Sunday, November 24, 2013

One Man's Trash is TRULY another's Treasure

Now writing from Heidelberg, Germany!  Having lived in Germany from 1999 to 2003, we were anxious to return - and in August we did just that!  

Free chairs, anyone?  YES, PLEASE!


For reasons we don't know or can't understand, the Germans don't have a robust resale market. They don't host garage sales or tag sales, it's rare to find classified ads offering used items, there are few thrift stores, and it's only recently that sites like Craigslist or Ebay have become available. While Flea Markets are held often here, and many of them allow individuals to pay a small fee and bring their used goods to sell (a garage sale out of the trunk of your car), as you can imagine, that is difficult to do.

So what do the Germans do with their cast-offs?  Call the authorities, of course.

Some counties still operate the old way (which we took advantage of the last time we lived here.) Each village is assigned two days a year for Sperrmüll pickup.  Prior to that day, residents neatly stack all their bulky items on the curb in front of their house.  You can see where this is going, right?

Yep, all the thrifty people troll the curbs for treasures.  It's perfectly legal and a well-known way for people (usually young people just starting out) to furnish their  homes.

Nicole and her new chairs!  You can see behind her some of the other things this homeowner had out as trash, too.
In recent years, some counties have discontinued the prescheduled bulk pickup day.  A German friend told us that people from poorer Eastern European countries (Romania and Poland were her examples) would travel in roaming bands through the villages, their panel vans empty, picking up furniture to resell.  "Station Granny at this pile of furniture while we go get the truck," they'd agree, but meanwhile, another van would show up, another Granny jump out, and chaos would ensue.

To decrease the likelihood of conflict in their neighborhoods, many counties have switched to "on-demand" bulk pick-up.  We still see furniture out on the curb, but usually only a house at a time and on totally random days.  The owners have called for a Sperrmüll pickup appointment.  It's still perfectly legal to take the items, and in fact, it's encouraged, because if the items end up in the Sperrmüll truck, a scary thing happens.  The items are broken down into recyclable and non-recyclable parts, and then the chipper truck comes and shreds the furniture into sawdust, as you watch.  What a waste, right?
Free patio furniture on our new patio.  Yes, the table is currently being used as a platform bird feeder as well.
The flowers were 30 cents per plant at a local hardware store; I snagged two for some fall color.

The sad part (other than the chipper, of course) is that in order to stack things neatly on the curb, many times the owners will completely disassemble a large item into its component pieces, often breaking it in the process.  Shranks (wardrobes), for instance, are virtually impossible to find.

Sometimes, of course, a little wood glue or tightening of screws is needed.
During our first Germany tour, we collected enough cast-off chairs to enable each girl in Tory's Girl Scout troop to refurbish/reupholster/repaint a chair of their own.  Tory still has hers; I'm relatively certain some of the other girls do as well.

So far this trip, we've picked up the following items from the curb:
  • three chairs that Nicole took home and painted white
  • a round pedestal table (with extension leaf built in), some white rings on top and a scratch on the apron.  Perfect with a tablecloth; scheduled for a paint job.
  • a pine three-drawer chest of drawers
  • four dining room chairs with padded seats
  • two teak-style (but not teak) patio armchairs
  • a small round metal patio table
  • small items like pots for plants and a wood tray

Our apartment is taking shape, with IKEA and sperrmüll both playing a huge role!

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