The barter deal

Flea market in Hamburg. Fish market 1969. My offer on the rickety trestle table was not exactly what you could have offered to an auctioneer without blushing. In the end, my old aunt whose home I wanted to flog off had not been one of the oldies whose address could be found on Elbchaussee with an odd number. Everything was a bit more humble. Nice penthouse in Eppendorf, fifth floor. Beautiful art nouveau staircase, unfortunately the last two floors had no lift. Yes, up there under the roof, she had lived cheerfully and happily until her death. And now I, as favourite nephew, had to wind up her home. How was I to take away all this stuff? A complete coffee set had slipped out of the box when the poorly adhered floor gave way and cups, plates, cream jug and pot fell from the fifth to the fourth floor. But the fact that of all things the porcelain had to break which I had thought most likely to bring profit!

Dr. Bernd Schmoller

  • Antique Clocks

If I ever enter an auction house today, decades later, I often think about the stories all these old things could tell which have nothing to with value or origin


As a student, I was often cash-strapped, particularly towards the end of the month. Now I had sat all day on the hard folding chair and had sold this and that. At least almost one hundred and fifty mark were already in my neck pouch. Soon I would pack everything back into the old Beetle and try again next time, perhaps at the upcoming street festival in Eimsbüttel. Alongside my sinology studies, going to flea markets was my daily bread. But I was not alone in this during the late Sixties. Just two stands further along, a classmate from the Buddhology course told visitors to the flea market the long and completely fictional story about the origins of her hats and scarves again and again: they were all extremely rare and exclusive models from France. She had herself spent half her childhood in a castle on the Loire, next to the water. Hence her name, Yvette-Sophie.


The customers who chose a wide-brimmed hat with tulle veil and silk rose or a shawl interlaced with gold threads, really hung on to every word. They believed everything that Yvette-Sophie, who had simply and plainly been born as Anneliese in Lünen, told them about the ladies of the French aristocracy. All textiles were discarded or bought cheap, originating from a closed theatre prop room. I also admired Samet who mainly had his stand opposite with all sorts of oriental kitsch. I admired him whenever he rose to top form and roared across the market the whole day: “Aali birthday today. Everything cheeeap today. Aali everything from the desert itself!” He was one of those who sold the most. His “airport art” as he jokingly called his goods within his circle of friends, went like hotcakes. Only insiders knew that he was soon to finish his studies in medicine. I was one of them and amused myself about his selling technique. Ah, if only I had that skill! And I also knew that Samet spoke excellent German. Now I had stowed away most of my junk in the car apart from one or two things. Now to put Aunt Ada’s side table on top and then home to shower. “What would you like for zat table?” a deep voice asked me. “How much is it worth to you?” I asked back. “Oui, I ‘ave a brooch ‘ere wiss some stones. I don’t want it anymore. Will you trade your table wiss me?” I didn’t want to bother with the stupid table now. “Yes, well, in my opinion, one of the legs is a bit loose and it could do with a bit more of a polish. Give me the brooch and then I can call it a day.” “Oh monsieur, you are freeing me from a great …fardeau… how do you call? From a great load. Merci!” I was glad that I was rid of the little piece of furniture as it took up a lot of space in the car. I was now the owner of an oval brooch with a couple of glass stones.

Pity the fling with Uschi was over. She would have perhaps liked a little present like that. Though I wasn’t sure about that either. I let the brooch disappear into my trouser pocket. More by accident than out of great curiosity I ended up in the shop of a friendly antique dealer at Gänsemarkt. I held up to his nose the brooch I had still been carrying about with me in my pocket. The old fox from the jewellery industry held up a magnifying glass to his eye. He then coughed a little. “You’ve come across quite a catch there, boy. Where did you get this piece from and how much did you pay for it?” “Nothing, actually. I swapped it for my dead aunt’s old side table at the end of a flea market. Do you think it’s worth something?” I asked, now a little excited. The old man just chuckled and advised me to go to the auction house just round the corner with it. Six weeks later it was Christmas, Easter and my birthday all at once. My oval, now dazzling gold brooch with its flawless stones brought me a cool three thousand mark. Nevertheless, I still went to the flea markets. I also completed my studies. After this sensational result I hadn’t lost the ground from under my boots. However, to this day I ask myself, who was the monsieur that gave me that brooch? Why did he not keept it and why could he not look at it anymore? According to his fine and restrained manner and his accent, perhaps he had come from one of the Loire castles that Yvette-Sophie, aka Anneliese from the Datteln-Hamm Canal, had romanced about so beautifully. I also never found out the reason why the old dealer left me the profit. If I ever enter an auction house today, decades later, I often think about the stories all these old things could tell which have nothing to do with value or origin. Secrets that they keep to themselves for ever.