Thrift stores & charity shops: Your guide to secondhand shopping in Germany
The fast fashion industry is responsible for between 8 and 10 percent of global emissions. With growing awareness of such facts in Germany, the industry is slowing and in 2022, every third consumer in the federal republic reported shopping second hand.
Finding what you’re looking for when secondhand shopping requires a great deal of patience and determination. So if you’re a newbie to secondhand shopping, or a newbie to Germany, here’s a guide to how to make the most of thrift shops in the federal republic, find the gems you’re looking for, and get that pay-off thrill.
Secondhand shops in Germany
As in most countries, there are a number of different kinds of secondhand shops in Germany. Generally, these range from large, cheap warehouse-type shops where you can buy secondhand clothes that are only a few years old, to more specialised vintage shops that might set you back a pretty penny. Here’s an overview of the kind of shops you can expect.
Humana rules the roost when it comes to secondhand shops in Germany. There are around 40 Humana shops across the country and 23 in Berlin alone. Most Humana shops are divided into two sections: one where you can find newer clothes from fast fashion brands for around 10 euros, and a vintage section, where you can expect to pay around 20-25 euros for older, but better quality secondhand clothes.
Though it presents as one, Humana is not a charity shop. Each shop bears the logo of the Humana People to People e.V charity, but the shops are run by the private, for-profit company Humana Second-Hand-Kleidung GmbH, and there is little evidence that those profits go to charity.
Secondhand shops of a similar ilk include Re-Sales, which pops up in many eastern German cities, including Leipzig, Erfurt and Dresden, as well as smaller towns in the region.
Image credit: Stephan Dost / Shutterstock.com
Charity shops in Germany (Sozialläden)
Germany’s Sozialläden are the closest thing the country has to charity shops. While Sozialläden do sell clothes, they are often a great place to find homeware for good prices. For example, this is the place to go if you want a set of 1980s matching small plates for the kitchen for around five euros, some good-as-new tea towels or a cushion cover that a talented granny crocheted back in 1975. Larger Sozialläden also sell lots of secondhand furniture and often deliver to your house for next to nothing!
Looking through the clothes section at a Sozialläden is often worth it too, but it will take lots of digging if you’re looking for something specific or special, less digging if you’re looking for quality cotton t-shirts or cosy jumpers which might be a bit ugly.
Image credit: ZikG / Shutterstock.com
Vintage shops in Germany
As is the case almost everywhere, you can generally think of vintage shops in Germany as the places that have employed someone to pick through all of the things in the mass of secondhand bins and added 10 euros to the price. This means you’ll be paying a little more for what you want, but it will save you a lot of time. In Germany, PICKNWEIGHT dominates this market, with vintage shops in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.
Going to PICKNWEIGHT can sometimes be a little overwhelming on the senses since the shops are absolutely full to the brim with clothes from the 1950s onwards. That said, PICKNWEIGHT is terrifyingly well-organised. Whatever you want, there will be a section for it somewhere. A multicoloured sequin crop top? They will have a dedicated section. Knee-length dresses with purple flowers? They will have a selection of 15. Berets in every colour the human eye can see and enough Levi's jeans to feed Justin and Britney for a year? You name it, they have it.
If you are the kind to dabble in even pricier, more specialised vintage shopping, Germany also has a lot to offer you. Every major city boasts vintage shops specialised to a specific era, where the staff will be able to give you detailed information about the clothes, their origin, and how to care for them.
Secondhand markets in Germany (Flohmärkte)
Flea markets (Flohmärkte) round out our four pillars of secondhand shopping in Germany, at least when it comes to offline purchases. German people love Flohmärkte and soon you will too.
No matter how big or small the German city or village you are living in is, you will never be far from a Flohmarkt. In the major cities they are almost inescapable from spring to autumn, during which they are normally held weekly on a Saturday or Sunday.
It is easy to stumble across a Flohmarkt, but you can also check out this directory, which lists details of markets happening in each federal state. The best way to find the Flohmarkt most suited to you is to drop by a different one each weekend to get a feel. Since Flohmärkte are local events and in most cases, people who live in the area are selling their own things secondhand, what is available can vary quite a lot depending on where you are in the city.
Generally, this is a good place to find books, bits and bobs for the house and charming trinkets. Flea markets are particularly good for getting basics for cheap, like a pair of secondhand trainers or basic t-shirts and jumpers. Prices will vary a lot depending on where in Germany you are, the type of market and what you’re buying, but expect to pay in cash, bring change, and don’t be afraid to barter.
