Treasure Hunting. Блошиные рынки Варшавы.
Paris has the Marche aux Puces on Rue Saint-Ouen, London has Portobello Road, and Warsaw has Koіo and Bronisze. Any lover of old collectibles should visit Warsaw's flea markets.
On Friday afternoons the merchants set up their wares and fight for the best possible location. It's not easy. The rule is first come, first served. The merchants from Koіo believe that the best places are those close to the entrance, visible from Obozowa Street. People browsing the flea market most often start their purchasing here. The most selling takes place on Sunday morning, the customers strolling down the narrow passageways among innumerable old couches, wardrobes and mirrors, silverware, cuckoo clocks and dusty musical instruments.
In recent years, owning old objects has become fashionable. Weekly visits to Koіo or Bronisze on the western outskirts of Warsaw are also very popular. Here, you can meet many stars of the Polish stage, well-known actors and artists.
What do people seek at flea markets? The most popular purchases include furniture, kitchen appliances and popular collector's items, such as old paintings, vinyl records, coins, silver and tableware.
Old is a must
Every apartment should have an antique or two. Old chests of drawers or chiffoniers look charming in modern interiors.
Sometimes, old furniture is specially adjusted to fit in modern homes. Round and unusual tables, preferably with a set of chairs, are a hit, as are cast-iron door handles, old brass doorknobs, oil lamps and gramophones.
In the case of furniture, the most popular items include old chests of drawers, wooden wardrobes, and bookshelves. Coffee tables are also very popular.
Those looking for old furniture should also visit the relatively new market in Bronisze. The sellers here have started to specialize. Sometimes you can buy a complete set of items from a single merchant.
Kitchen appliances have recently become very popular, particularly old coffee-mills and china tea sets. Sellers of old silver also have no reason to complain. Customers more often prefer solid silver items, while silver-plated ones are less popular.
Old shelves, chests of drawers and chiffoniers in a fashionable house have to be decorated with china trinkets, clocks with music boxes, silver sugar bowls and knick-knacks.
Old radio and TV sets have a charm of their own. Before buying them, you should always check the condition of the tubes and cables. Although most of the radios are out of order, there are still many collectors.
It's best to come to Koіo early in the morning, when the number of sellers is the highest, and the range of goods the widest. On cold days, hot coffee or tea is sold by peddlers walking around the market, while on hot days they offer cold beverages.
Koіo is a haven for collectors of all kinds of objects. Apart from a wide range of old irons-those using glowing embers, those with a heater and some more modern-there are coins, old vinyl records, and helmets and military caps from World Wars I and II, as well as firerms and other military items.
Fans of books and comics will also find something in Koіo. Sometimes you may come across a collector of old maps or rare books. It's not unusual to find very rare books at Koіo, or a book that you have always wanted to own but is out of print.
In the market, city dwellers and lovers of rural style can buy wooden wheels for carts, barrels, and clay jugs that have survived the vicissitudes of history. Sometimes you can buy a lamp from a 19th-century horse cab, a complete cart (or a contemporary copy) or even a carriage.
Lovers of music will find sellers offering old records or tapes with old hits. Sometimes you can find old instruments, and if you're lucky, you may come across an old pianola.
Collectors of wall and standing clocks will be able to find something here, as will those seeking old typewriters or sewing machines. Depending on the week, you may find a selection of early 20th-century Singer sewing machines.
Items related to Jewish culture are a separate category of goods on sale at Koіo. You can find nearly everything here, from menorahs of all kinds and sizes, to guides for reading the Torah. Sometimes you can come across a true work of art and a precious historical object. It sometimes happens that a 17th- or 18th-century Torah can be bought at the market.
Why to go?
What distinguishes the Warsaw market is furniture, and this is what the foreigners who come to Koіo seek. In the opinion of Brian, an Englishman who lives in Warsaw and is a lover of flea markets, it's furniture that makes Koіo unique. "In fact, all the flea markets are similar in a way," he says. "At all of them you can find similar items, such as silverware, old clocks, tableware, paintings and telephones. What distinguishes Koіo and Bronisze is furniture. You won't find furniture like it anywhere in Europe or elsewhere." He also believes that prices are an important factor-much lower than in London.
Poles come to Koіo even from distant parts of the country, usually seeking specific items. Stanisіaw collects old coffee-mills; over 40 years, he has gathered more than 100. He comes from Wrocіaw specially to buy them. "You don't always find such a choice," he says. "I come to Koіo once a month on average and I never leave empty-handed. It's worth visiting this place because you can find genuine masterpieces, not only among coffee-mills," he says with smile, holding an old wooden grinder with a china handle.
The air of Koіo
Koіo, like similar places in Paris or London, has a special charm. You get the impression that time is passing at a slower pace, that everyone has time to look around and make up their minds. This is one of the few places where on cold and windy days the buyers can have real Warsaw pyzy (potato dumplings), bigos and other unique delicacies prepared according to recipes that are as old as many of the items on sale.
Almost all the sellers know one another. You often get the impression that the market is a big picnic or a social event. Eating lunch together, meetings over beer and discussions about the origins of old objects are typical.
No one is bothered about the puddles and mud when it rains or the dust when it's hot. After all, it's a flea market, and the weather may help-on a rainy day, the seller may be more willing to lower the prices.
You shouldn't get discouraged by the prices quoted by the sellers-these are the opening bids. As in Paris or London, you may be able to get to half of the initial price with a bit of haggling.
You don't have to be worried about safety when you visit the flea markets in Warsaw. They're usually very peaceful places. The police have recorded only three thefts and one robbery since the beginning of the year; three persons got apprehended. Of course, as anywhere else, you have to watch your wallet and how much you spend.
You can come across crooks at the market. You should be careful and treat information about the item's origin with great caution. At the beginning it's best to walk around without buying anything, as it may turn out that what you wanted to buy earlier is available much cheaper just a few meters away.
There are no places more charming than flea markets. At Koіo, you can get to know the real history of the city and its residents. Objects tell you about their owners and preserve the traces of culture from the past. People leave, objects stay.
By Maіgorzata Kaczorowska
7 August 2003
The Warsaw Voice