Year Abroad Diaries: Exploring Berlin's flea markets

Welcome to the first piece of our new series - Year Abroad Diaries, where students share their experience from culture shocks to the best trips, to any specific aspects of life abroad.

Elana Shapiro
11th November 2021
Image credit: Elana Shapiro
I was only a few hours into my six month Erasmus exchange in Berlin before I was taken to my first flea market in the city.

My Seattle-born roommate, Zoe, helped me drag my suitcases up the stairs of our lift-less apartment building and showed me my 6m2  room, with a single bed and some shelves crammed in. Whilst I subtly tried to pull out my phone to recommence my room search – a laborious task when realising the lack of affordable housing and the abundance of scammers on Berlin’s room exchange Facebook group – Zoe’s smile didn’t waver, instead promising me it would look better once we had decorated.

So, we boarded the U-Bahn (underground train) to Kreuzberg and arrived at the Turkish market. Many Turks travelled to Berlin in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, following a post-war employment treaty, (Gastarbeiter), and Kreuzberg was a neighbourhood that quickly became home. It is still a hub for the German-Turkish community and has been nicknamed Little Istanbul.

We entered the market to a stall selling Göleme (stuffed pastries), and to my left, a lady selling Kabobs. As well as edible delights, there were various vintage clothes sellers, art vendors, jewellery makers, and perhaps the most popular stall, with the longest queues: a wine bar. Zoe bought some fruit and vegetables, apparently, this is where the locals come to get the cheapest produce, and I purchased some art for my wall.

Image credit: Elana Shapiro

In Berlin, it seems there is a different market for each day of the week, and a few days later I found myself at the Tiergarten flea market with a Californian friend of Zoe’s, Mary. Like Zoe, she teaches English here on a Fulbright scholarship. The Tiergarten market is far bigger, and we easily spent a couple of hours browsing the stalls.

We saw everything from old German coins, to artistic maps of Europe, to fur coats, to dining table and chair sets. It seemed impossible to reach the end of the sprawling rows because something else would grab your attention. There were boxes upon boxes of vinyl’s, books and CDs and we went through as many as we could manage, stopping for a brief coffee break from one of the many coffee vans.  

On Sundays, it is the biggest flea market of them all, at Mauerpark. It is vast and vibrant, and easy to get lost in the busyness. Whatever you need, you are bound to be able to find it here, bartered for a reasonable price, and probably things you didn't even know you needed as well.

Two weeks later, my room feels like home

Two weeks later, my room feels like home. The cracks and marks on the walls are covered by various posters and vinyl covers. When I walk in, the first thing I notice isn't its size, but the incredible tapestry I bought from the market, on a wonderful day that I spent with Tash, at some time between eating Brammibal's Donuts and negotiating the cost of a necklace with a tortoise pendant.

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