A trip to the Flohmarkt is a great way to spend the afternoon in Germany. If you find you love them enough to spend the whole day there, they are also an easy way to make a little cash. Anyone can sign up to have a stand at a Flohmarkt and people often do so with friends. Expect to pay between 15 and 30 euros for a table and get ready to spend the day chatting to customers!
Image credit: hanohiki / Shutterstock.com
Thrift shopping apps Germany
Enter the online sphere of secondhand shopping. What was a comparatively barren landscape just five years ago now sees many apps competing for secondhard shoppers’ attention. Here are the most important ones you need to know.
Kleinanzeigen, formerly known as Ebay Kleinanzeigen, is the behemoth of online secondhand shopping in Germany - everyone and their granny is on it, buying things that once belonged to someone else’s granny.
Grannies aside, you can actually find a lot of trendy, groovy (or whatever adjective you're after) clothes, shoes and accessories on Kleinanzeigen. Enjoy not having to schlep outside and rummage through a secondhand bin of clothes, but expect to spend a while scrolling to find exactly what you want, for the price you’re willing to pay. The same goes for furniture, if you regularly look and you have patience, you will truly be able to find anything you want on Kleinanzeigen.
Again, don’t be afraid to barter. People who are officially open to barter will list their item with the “VB” (Verhandlungsbasis) label but those who list a specific price might also be open to negotiating. If you’re living in the same city as the seller, people in Germany are usually happy for you to come around and try things on or pick them up. But if they’re in Schleswig-Holstein and you’re in Bavaria, they will also post it for a small amount.
Vinted could be described as the fashionista’s Kleinanzeigen. The app, once called Kleiderkreisel, is predominantly populated by younger people, the under-40s who might be selling on some designer shoes that they can no longer return or some high street brand clothes from last season.
You won’t find furniture or trinkets here, only clothes, and like the Flohmärkte, it is also a great place to sell things that you might have lying around the house or want to pass on before you move house.
Image credit: Camilo Concha / Shutterstock.com
This old favourite is also popular in Germany. Like Kleinanzeigen, it is a good place to get larger things, like furniture or a secondhand bike. It is also another good place to barter.
Deeper into Facebook you will also find lots of groups specific to the area in which you're living. On “Sell Your Stuff Berlin”, for example, people will commonly sell a whole set of things when they are leaving the city, which you can use to deck out your new rented room or flat.
The groups get ever more specific to location and what exactly is being sold, like “Sell Your Bike Berlin”, and if you’re truly broke or feeling charitable, there is “Free Your Stuff”. Type a variation of what you need and where you are into the Facebook search bar, and you’ll likely get some hits.
Vestaire and Gem
These apps are for the fancier and most fervent among us. Vestaire is the Vinted of the deep-pocketed. Head there for your designer vetements, shoes and jewellery. Here, users might be a little less open to bargaining, but it’s not an impossibility.
If you’re looking for something really particular, Vestaire, like all of the other above apps, has a setting which means the app will send you a notification every time something is uploaded that matches a specific search term you’ve selected.
But if you’ve spent weeks staring at your mobile phone to no avail, Gem will keep an eye on every corner of the internet for you. Gem, presumably called so because it helps you track down hidden gems, will send you a notification when something that matches your search term is uploaded for sale anywhere on the internet. This will save you heaps of time trying to trace the sparkle.
The coincidental magic of zu verschenken
Getting things "zu verschenken" does not strictly constitute secondhand shopping, but it is even more magical and in a league of its own.
Leaving things “zu verschenken” is what people in Germany do when they want to give something away but are feeling too lazy to sell it on or would rather offer it for free. This traditionally involves leaving a box outside your house with a collection of goodies you want to give away: books, clothes, shoes, mugs and other Krimskrams (bric-a-brac), with a clear “zu verschenken” label.
A visit to Kleinanzeigen and Facebook Marketplace might find you something zu verschenken too. Things are often listed as such if people want to get rid of something quickly since they know it will go faster if it is free.
Most zu veschenken giveaways are average, but sometimes you take a different route home, the stars align and you make your best find in years.
Image credit: SSKH-Pictures / Shutterstock.com
Secondhand shopping nearby
Have you stumbled upon any particularly nifty secondhand shops since your arrival in Germany? What has been your most special find? Let us know in the comments!
Thumb image credit: Leka Sergeeva / Shutterstock.com