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Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Berlin becoming flea market hub


The history-drenched German capital is famous for its opera and theatre activity, lakes and rivers, the superbly modernized Olympic Stadium built in 1936, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, now topped with a Sir Norman Foster-designed dome.

Oh, and there's also something else: its weekend flea markets, which can be found in virtually every city district these days.

"Berlin has more flea markets than any other city in Europe," claims Berlin-based Ralf Morawietz, 48, a collector and seller of coins, rare maps and late 19th century German post cards.

"More than 20 are to be found in Berlin," says Morawietz, who is constantly on the move between Berlin and Warsaw, Paris and Barcelona, in search of items for the stall he shares with two pals, a Kurd and a Turk, at a flea market outside the Rathaus Schoeneberg, formerly West Berlin's City Hall.

A gifted linguist, who apart from German speaks fluent French, English, Polish and Spanish, Morawietz owns thousands of finely delineated maps of cities, towns and villages in Germany's once eastern Prussian territories.

In the communist era, the German Democratic Republic's interior ministry had custody of the maps.

"When the Berlin Wall fell, a city book-store proprietor gained possession of them. Later on, knowing of my interest in maps, he agreed to sell them to me," he confides.

They are of interest to the Poles, Czechs and Russians living in the former German territories.

Busy at his stall, he says, "I don't display the maps here. I use the Internet for that side of my business. Here, I'm dealing in coins, and late 19th and early 20th century German post-cards," he explains.

Nearby, a poker-faced man sells broken-off porcelain heads and body parts of miniature dolls from an earlier age, once produced in factories in Thuringia and Saxony.

A couple of somewhat worn Teddy Bears, one of them a Hermann, the other a Steiff, win admiring glances.

"They're gorgeous," enthuses a matronly woman wearing a red cape, "But beyond my purse I'm afraid!"

Berlin is home to 20 weekend flea markets. Best known among them is probably the one on the June 17th boulevard which leads to the Siegessaeule (Victory Pillar), marking Germany's victory over the French in 1871 and to Brandenburg Gate.

Tourists armed with travel guides and back-packs throng stalls packed with a riotous array of objects -- including paintings, chandeliers, jumbled cutlery, antique dolls, porcelain figures, curtains, crystal ware and posh-looking tea sets.

"Prices can get hefty here," observes a flea-market veteran. "But there are bargains to be found, if you look hard enough."

Art experts mingle with the crowds. So too, on occasion do detectives hunting lost or stolen art works. Romanian-made, Galle-type vases -- executed in the style of the French master, have been showing up in Berlin in recent months

Some unwitting tourists have bought them in the belief that they were purchasing a genuine, Galle glass piece.

Florentine Bredow, a noted collector of German-made Teddy Bears, spends most weekends scouring the city's flea markets.

"A few years ago you could pick up wonderful bargains. But now the hobby gets more expensive," she sighs, "and the competition fiercer!"

Her collection includes German-made Schuco, Strunz, Steiff, Hermann and Zotty bears, as well as dozens of bears used for company promotion purposes.

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