René Götz founded the yard sale organisation "Hofflohmärkte" in 2004 – it now puts on more than 500 events every year all over Germany. We took a walk with the founder through the yard sales in Neuhausen district and talked about the diversity of Munich’s neighbourhoods.
When René Götz from Munich opened the first yard sales in Haidhausen more than 15 years ago, no one could have imagined how the story would develop. Today virtually everyone knows about the yard sales: more than 500 flea markets that take place all over Germany every year – with René Götz now running operations on a full-time basis. The idea is as simple as it is appealing: residents sell their stuff in their own backyard, garden or garage – while enjoying a chat with the neighbours and doing something good for the environment at the same time. Our author met with the initiator René Götz for a chat and a stroll through the yard sales in Neuhausen-Nymphenburg.
Where and how did the idea of the yard sales come about?
The idea of garage sales or yard sales actually comes from America. I heard about it from acquaintances at the time of the TV series Golden Girls. And there have been privately organised yard sales in Germany since the 1980s, too. The big wave came at the beginning of the 2000s, when more and more neighbour communities in Munich joined forces. At that time I was already in contact with shop owners, café owners and creatives because I was involved in producing a neighbourhood magazine. So we put our heads together to think about what we might do to inject a bit more life into the local district. That’s when we thought of the rear courtyard flea markets – and so it was that the first official yard sale event was organised in Haidhausen. The fact that the idea emerged from the neighbourhoods themselves is something I still regard as very valuable today.
Neighbourhood magazine, local flea markets – where does your passion for Munich’s neighbourhood district culture come from?
For me, it’s the neighbourhoods that are the real beating heart of a city: after all, you need all the individual vibrant parts to make up the big whole. Of course there are world-famous sights here in Munich like the Oktoberfest and the Marienplatz (main square) – but the city is so much more than that. The city centre is wonderful and very important, but Haidhausen, Neuhausen, Obermenzing and Pasing have great projects to offer, too. The neighbourhoods are home to local cinemas, small theatres, shops and cafés – these are people’s lifetime projects. I think it’s great when someone opens up something new, because that sends out a message: I want to make a difference in my neighbourhood!
"Of course there are world-famous sights here in Munich like the Oktoberfest and the Marienplatz – but the city is so much more than that."
You live in Hadern yourself. What’s special about your own neighbourhood?
I’m a Pasing kid myself and I really used to love the neighbourhood there: people know each other, they help each other. But even in Munich’s more rural neighbourhoods, things are far from anonymous. And I have the feeling all this is very much coming back everywhere right now. People don’t want to just walk past each other in the hallway any more without saying a word: they want a real sense of community in their building. In Hadern we have exactly that: the historical village centre, our weekly market – everything’s very personal. Our landlord runs a carpentry shop in the backyard, a friend has a flower shop. I also ran a small café there with home accessories, but in the end it was hard to juggle everything. Nonetheless, the experience certainly means I can empathise better with small shopkeepers.
The yard sales are your main job now. What is your day-to-day work routine like?
My job mainly revolves around communication, coordination, conception and design. I sit in the office a lot, making plans and replying to e-mails. I take care of the organisation on my own at the moment, but I'm handing over more and more to the neighbourhoods themselves, so it’s becoming a community project. Nevertheless, there’s scheduling that has to be done, plans have to be drawn and published, the website needs updating. Even though it’s all well established, the job is constantly changing, too: up until 2019, for example, we still had printed flyers, but as everything is increasingly going digital, I now make much more use of social media and digital maps. And we’re adding new cities every year, so that makes my work incredibly interesting. The organisation is still growing – I get requests from new neighbourhoods every day. There are now around 500 dates all over Germany every year – from Munich to Hanover and from Berlin to Frankfurt. That was never the plan – the whole thing just grew in a healthy way.
"People don’t want to just walk past each other in the hallway any more without saying a word: they want a real sense of community in their building."
Why do you think the yard sale concept is so popular?
