Flea market, flohmarkt, brocante, whatever the language, it has one meaning to thrifting enthusiasts around the world. It is a call to fun and adventurous sourcing for resale stock. Picking thrills abound in halls, fields and roadways in southern Germany. Bavaria, is ripe with opportunity for prime summertime picking.
When you imagine the picturesque countryside and Alpine peaks of southern Germany usually images of rolling hills, edelweiss on mountain tops and castles pop into your head. For me, it’s a dream of flea market signs dotting our scenic routes around Bavaria. My dreams came true during my most recent trip to visit my daughter.
Since her move to a small village in the foothills of the Alps sixteen years ago I have been to many flea markets (Flohmarkt) in Germany and surrounding European countries.
I now yearn for the familiar neon signs that advertise pop up local bargain hunting meccas every time that we are out and about. My heart quickens with each billboard invitation to a local market. My daughter dutifully slows our journey and appeases my passion.
Little did I realize when I scheduled a month-long stay with her in August 2017, that we would find so many opportunities to pick Bavarian fleas. I hope you enjoy this chronicle of our flea hopping adventures. Some were intentional, others pure luck.
We usually plot our strategy with the help of the local monthly periodical, the “Allgeauweit.” (http://allgaeuweit.de) In the calendar section of this monthly periodical is a listing of known local markets. Imagine my excitement when I perused the magazine online and saw three sales scheduled the first week of my visit. Not only could we treasure hunt on the weekend, but there was also a rare mid-week sale advertised.
Calendars were marked and shortly after my arrival, we were off! I don’t know who was more excited, my nine year old grandsons or me. Their mother, the indulgent daughter, our chauffeur extraordinaire.
Stop 1 – Wednesday. August 2
Oberstdorf, a gorgeous tourist town sitting at the base of the beautiful mountain peak, Nebelhorn, in the Bavarian Alps.
Literally at the base of the mountain, filling a parking lot and adjacent to a lush grassy landing field for daring hang gliders, beckoned our first field of treasures.
Nothing really caught my eye at this sale but the backdrop of the mountain grandeur and the bustle of the tourist village, as always, brought a calm to my soul.
The heat of the August sun and alluring scents from village restaurants provided a welcomed respite to quench our thirst and palettes.
The stroll through the quaint village alone is always worth this 30 minute drive.
Stop 2 – Friday, August 4
Memmingen A short 20 minute drive led us to a grassy field sprawling with a rare Friday market. This is my kind of flea market. Mostly local folks hoping that their cast offs will speak to the heart of someone with a penchant for reuse, or in my case, resale! There were a few “professional” dealers as well as a couple of charity vendors trying to support their local cause.
A pair of brand new converse tennis shoes? Thank you. I think I will take those for 5 euros.
Oh my! Look at the mid century modern vintage typewriter! Hmmm, I wonder how much that would fetch in the US online resale community? For 10 euro, I accept the challenge. I’ve got lots of room and weight in my suitcase at this early point in my journey. It’s not really a common brand in the US, but I keep in mind the fact that the keys alone can be re-purposed as jewelry, desk accessories, key chains, etc. Someone will find more value than my 10 euros purchase price in this beautiful peacock blue conversation piece, if even for the parts.
I bargain for a couple of headbands for my grand daughters and a beautiful hand beaded belt that hopefully some bride will find as the perfect accent to her wedding gown. I’ll be listing the belt for resale on Etsy soon!
And of course, souvenirs for the men in my life. Who wouldn’t love an inflatable beer stein advertising a local German beer, perfect for tubing adventures down the river near our vacation home in northern Michigan? Well, maybe a couple will end up being offered for resale, but I’ll have extras. Two euros each? I’ll take five please…and danke!
Stop 3, 4, 5 and 6! – Saturday, August 5
3 – Kaufbauren This market is hosted mostly by local residents and a few full time dealers. Today’s market was held in the outdoor perimeter of this multi purpose indoor go kart track building. In the winter, the market moves indoors and the building bursts from the seams with vendors escaping the cold winter and snow and satiates the thrifting appetite of antsy buyers going through off season flea market withdrawal!
Today, in steaming heat and blaring sunshine, vendors snaked their tables around the perimeter and down any driveway, path or parking lot, anywhere that a table would balance on the stony terrain. While I did see a couple of “professional” vendors, most vendors were locals willing to bargain cheaply so that they wouldn’t have to pack up so many items at the end of this sultry day.
Early browsing is laden with household discards, clothes of all stages of wear and tchotchkes of every size, shape and decor. There were lots of souvenirs from trips long forgotten as well as old linens embellished with beautiful embroidery by the hand of a long forgotten relative.
I seize the opportunity to inherit a couple of someone else’s family heirlooms. My first purchase, a drop-dead gorgeous hand embroidered evening bag for 5 euros. I ponder the resale value of this same millennial vendors vintage fur trimmed hat. I decide it’s worth the risk and opportunity. Another 5 euros and the deal is sealed.
Several more twists and turns along the gravely path and we make our way to the furthest parking lot area where I find my next couple of treasures. A pair of Butterfly Twists folding ballerina flats, brand new in the box for 2,50 euros. Sticker price, 29,99 euros. I should realize a good resale return on this purchase.
Our last stop and I add to the profits of my daughter’s friend. Among her tables sprawling with liquidation, new-with-tag dresses, electronics and Made in China toys, I find a vintage bridal veil, still in the original box. Ten euros buys me this delicate netting veil with matching floral crown. Surely this will be a hit for a future bride in the US!
4 – Kempten My go-to stop during each visit to the Allgaeu.
This market is held frequently and usually in the stalls of a multiplex of re-purposed old cow barns. On this warm and sunny summer day most vendors are outside. A few of the “regulars” escape the heat and tend their monthly indoor stands. Some spaces are empty and a few locals spread their goods on make shift tables and clothes racks and even the floor.
My only score in Kempten was a beautiful crystal vase for one euro. It was just the right size to hold a bouquet of flowers that I bought earlier in the day for a birthday gift for our friend.
And, I was on a hunt this day. A very long shot, but still ogling the masses with my eyes peeled for any sighting of a previous regret.
A word here about regrets! When you see something that speaks to your soul…buy it! Don’t walk away from the opportunity, you will likely not get a second chance.
On a previous visit to this same market in June I saw a most unusual and intriguing “friend”. It gave me thought long enough to consider resale value, luggage size and weight availability to take back to the US and practicality. I left that trip only with the memory of the find and a photo of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Common sense over impulse drove my decision that day. I live to regret it.
So…fast forward to this visit. I scoured the market to no avail. My alien encounter proved to be a missed opportunity. No sign of him this time. I had broken my own cardinal rule when I saw him the first time. Rule #1 – When you see something and it speaks to you, buy it! Figure out the logistics later. Still kicking myself on this one.
5 – Thrift Shop Stop With a couple of hours to while away until our final Flohmarkt of this day was to open, we stopped in at a local resale shop. As local standards go, this is quite a large shop with a good variety of wares. I always head first to the cabinet items, the items considered most valuable and the most highly priced. Nothing really peaks my interest. I consider a couple Swarovski figurines, but priced too high for my liking. I really have no interest in old vanity sets or crystal glassware at this time.
My favorite in this shop is the basement where the clothing, hats, shoes, boots and linens can be found. This area is a digger’s paradise. The racks are jam packed. If inclined, you can spend considerable time to bagging a bargain. There is one section devoted specifically to local traditional trachten (German clothing). Find your size and take your pick — dirndls, lederhosen, socks, shoes hats. Oktoberfest is coming up soon. Be sure to get yours while the selection is good and at a fraction of the cost new!
Our only find here was a good one, however. A like-new pair of Nike indoor soccer shoes for one of my grandsons for 4 euros. Even the cashier was surprised that he had priced them so low.
6 – Waltenhofen Our final stop of this exhausting but exhilarating day was found in a small village neighboring the larger city of Kempten. This is the type of flea market where deals can be found. This market was held in the driveway of a local building supply company. It was mostly unadvertised. Even most locals did not know of this one. The only way that we found out about it was through our friend, who was selling there that day. It was apparently only advertised in the locally distributed only, small village weekly periodical.
Vendors lined the sides of the covered driveway. The lucky ones were shaded from the late day blistering sun. We arrived immediately upon opening and there was little early competition.
Amid the few shoppers that were there was a trio of rude and obnoxious pickers on a mission…the kind who give us all a bad name. These three men darted from table to table, inconsiderate of others in their search, interrupting, loud, obnoxious, rude, reaching over others in front of them to grab their target. Not to be deterred, I skirted their obvious path and forwarded myself a few tables ahead of them. That’s where I found my jewel for this sale.
I bagged perhaps my best find of this market season, an antique ladies wristwatch. The vendor, a young woman who saw no use for her grandmother’s heirloom gold watch. Realizing that it might have some value since she knew it was gold, her first offer price was 25 euros. I countered with a respectful 20 euros offer and a sale was consummated. It even came in a watch box because it was “valuable!” I out-foxed my competition and in a polite and honorable manner, bagged probably my most profitable item.
There was a lot of children’s clothing and toys and kitchenware on almost every table along with an abundance of out of season sports equipment and gardening supplies. This sale was 100% local folk.
I again, broke my #1 sourcing rule and add a regret to my growing list. I inquired about a pair of googles, perhaps for resale to the steampunk crowd in the US, only to be informed that they were ski goggles. So as not to reveal my true intent (which is my chosen MO), I didn’t show interest, including not asking the price. I walked away! There! I’ve done it again! Broken my own rule. On our drive home I was kicking myself for not even inquiring about the price. We tried to phone our friend who was selling at the sale, with the hope that she would check them out and possibly pick them up for me. No answer! Uggg…another lost opportunity. Note to self: You have three weekends of flea markets left during this trip. DO. NOT. DO THAT AGAIN!
After hitting up four markets on this day, plus our previous weeks journey, our three day flea-a-palooza cames to an end. Exhausted, hot and ready to kick back and rejuvenate, we head home knowing that the next day we trek to what has become an annual sale for us. Once billed as the smallest flea market that I’ve ever attended, to one of the largest local community markets that I’ve attended, my anticipation is suppressed only by my temporary exhaustion from the past days of whirlwind thrifting.
More to come in my next blog on the Sontheim Flea Market day.