The curious case of the lost Troika

At the risk of turning this into some sort of a traveler’s tales log about life in Germany, which I suppose it is, this particular post is all about a rather flourishing activity in Germany: “Trödelmärkt” and “Flohmärkt”, translated “Braderies1”, “Marchés aux Puces” & “Trocantes”, in French, or Jumble sales and Flea-markets in English (I’ll skip the “Boot” sale bit).

I never paid much attention to them in France, or rather they never came up on my radar screen but since moving to Germany my wife and I regularly seek out and visit local Flea-markets and before anyone gets back to me saying you can do the same in France. I don’t mean the weekend markets most towns and villages have, nor the “Trocante/02nd hand entrepôt halls”, I mean open air markets where you can regularly pick up a bona fide china coffee set, a 02nd hand kitchen sink, a stamp collection or a painting at a price defying all logic. They are real treasure hunts and a real source of income2. For 10€ an emplacement you can set up your trestle table and offer the contents of your or any other attic to people such as me3, something that never occurred to me to do in France… they even have home-bred soap documentaries on German TV about German Jumble sales and Flea-markets, as well as numerous web applications for Smartphones and Co.
1 France has one particularly famous Braderie, held annually in the northern French city of Lille. Take that and try to imagine something similar, albeit scaled down to fit into a ± 2 – 4 hectare local Hypermarket-shopping center car park full of a) jumble bric-a-brac and b) Turkish, Polish, Russian, you name it, culinary delicacies (as well of course as the mandatory “Curry wurst” and chip stand) and you’re starting to get an idea of what draws my wife and I to the Flea-markets most Sunday mornings now.
2 The fine line between attic clearing and selling new goods on the black is closely watched over by organizers and the authorities but then the whole subtlety is to know where the line is, ever exploiting but never crossing it!
3 Visit several different Flea-markets and you start to see that certain sellers are “one off“ trying to make a couple of Bucks, Bob and Euros, others are regular, professional or semi-professional (what’s the difference!), proving that if you don’t feel up to selling your stuff personally either physically, at a Flea-market, or virtually, on a commercial website such as eBay, the 03rd alternative is to contact a professional who, for a modest commission, will do it for you (sic the German (and UK) TV soap documentaries on the subject).

The title? What’s with the title?

Ah yes, the title! So you’re wondering what the title’s got to do with Flea-markets? Well, my wife and I had cycled to a Flea-market one sunny Sunday morning and wandering around we came across a stall with two young guys selling some bric-a-brac and, at first glance, a couple of so, so quality paintings. One was a Bob Ross type mountain scene and the other depicted three horses pulling a sleigh, “Troika” in Russian, through the snow in a forest. Something about this typically Russian scene captivated us. We asked one of the guys the price. 10€ he replied. My wife and I walked away to talk it over but when we came back both paintings were gone! Kicking myself with frustration, convinced the painting would have looked nice over the mantelpiece, I swore never again to let such a bargain like that get away. The fact that I would have looked a complete idiot cycling home on my mountain bike, in my sportswear, with an ± 1.2m x 50cm painting under my arm escaped me but ever since then, whenever we visit a Flea-market we always have spare cash and go by car.

A few months later we visited another Flea-market and after walking past the first stands4 selling the inevitable rubbish, electronic gadgets, wholesale quantities of toilet paper, Zen products and cheap “Made in Italy” clothes that probably weren’t, we were about to give up when we saw a stand hidden away at the back selling clothing for 50 cents. My wife headed for the woolly jumpers while I ambled around a trestle table full with bric-a-brac and there I saw it. No not the Troika painting we almost bought but didn’t, but a pearl not to be passed over, a rather nice aquarelle depicting a provincial, vaguely Baden-Baden-ish street scene. I’m no expert but the painting was signed and the typed, and dated, text on the back5 convinced me that it was genuine so after a minimum of negotiation I paid the vendor 5€ for the aquarelle (5€!!!) and hurried off to find my wife before the vendor could say “Bitte sehr!” My wife looked at the painting, looked at me standing there grinning, trophy in hand, looked at the painting again, gave it her OK and suggested taking it back to the car. So, faster than you can say “And?” I whisked the painting off to the car so she could quietly finish looking at the jumpers before heading home to hang the aquarelle in its place of honour: Over the mantelpiece! It wasn’t the elusive Troika painting but neither was it a 02nd choice. It was a worthy acquisition, an addition to a patrimony. It was also a new home for an old painting.
4 First come, best placed!
5 The text on the back of the painting explained that periodically the aquarelle must be taken out of its frame and aired so that the colours stay fresh and that it should not be hung in direct sunlight.

Karma and Auras

Speaking of new homes for old furniture and belongings. An acquaintance of mine firmly believes that with time furniture and belongings absorb atmospheres and develop auras and that when you procure a second-hand object, something that’s been in someone’s “Home” for a certain period of time, you are also acquiring the object’s history and Karma. I know. Hard to imagine a 02nd hand cupboard of Swedish manufacture having Karma. Imagine rather buying a round marble coffee table from a house where the grandmother very recently passed away with the family still in mourning and you’re starting to get the idea.

As for me I can understand why some people won’t buy 02nd hand bric-a-brac or furniture and I don’t mean out of snobbism or pride, I mean because they are capable of perceiving its aura. I’ve also heard stories about jinxes, about people finding earrings, pocket knives and so on, and then promptly losing them… several times. Sure it’s easier to lose a pocket knife than a 40 kilogram marble coffee table but then your newly acquired 02nd hand 40 kilogram marble coffee table could fall and fracture during transport, before you even get it home… Stranger things have been known to happen.

I also firmly believe that if an object is destined for you it will find its way to you and, carrying on in the same vein, that objects you lose have a habit of coming back to you… that’s Karma for you.
Finally I’m totally convinced that an object’s “Life story” continues after changing owner and believe me, with the adventures my wife and I have had with some of the furniture we’ve bought I could write a book about it!

We won’t give up looking for that elusive Troika painting even though its destiny may be elsewhere but you know the great thing is that with all these flea-markets and websites there’s a very good chance that sooner or later we’ll find it, that or something equally as captivating. Patience is virtue!


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