Cornelia Brelowski: Seek and Thou Shall Find – The Berlin flea market scene and its hidden treasures
TEXT & PHOTOS: CORNELIA BRELOWSKI
Recently, I have spent my Sundays prop-hunting for a Berlin-based theatre production. This being a new task for me, I started with scanning charity and neighbourhood shops until finally turning to Berlin’s accommodating flea market scene.
Any Berlin visitor will know the “big one” at Mauerpark, which has been much cleaned up recently, due to a makeover of the entire Mauerpark area. I would still recommend it to any tourist, as it also has the benefit of the Mauer-Museum nearby, as well as numerous opportunities for snacks and drinks on its very premises. However, as a longtime resident, I usually avoid the hustle of the “big one” for some more pointed bargain hunting in close vicinity.
Only a short walk away, the smaller flea market at Arkonaplatz is set on a lovely square which forms part of the 19th century garden memorial around the Zionskirche church, on the border of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Here, you can hunt for rare finds from Berlin and Brandenburg, with some kitsch thrown in between.
My most pressing mission was to find both a 19th century doctor’s bag (or one that looks the part) and a vintage cigar case, the two presenting the most notorious items on our endless prop list. I had recently discovered that the doctor’s bag, once a most popular accessory, has mysteriously become extinct of late. This bag opens without a zipper making it perfect for a 19th century play and, due to its locking mechanism, has a shape that is quite unique.
Try finding a doctor’s bag in the 3rd decade of the new millennium, and best of luck with that. The Arkonaplatz was our last bet. After having scanned the entire market for an hour, a little miracle happened at the end of our round: A smallish bag in light brown popped up in the last row, looking quite deserted and unloved. A quick chat with the vendor suddenly made for a perceived rise in its popularity though, and the woman named a bold price as soon as she sensed our desperation. With a look at our overstretched budget, I risked declining and we ventured to take another round, if anything to lower her expectations. “See this lovely doctor’s bag?” I heard her praising it to the next customer as we were still in earshot. “She’s good”, I thought and dragged the set designer away.
On our return, the bag was still there and we started bargaining. Finally, the bag changed owners for a slightly lower sum. It looked the part – and mind, it was probably the only surviving doctor’s bag available in the whole of Berlin. Come to the flea market and thou shall find.
The vintage cigar box by the way was found a week later – at a vendor who had promised to bring an entire collection for us to choose from. A quick scan on the phone revealed that he asked for less than half of the online price. I did not even start bargaining – the gentle chat, the fact that he remembered a random customer from the week before, the further fact that he asked at least two other vendors for alternatives, made sure that he got the price he wanted – and yet again marked the Arkonaplatz flea market as a uniquely friendly and most accommodating place.
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