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Zurich flea markets are jumping

Looking for that special something at Zurich's Bürkliplatz flea market. Switzerland Tourism

Zurich boasts shops and boutiques that rival anything on offer in Paris, London or New York. But the city offers an alternative shopping experience for those on a somewhat tighter budget or for those who are just a little more curious.

The city is studded with flea markets and second hand shops, where the determined shopper can be rewarded with some real bargains.

Many residents of Zurich are regular visitors to the biggest markets in Bürkliplatz and the Kanzlei in Helvetiaplatz.

“I think if the weather’s really nice, it’s great to wander round in a brilliant atmosphere and to look at all sorts of lovely old things,” says English expatriate, John Chandler. “And there’s the ever present hope of finding a bargain.”

Bürkliplatz is a beautiful city square that nestles in front of Zurich’s lake and it’s hard to imagine a better location for a flea market. It’s open every Saturday from the beginning of May to the end of October and is also very easy to get to with many trams running right in front of the square.

The market has been at Bürkliplatz for 30 years and is as popular as ever, selling everything from books, records, porcelain, silver and brass.

Alice has had a stall on the market since 1972. “It’s nice here,” she says, “people are very friendly, it’s a real family atmosphere.”

The market traders share an enthusiasm and love for antiques that comes across as they discuss items with customers and haggle over prices. And the freedom of the job also appeals to many of the stallholders.

“To begin with it was attractive because it didn’t demand any type of long-term commitment,” says American stallholder, Richard. “You didn’t have to shave every day, or go to college or be nice to the boss. And then with time, you get a deeper interest in the material and in the evidence of the past.”

This love of the past is shared by visitors to the market.

“I like shopping here more than going into a store because I can find some fun, old things that I can mix with new furniture and it can be very interesting and much cheaper,” says one regular.

Zurich’s other big flea market is at the Kanzlei in Helvetiaplatz which is served by the number eight tram. It’s a little more down at heel than its counterpart at Bürkliplatz but it still attracts a loyal group of visitors and is open all year round.

“There’s a great atmosphere here,” says stallholder Geri Hintermann, “There are people from all over the world selling their stuff. It’s fun – you make a bit of money and you see your beloved things going off with somebody you don’t know.”

As well as the outdoor markets, Zurich shoppers regularly go to one of the city’s many second hand shops. They’re often huge warehouses on several floors full of furniture, clothes, china and watches. You can spend thousands of francs on an antique wardrobe or ten centimes on a handkerchief.

The famous pink “Brockenhaus” near the main railway station is the oldest in the country. Founded in 1904, it’s difficult to miss for train passengers drawing into the city.

“We are very well known in the city,” says manager, Hanspeter Hürlimann, “Even children know about us. So when people move or refurbish their homes, they call us to collect their old things. We have people come in from all social classes, rich and poor and that makes shopping here very interesting.”

By buying at the Brockenhaus you’re also helping out some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. The Brockenhaus is a charity that mainly supports old people’s homes across Zurich.

Shopping in the luxury shops and department stores on Bahnhofstrasse is a must for anyone visiting Zurich, but a trip to the city isn’t complete without a stroll through its colourful flea markets or second hand shops.

by Michael Hollingdale

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR