Flea Marketing in Berlin

By+Andrew Skipper

Summer weekends are made for recreation and outdoor living. Anyone who enjoys being outside, hunting for treasures, and savoring street food should make it a regular practice to hit the flea markets come Saturday morning. As an interior decorator, I am constantly shopping markets in the United States and Europe, searching for pieces for myself and clients. Vintage and antique pieces paired with interesting people and conversations make for a winning weekend—often at a fraction of the prices you find at the mall. Whether you prefer thoughtfully displayed booths with quality pieces or sifting through boxes, searching for the one good item amidst the junk, there are flea markets for everyone.

 

Because I’m spending time in Berlin, Germany this spring, I make it a habit to shop at least one flea market each weekend. Berlin is known for its flea markets (flohmarkts) which offer everything from antiques, handmade goods, clothing, ceramics, and much, much more. Fortunately I have my colleagues Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva (antiquesdiva.com) and Barbara Irogoyen, Co-Founder of Beba Berlin (bebaberlin.com) to meet me at the Straße des 17.Juni which is a fantastic antiques market near the Tiergarten in Berlin. Toma is an antiques expert and owns the largest antiques touring company in Europe while Barbara also works with her and caters to a Spanish-speaking clientele visiting Berlin.

 

As we enter the first of two long rows of stands, I notice immediately a booth filled with candelabra of all shapes and sizes. There are some very tall ones—about five feet high—that catch my eye. “It’s good to note,” says Toma, “that usually when a piece is large, you can snag it at a lower price because most people are looking for items they can simply carry away with them.” I find this to be true later, when I check the price of an antique wardrobe that’s taller than me and it is much more affordable than I expect.  We stroll on, stopping to examine an antique necklace or to caress a soft Belgian linen tablecloth. I spot a beautiful inkwell with a stag’s head on it, but alas, it is more than I want to pay and the dealer is not interested in bargaining. It is early in the day and a good rule of thumb to remember is that most dealers don’t start haggling until later on in the afternoon.

 

Determined to come away with at least one treasure, I narrow my focus and begin scanning the tables for small tabletop pieces. I happily come upon a pair of silver fox knife rests. At the previous stand, I noticed a set of six knife rests but the price was high because it was a complete set. Perhaps this pair would be a better deal. I inquire, and after bargaining in my broken German with the vendor, come away with my first purchase of the day. I know that I may be able to find another pair of these knife rests at another flea market and will be able to add to my set without paying a large sum. Knowing that once I have that first purchase under my belt, I’m likely to find more things, I carry on with a renewed bounce in my step.

 

Barbara spies a box of chandelier pieces and pulls out the perfect round crystal that will complete her chandelier at home. Apparently it’s been missing the round crystal ball that finishes it off in the center (technically known as a “bottom ball”), so she is quite pleased to pay only a few Euro for this misfit piece. Flea markets can be ideal places to source odd pieces such as chandelier parts, drawer pulls, hardware, or flatware to complete a silverware set. Toma calls me over to see some geodes, as I remarked on a beautiful amethyst in her apartment earlier this week. As she purchases a lovely quartz, I negotiate a fantastic price for the amethyst this jovial dealer is offering. Scoring it at a tenth of the price I’d pay in the USA puts a big smile on my face! It’s important to know what’s popular and what’s not wherever you happen to be flea marketing. Toma tells me for instance, “You can purchase French pieces at much better prices in Belgium than you can in France. It’s all about knowing what people in certain geographical areas value, and then buying the less sought after pieces from them, as you’ll find them to be priced quite low.”
 

About halfway down the second aisle, Toma finds perhaps the best deal in the entire market­—antique German hotel silver at a price which is a fraction of its value. She tells us, “In Paris, these trays would be five times what they cost here!” As she sifts through stacks of perfectly patinated silver trays that were once used in old German hotels, she selects six of the best which will grace her next dinner party table. Meanwhile, I find a tray for myself that has the hotel markings on it and as we purchase this entire lot, the vendor makes us an even better deal. Another point to keep in mind is that if you purchase several pieces from the same dealer, they will often make a better price for you. High-fiving, we move down the remainder of the row, very pleased with our finds. 

 

Still on a high from scoring such great deals, our trio decides to head to a keramik trödelmarkt (ceramic flea market) which is being held at the Ceramic Museum this weekend only. First, however, we stop at a food truck selling bratwurst, currywurst and pommes frites. Flea markets often have food stands with amazing, locally inspired fare. 

 

Once we arrive at the ceramic museum, we make our way to the charming courtyard, with its vines growing up the ancient walls and a soft hum of quiet conversations. Every type of language can be heard as we pass from table to table, carefully inspecting pieces of ceramics, both vintage and new. 

 

I spy an antique white urn that is very much my style, but with its delicate handles, I don’t want to risk packing it in my suitcase nor do I want to pay to have it shipped. Toma points out an old German orange marmalade container and tells me that these are quite collectable. It’s so charming and it would be perfect for holding flowers in the kitchen. I decide to get it and the old German vendor with a very kind face gives me a better price without me even asking. 

 

After a day spent flea marketing, you’ll deserve a good rest and a hearty meal—and the good news is that there’s still time to enjoy both since most flea markets close in the late afternoon. A half day spent shopping yielded us plenty of beautiful pieces at good prices, and good food and beer. We came away with not only loot but also fun memories, which after all, are priceless!

 

Flea Market Tips From Andrew

 

Find the right flea market for you. 

If you like to dig through piles of boxes and hunt for the best piece at a fantastic price, there are markets that you’d love! However, if that’s not your cup of tea, there are markets with gorgeously laid out booths where every item has been cleaned, restored, and is ready to use in your home.

 

The bigger, the cheaper.

Often when you find a larger item at a flea market, you can get it at a better price. Dealers don’t want to pack it back up and move it if no one buys it. Also, most shoppers are looking for small things they can buy and carry away immediately.

 

Come early for selection and later for bargains.

If you want the best selection of items, come first thing in the morning. However, most dealers start bargaining as the day goes on. The closer it is to closing time, the better prices they’re willing to offer.

 

Buy what you love, not what’s popular.

Often times you can find great deals on pieces that aren’t necessarily “en vogue.” Right now “brown furniture” is not very trendy, but if that’s what you like, you can snag it at great prices!

 

Buy more, save more.

If you see several pieces you like in one dealer’s booth, ask if they can do a bulk discount. Vendors are often willing to give you a deal if you’re buying multiple items from their stand.