Because it’s more relevant than ever. It answers the big questions in one simple concept: you can get to know your neighbours while at the same time selling things instead of throwing them away. So yard sales combine sustainability with neighbourliness. And they give people a real-life, first-hand experience at a time when people want to engage with each other in person again. As nice as online shopping is, it’s no substitute for a day full of activity that ends with a pleasant, extended get-together in your rear courtyard.
Today we’re out and about in Neuhausen-Nymphenburg. What do you associate with this district?
For me, Neuhausen-Nymphenburg is primarily Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace), the Botanical Garden, Rotkreuzplatz – those are the central points. I’ve often sat on the bridge in Gern district with friends who live here or walked along Südliche Auffahrtsallee. But what about all those little side streets? Exploring them nowadays is a genuinely fascinating experience.
"There are now around 500 dates all over Germany every year – that was never the plan, the whole thing just grew in a healthy way."
What is unique about Munich’s neighbourhood culture?
For me, Munich is a big bag of surprises. Even though I was born in this city, I’ve discovered so many fascinating new things through the yard sales – a lovely square, a certain architectural style or just nice people. I like the human warmth here: the people are so full of energy and passion. That’s why Munich was a good starting point for the yard sales, too. Yet the city could do so much more – you can see that in a project like ours.
If I were to come to Munich as a visitor, which neighbourhood would you send me to?
I’d first ask you whether you wanted to get to know an urban district or a more rural one. If you want to find a bargain, you might be better off on the outskirts than in the city centre. And the surrounding neighbourhoods are often worthwhile because you can discover real treasures there. My own favourite Munich neighbourhoods are Haidhausen, Neuhausen, Untergiesing and Au – but more importantly, I’d recommend a specific time: there’s something magical about Friday evenings, especially in summer – the stalls stay open past sunset, from 5 pm to 10 pm.
"I like the human warmth here: the people are so full of energy and passion. That’s why Munich was a good starting point for the yard sales."
Do you have your own favourite flea market in Munich?
I’m a junk kid: my parents used to take me to the flea market every week. That was on Arnulfstrasse – it no longer exists, unfortunately. Today I like to go to the flea markets at the racecourse or in Riem. But I really enjoy the night-time flea markets in Munich, too.
What was your own greatest flea market treasure?
I’m a Lego fan and collect the pieces. That’s what I always look out for when I’m at a flea market. I’ve already seen a stall with Lego today, but I have to be careful because I already have way too much. Another thing I like is the board games you remember from your childhood, or Scandinavian furniture in shabby chic style.
What was the craziest thing ever you ever saw offered at a yard sale?
I think it’s really weird when people put their entire living room up for sale – you sometimes see a complete wall unit standing there in the garden, complete with couch, lamp, dining table and TV. There used to be more of that in the old days, when it wasn’t so easy to sell things through classified ads. But there are always curious finds you come across: the other day in Haidhausen I saw someone walking around with a surfboard under their arm. And today in Neuhausen there were an amazing number of traditional dresses, probably because everyone’s clearing their stuff out after Oktoberfest.
"The overall idea is to make more use of the rear courtyard itself: after all, it would be a shame if it was only used for hanging up the washing."
What are you working on now? Where will the yard sales go from here?
I think things are great the way they are right now and I’m also really grateful for the fact that we have such a big community. One goal for next year would be to get people connected more. I get so many requests – about donating clothes, for example. So why not set up a platform where people can easily donate to institutions like Diakonia? And then there’s Grüne Liesl – the online portal for sustainable products, something that’s very close to my heart. But it would be nice to see more growth in terms of culture, too: I’d like to further expand the rear courtyard arts and crafts exhibitions – known as Hofwerkschauen – and the rear courtyard concerts, the Hofkonzerte. People can book musicians to play in their rear courtyard, while artists can get creative outside and exhibit their works. The overall idea is to make more use of the rear courtyard itself: after all, it would be a shame if it was only used for hanging up the washing.
See here for all the yard sale dates.