To the flea markets!

Clowns at flea market Efforts at sorting out of the random detritus of life have been stepped up a gear in the last week, with the culminating finale being the attending of two flea markets in nearby towns over the weekend.

I have mentioned before quite how much stuff my girlfriend has managed to accumulate over the years. Suffice to say, it is a lot. And a lot means more than just your average trinkets, cd’s and dvd’s.

The hospital IV drip holders, for example, were consigned to the bin prior to the flea market. The horrific pottery chicken shaped egg holder was not.

The first thing I learnt about flea markets, which I presume is not unique to Germany, is that they start excessively early. We had to be there by six am in both cases, which meant getting up at an hour I had forgotten existed, an hour I usually associate with some form of long distance travel requirement. Even the sun deemed it an hour unworthy of lighting.

I would have hidden in bed and mumbled grumpily, but as it was I was responsible for driving one of the two vehicles. Night time driving on the wrong side of the road. Even more fun than the daytime version. I did, at least, manage to tick off another one of my life's key goals, that being the driving of a white van. A small white van, yes, but a white van nonetheless. And a Dacia! James May would have been proud.

Sunrise over the flea markets

The first flea market we attended was in the charmingly pretty town of Brühl, just a few kilometres away. This was a city centre flea market, the idea being that your average person, not necessarily out shopping for something, may just happen upon your stand and realise that all along their lives had been missing out on a horrific pottery chicken egg holder. We set up, as the sun was just pondering raising itself above the horizon, and, a minor issue with a collapsing table aside, we were ready for action.

I’ve never really taken part in a flea market from the sellers side before, unless you count school jumble sales at the age of five. It’s quite amazing to watch people spiral in, moth like and uncontrollable, towards a pile of stuff that for the most part, no-one in their right mind would want. The stall next to us had an amazing set of elongated wooden clowns, for example. However, one persons junk is another persons treasure, and we did manage to shift an awful lot of stuff.

I have no idea how much any of this is worthPart of the reason for this I suspect was the uncompromising position of offering pretty much everything on the stall for one euro, regardless of value. Eyebrows were raised, cash was rapidly handed over before sense was regained.

The chap at the stall next to us was despairing that we were undercutting everyone and everything with our tactics. He, on the other hand, appeared to be operating to the principle that everything he owned was too valuable to actually sell, and he was in actuality doing the travelling public a service through the act of even displaying it.

Our theory was that if it wasn’t sold, it was going in the bin, and a euro was more than nothing. And if you have over four hundred items, it all starts to add up.

The first day wasn’t too bad. Our position wasn’t ideal, down a side street off the main pedestrian thoroughfare, next to a giant concrete multi-storey car park. The weather however was lovely, shoppers were out, and we sold a number of things that I never thought we would, including the pottery chicken egg holder (one of the first things to go!).

We were therefore in high hopes for the main event, the Sunday flea market at a town a little further away.

Anything and everything...

The second flea market was a more serious affair. Set in a rather more lovely location, in a park with a little river meandering through, we arrived at an even earlier hour than the day before, as a miniature flea market city set up around us.

I learnt some things here. First, I must advise against developing a vinyl habit unless you hate sleeping. Before we’d even got so far as to put a table cloth up, before the sun had nosed over the horizon and started to melt the dew, the vinyl junkies were delving through Vera’s box of LPs, handing money over, and squirreling their purchases away into fathomlessly deep bags. It seemed like hard work.

Second, if you are attending a flea market, you can do worse than taking a recent philosophy graduate with you for conversational reasons.

And finally, you can sleep quite comfortably in the back of a small white Dacia.

Bottles of stuff!Because this flea market was serious business, in that it wasn’t just passing trade and the attendees were actually intending to buy stuff, we did pretty well over the day, certainly better than the first day. More random stuff was sold. A tougher line on price was taken. Bargaining took place. Many CD’s and DVD’s found new homes. The walking stick that turned into an umbrella did not.

Over the course of the day I took a wander around the rest of the market to see what else was on offer, and the range was quite staggering. Old reel based film projectors jostled up against cheap pet food and mobile phone holders. A whole orchestra could have been equipped with the musical instruments available. Paintings, jewellery, car radios.

I was reminded of the Disney classic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, where the characters visit London's Portobello Road, and naturally burst into song over the occasion. The line I was reminded of went:

Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrow in Portebello road.

Musicals aside, it was a really lovely day. The sun was shining, the river was sparkling, the grass was nice to relax on. I couldn’t help too much with the whole sales thing due to my lack of German language skills, but I was able to provide helpful gesturing when someone needed attention. And by the end, even I could say Ein Euro with the best of them. hmm. there's no-one left to sell to.

Finally, as the sun started to crash down towards the horizon again, the passersby dwindled away to nothing, the stalls were packed away, and we headed home, having realised that there really wasn’t anyone left to sell anything to. All in all there was much joy at having got rid of a great deal of stuff, even though when we finally departed the van still seemed awfully full…

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