We sent our author out with a shopping list of iconic Munich items to find at the flea market. Did he find everything? And what do the individual objects say about the city’s cultural history?
I have to start by making a confession: I have never been to a flea market. I always imagined that they were full of OAPs selling crocheted blankets and stuffed animals – two things I have zero need for. So I was a little surprised when I read through the shopping list I had been sent out with – it was full of items that symbolise Munich:
1. A record by the Spider Murphy Gang
2. A white linen suit in the style of cult Munich director Helmut Dietl
3. A beer tankard from Hofbräuhaus
My hamster has more chance of learning how to break dance than I do of finding any of these objects at a flea market – or so I thought. My girlfriend couldn’t help but laugh either, though for an entirely different reason.
“They don’t know you at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“You never ever bring back anything on the shopping lists I give you.”
“Well, we shall see,” I said and set off for the day.
Daglfing flea market is one of Munich’s most well-known markets and takes place on Fridays between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and on Saturdays between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. It’s now 9 a.m. and I’m sitting on the S8 train line heading towards the airport. Lots of the other passengers are carrying bags and backpacks and are off to the flea market, too. Or perhaps they’re off to the Caribbean and are going to the airport instead. It’s hard to say. In any case, when we arrive at the München-Daglfing stop, the train spits out a stream of people, who join me on my walk to the Trabrennbahn race course where the flea market takes place.
The sellers have already set up their trestle tables and arranged their goods. I see some old crockery, books and a lot of electric razors. Amongst all this, I also spot a few items that I haven’t seen for a good 20 years, like a Gameboy. A strange feeling of warmth and abandon flows through me as I pick up the console. Images from my childhood flash in front of my eyes.
I begin to enjoy my trip to the flea market. Although not everything I find is particularly beautiful. Like an oil painting of a female bodybuilder, for instance, or the pink porcelain model of a pig in reading glasses sitting on an elephant’s head. I even uncover an old spinning wheel. It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever be sitting in my living room and think: “Hmm, you know what this place needs: a spinning wheel.”
Yet in an age where there are fewer and fewer independent shops and more and more chains who produce goods to appeal to the mass market, a flea market is like an oasis. Here, you can still find one-off items to break away from Ikea kits.
Yet in an age where there are fewer and fewer independent shops and more and more chains who produce goods to appeal to the mass market, a flea market is like an oasis. Here, you can still find one-off items to break away from Ikea kits. I like it, even though I have yet to find anything for myself. But then, on the table with the weird porcelain animal, I spot something: a tankard from the Hofbräuhaus brewery. Bull’s eye!
A yellow ticket on the glass tells me that the seller would like €2 for it. While I was on the train, I read an article about haggling at flea markets. The number one rule is: Never let them know how keen you are. You’re supposed to focus on another object to begin with and then very casually enquire after the object you really covet. So I grab the pink porcelain pig and say: “Wwwooowww, isn’t that a lovely porcelain pig.” I sound like someone on an American infomercial. “I have never seen such an enchanting porcelain pig.”
My girlfriend would push me off the balcony if I ever came home with this ugly little creature. Surely, even the last visitor at the stand must think that I’m mad now.
“How much does this treasure cost?” I ask the stallholder.
“Hmmm,” I say, turning the figure round again. “And for the beer glass?” I ask with a slight yawn. Ladies and gentlemen, the Oscar for best performance in “I’m not even interested in this beer glass” goes to: Maximilian Reich.
“€2” says the seller, who seems not to be in the least bit surprised by my sudden change of subject. It seems he’s encountered this trick before.
I come back with “€1.50.” I know how to play hardball.
“€2 and I’ll give you a bag for the glass as well.”
“Lovely jubbly,” I say without a moment’s delay.
