CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
When we first moved to Germany I had already been spoiled by a friend who had two older boys and had handed down all of their gorgeous clothes to my son. I was shocked at the prices for children’s clothing when we got here, and with a rough-and-tumble son that stains or rips his clothes as soon as I get him dressed in the morning, I didn’t know how I was going to afford it.
Germans don’t typically do garage sales like Americans, so where does all their used stuff end up? At my house! (Just kidding.) It ends up at a flohmarkt.
Flohmarkt is the German word for flea market, and they hold them for babies and children (Kinderflohmarkt), bicycles and scooters (Fahrradflohmarkt, sometimes Fahrradbörse), books (Bücherflohmarkt), toys (Spielsachenflohmarkt) and practically any other category you can imagine. They’re seasonal and the seasons generally correspond with what’s being sold (summer clothes in the spring and winter clothes in the fall). The spring season usually happens in March, with a few early and late ones in February and April. The fall season begins in September, but you’ll also find a few in October. They are advertised in a variety of ways. If you’re in Stuttgart, they’re all posted online and in print in Luftballoon magazine. Advertisements also pop up on bulletin boards in supermarkets, schools, and in pharmacy windows.
Generally, Flohmärkte are arranged by non-profits like churches, clubs, schools and charities. There are different types and forms of organizing them. The two main types are Sortiert and Unsortiert. A sorted Flohmarkt features donated or consigned items that have already been sorted for you. This means that you walk into the space and all of the girls’ pants in size 80 are together, so they’re easy to find. All of the toys will be in one section, all the shoes grouped together, and so on. This is my favorite style because prices are generally already on each item and it’s easy to find what I want quickly. I can quickly go through the pile of my kids’ sizes and choose what I want and head off to the cashier. Prices can vary, but they are generally very reasonable, such as 2-4 Euros for kids’ pants, 5-10 Euros for coats, 2-4 Euros for shoes, and so on.
If you like bargaining and experiencing a little more interaction with the sellers, then you’ll want one that is unsorted. These markets are basically like a huge neighborhood garage sale. Sellers pay per meter of table space for the privilege of selling their own items at their own prices. The problem I run into is that tables are not clearly marked, so one woman is selling toddler pants, and the next one has a pile of books and games, and the next has only boots. If it’s crowded, it’s hard to work your way from table to table and see what each person has. Additionally, the prices aren’t generally on the wares, so you ask over and over again. If you like to bargain and make a sweet deal, though, this might be the choice for you. A church near us holds one market where children sell their own old toys. My son loved looking at their offerings and asking how much things cost, and walking away with some very nice choices at the end. I usually end up sorted and a few unsorted markets and finding at least a few things I like at each.
Much like going to the farmers’ market, there is value in the cultural experience of asking prices, interacting with people and enjoying the act of browsing. There is almost always an accompanying bake sale with cake and coffee to benefit the sponsors’ cause, and at some of the larger markets, there are sausages or crepes, too.
- If you can, go alone (without kids). Trying to part the crowd with a crying baby in a stroller or constantly losing track of a toddler among the boxes and bags and tables makes this a much more stressful experience than it needs to be. These sales are generally pretty crowded, so you need full use of your elbows. I’m not saying it’s dangerous, but a very small child could get stepped on or lost in the shuffle. I do take the family along when I shop at a market that is held at a large school or Waldheim (church campground) because there are playgrounds and other fun features. My husband watches the kids (very happy to be excluded from the torture of shopping), and I shop and then we all play and run around a little.
- Bring your own bag(s). When you least expect it, you will stumble on a goldmine and need a way to carry it home.
- Bring lots of cash and small change. Just like a garage sale, everyone is always short on change.
- Get there early. If you arrive 10 minutes early and there’s a line with 50 people in it, you’re in the right place. Don’t let the crowd put you off, it means that this is going to be a great sale. Many Kinderflohmärkte allow pregnant ladies in up to an hour early with their Mutterpass.
- Know your children’s sizes before you go. German sizes go by approximate height in centimeters, so a 2T in US sizing is a German 92. Click the red link for more size conversions.
Note: Click on photos for credits.