Today was gorgeous, so I decided a trip to the Mauerpark Flea Market was in order. I have been on the lookout for a number of old household items (frames, bowls, cups, wash bins, etc) to use as craft projects, and since these items will be painted, have wax poured into them, or used as planters, I didn’t want to pay much for them. I had an enjoyable day, but more importantly, I learned just how ineffective I’ve been haggling these past years.
I’ve been in Berlin 6 and a half years, but I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’d been doing this the more Anglo-American way, which is to ask the price, offer them your lowest offer, and then meet somewhere in between. This is the WRONG way to haggle in Berlin flea markets.
*Before I start with the right way, I’d like to make an important note about artists and designers. Many flea markets such as Mauerpark and Boxhagenerplatz also have artists and designers selling their work. Their pricing is based on their time and materials, and often they feel a lot of pressure to sell for their cheapest possible price. I encourage you to pay what they ask, or fairly close to it. These people deserve to be compensated for their effort and skills!*
Mauerpark has a lot of junk, but somehow if you ask what things cost, you’ll get quoted some ridiculous price. Part of this is that people here really think old stuff is worth something just because it’s old (even if it doesn’t have any value as an antique), but mostly it’s because when you ask the price, they will give you the highest possible price they think they’ll get for it. This is especially true if you’re a native English speaker, because they’ll assume you’re a tourist and that you’ll pay more for things. It’s how I’ve been going about it for years, and the process was followed by me painstakingly trying to talk them down to 5 Euros lower (when I thought it was worth 10 Euros less). Today, I did the usual. I asked the guy at the stall how much an old, scratched up bundt pan was, and he quoted me 10 Euros (you can get a new one for less!) Then, a girl kindly told me “just tell him what you want to pay first.”
So, I did. I wandered around for a bit and collected some other things, then went back and said I’d pay 5 Euros for the pan and the cup and saucer I also wanted. At first he wasn’t having any of this, and said he wouldn’t take any less than 12. So I put the things down and walked away. He offered me 8, then 7. I showed him 6 Euros cash and said that was all I was going to pay. He said “alles klar” (all right) and took it. That, my friends, is how you haggle in Berlin.
My friends and I tried this the rest of the day with reasonable success. Before buying anything, instead of asking the price, we offered what we wanted to pay…as low as possible. They’d counter with more, and usually we’d only end up a Euro or two more than our first offer. Sometimes, they just take the first offer. I offered a Euro for a cute bowl with cherries on it, and the woman accepted the offer, no questions asked (which makes me think I could have probably asked even less). Last year, I offered a Euro for a record and got told “If you want to pay a Euro, pay a Euro,” which is the most “Berlin” attitude ever.
Overall, this works best with the stalls that have piles of mostly junk. They get the stuff for free a lot of the time, so anything they make off it is profit. It works less well with stalls that have more selected items. You can usually recognize these because there are more higher quality items and they’re displayed much nicer (as in, they’re actually put on display rather than heaped in bins). Also, some items in those kinds of stalls have prices written on them, and while you can talk them down a Euro or two, they’re not going to take much less than their listed price. I also haggle a bit less with young people who are clearly trying to sell off their stuff.
Overall, I got a nice little haul. I brought 8 Euros with me to the flea market, and I got three things for 7: an old bundt pan that I’m going to paint and use as a planter, a bowl I’m also going to use as a planter, and a cup and saucer that I plan on turning into a candle. There were a number of wash bins and metal pails that would make great outdoor planters that were being sold for very reasonable prices (these had a listed price) and I still need a small, ornate picture frame, but I ran out of cash so those will have to be left for another week.