Did I really just say “lovely jubbly” and pay 50 cents for a plastic bag? Maybe I’m not so good at hardball after all. Oh well. I proudly turn my new beer glass and look at the Hofbräuhaus logo. I don’t even like beer, but this glass will be getting pride of place in my kitchen cupboard at home because I like what it stands for. As a journalist, I have already travelled all over the world; I’ve eaten hot dogs in Times Square and danced the tango in Buenos Aires but I have very rarely come across a city that blends the modern with the traditional as seamlessly as Munich.
“Wwwooowww, isn’t that a lovely porcelain pig.” I sound like someone on an American infomercial. “I have never seen such an enchanting porcelain pig.”
Here, you see bank managers popping into an old brewery like Hofbräuhaus after work, for instance, or school children slipping into their Lederhosen after school to go to a local folk festival. When I go abroad, everyone has heard of Munich and that makes me proud. For this, we must thank the Hofbräuhaus because it symbolises Munich's beer, which is one of the world’s best beers after all.
Next to me, an elderly lady is unpacking clothes from a box and hanging them on a rail. Maybe I’ll find the linen suit here? Helmut Dietl often wore these suits. The cult director created the famous character “Monaco Franze” and with him paid homage to Munich with a TV series that is popular far beyond the city limits. The “eternal dandy” (as Franze was known) and his catchphrases are iconic. “A bisserl was geht immer” (“There’s always a little more”) has long become a popular saying in Munich. And to date, no-one has come close to so perfectly capturing the Munich glitterati as Dietl did in “Kir Royal” in the 1980s.
The women notices my curiosity. “These would fit you. Do you want to try them on?” She holds up a pair of walking shoes. I gratefully decline. “But I could do with a linen suit,” I say. The woman clasps her hands in front of her chest. “Oh for heaven’s sake. I’ve got one at home. I thought about bringing it with me but it didn’t fit in the box. I’m sorry.” The woman looks like she has just run over my dog. “Could I help you with anything else?”
I rummage in my trouser pocket, pull out the list and read it out. “Hmm,” says the woman. “I don’t have any of these. But go and look in that building over there.” The woman points to a hall whether sellers have rented out stands and are selling mainly antiques. There, I find a big box on a chair and it’s full of old records. “Have you got anything by the Spider Murphy Gang?” “There should be one in there. You’ll have to look,” says the owner. So I kneel down and scrabble through 500 records. I learn two things:
1. The seller seems to be a big fan of Heintje, a famous child star in Germany.
2. Rod Stewart used to have the same hairstyle as my aunt Ursula.
“It was their fourth LP,” explains my fellow passenger. “That’s when they were at their peak,” he says and congratulates me on my purchase. With a smile, I pack my piece of musical history back into my bag.
I also find the record I need, right at the back. Of course. I happily pull the record out of the box. This time I forego the haggling and pay €2 for the record. I pack it away in the bag with the glass and wander round the market a little longer but don’t find any more treasures. Shame. Nevertheless, I don’t feel disappointed with my haul as I travel back home. On the train, I look proudly through the contents of my bag. A middle-aged man sitting opposite me asks (in a strong Bavarian accent): “Have you been to the flea market?”
“Exactly,” I say.
“Can I take a look?” he asks, pointing at the record.
He says: “You’ve been really lucky and got their best record.” “Really?” Of course, I am well aware of Spider Murphy Gang. I still love listening to their record “Skandal im Sperrbezirk”, even after 35 years, just like my mum. That might just be the Munich-based band’s greatest achievement: Making music for 40 years and managing to appeal to every generation.
Whenever my mum hears the song, she tells me that the telephone number that appears in the lyrics used to belong to her uncle, so he was constantly getting calls from fans – until he changed his number. He must have got a lot of calls. After all, the song took the gang to number 1 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, I had never actually come across the LP “Tutti Frutti” before.
“It was their fourth LP,” explains my fellow passenger. “That’s when they were at their peak,” he says and congratulates me on my purchase. With a smile, I pack my piece of musical history back into my bag. My girlfriend will have a look. And she claims I always buy the wrong things. Pah!