, will take over

To the delight of the mother, “der Michi” and “das Liserl” will succeed them as real market children, but only in about five years. Because Hella and Klaus Witte still have plans, for example, to bring their stocks, soups, sauces and spice mixtures – including creations by their longtime friend Alfons Schuhbeck – into retail and online trade in a preserved form. What comes after that, she doesn’t know exactly herself, says Hella Witte. Play chess with her husband and swear as little as possible (“I’m a really bad loser!”) or just go for a walk, stop off and chat.

If she doesn’t stop by her own shop, she likes it uncomplicated; Greetings from the kitchen and umpteen courses is not her thing, neither is sushi, to the dismay of her children. “Maybe that’s another generation issue, but I need a warm meal once a day.” A cookbook of your own is just what you need to get inspiration.

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