How to master second-hand shopping like a German

From strict recycling rules to selling on clothes or other items, Germans love to get the most out of goods. Zazie Atkinson explains how to dig around for second-hand treasure.

People walk at the Mauerpark flea market in Berlin in summer 2020.
People walk at the Mauerpark flea market in Berlin in summer 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

If there’s one thing people tend to associate with Germany, besides beer and cars, it is that it has a reputation for being a green country.

People in Germany love to recycle (hence the seemingly dozens of different bins to separate their rubbish into – and the angry reactions if you do it wrong), and the nation is generally considered to be taking the fight against climate change seriously. 

As a result, there is a huge second-hand culture in Germany – the turnover of goods sold in second-hand retail outlets increased from €1.9 million in 2012 to almost €2.2 million in 2020. 

And what has become increasingly noticeable in recent years, is that the former stigma and shame around buying second-hand clothing has largely been replaced – it’s now viewed as being stylish and caring for the environment. 

READ ALSO: The complete guide to recycling in Germany

So how do you go about finding second-hand goods in Germany?

There are many in-person stores, ranging from flea markets, charity shops, vintage stores and other second-hand shops. A lot of these are independent stores so you’ll also be doing your bit to support local businesses. Keep a look out (or search online) for ‘An-und-Verkauf’ – by and sell – stores. 

In terms of chains, you’ll find Humana, Germany’s biggest second-hand retailer that raises money for social causes, and Re-Sales dotted around the big cities, such as Berlin, Cologne, Leipzig, Hamburg and Nuremberg. Humana’s stores are often pretty big, and you won’t necessarily find high fashion brands, but if you rifle through the many racks of clothes, you’re sure to find good deals and sometimes even vintage pieces. 

Pick’n’Weight stores have also been gaining popularity in recent years across the globe, with vintage clothes being sold by the kilo. 

Second-hand clothes being sold in Karlsruhe.

Second-hand clothes being sold from the Badisches Staatstheater’s trove in November 2021 in Karlsruhe. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

Familiar charity shops such as Oxfam can also be found across Germany, from Hamburg to Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and Dresden, as well as German Red Cross stores, or RotkreuzLaden

It’s also worth digging around for second-hand jewellery shops where you can find some great deals and unique pieces. 

And if it’s a used bike you’re after, look no further than the big second-hand bicycle markets that tend to spring up in German cities throughout the year. In Berlin, you can find a huge collection of bargain bicycles at specialist flea markets in Moabit, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, while in Munich, you can find 1,000s of used bikes at an annual flea market in Zenith. Events are often advertised on Facebook and on the state government website, so be sure to keep an eye out for the next one near you!

The second-hand trend has also made its way into department stores; the Berlin Senate for example voted to open a number of second-hand department stores across the city, hoping to rival the popular Galeria Kaufhof or Karstadt.

The B-Wa(h)renhaus opened in September 2020, with Berlin’s State Secretary for the Environment and Climate Protection Stefan Tidow claiming he wanted to bring second-hand initiatives out of the niche and into the mainstream for all Berliners. Unfortunately, due to coronavirus restrictions, the store had to shut, however it is hoping to reopen by February 2022, so make sure you keep a lookout.

READ ALSO: Five ways living in Germany makes you greener (without even realising it)

Go online

There are apps specifically created to re-selling and buying second-hand items. Particularly during previous Covid lockdowns, many people turned to online shopping to buy everything from groceries to clothes and more. Luckily, there are now a number of websites and apps to buy and sell used items. 

Among the most widely used in Germany are Vinted (formerly known as ‘Kleiderkreisel’) and Zalando Zircle. Anyone with a smartphone can download these apps and buy and resell used clothing and accessories, a lot of the time at just a fraction of the original price. 

Another popular app in Germany is Ebay Kleinanzeigen, where you will also find used furniture, cars, books, appliances and even apartments, as well as Facebook Marketplace, which you might be familiar with. 

The Ebay Kleinanzeigen app.

Ebay Kleinanzeigen is popular among Germans for selling and buying used items. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

Alternatively, there are also apps and websites made for renting clothes, such as CLOTHESfriends, a Munich-based startup.

Another handy website to check out if you live in Berlin is the A-Gain Guide, which is a digital map that can help you upcycle your own pieces across the city. Users can search for alteration tailors, second-hand stores, designers, collection points, cobblers and other initiatives to give their clothes a new life. 

‘Zu verschenken’

Something that I’ve also noticed since moving to Berlin is that many people leave their old clothes or books on their doorstep, on the side of the street or in apartment stairwells for neighbours to take. They are usually in a box with the tag ‘zu verschenken’ – to give away. 

While it is of course recommended to wash or clean any items first, it is a great way to avoid old clothes ending up in landfill and adds to the community feel of Berlin. As an anonymous user on a forum querying what to do with unwanted furniture said; “bring it to Berlin and leave it here – someone will take it.”. 

Sometimes people also leave furniture on the street. If it’s in a good condition, it’s another way to decorate your home without spending money, and doing your bit for the planet. 

By shopping second-hand, you can shop both sustainably, and cheaply. And it seems in recent years, second-hand shopping has slowly moved into the mainstream, not just for those in need or the more environmentally conscious.

Useful vocabulary

Flea market – (der) Flohmarkt

Charity shop – (der) Wohltätigkeitsladen

To buy second hand/used – gebraucht kaufen or Second-Hand kaufen

An-und Verkaufläden – Buy-and-sell shops (An-und-Verkauf is typically seen on signs on many second hand shops)

Jewellery shops – (die) Schmuckgeschäften

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. Thanks for the article! It is very helpful. I think if it includes and, it will be more informative. is a big online 2nd-hand clothes market and is the one for 2nd-hand books, CD, and DVD.

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How Germans are rethinking their way of death

Traditionally a very religious country, Germany is rethinking its way of death. One start-up is even claiming to have found a way of prolonging life - digitally at least - beyond the grave.

How Germans are rethinking their way of death

Youlo – a cheery contraction of “You Only Live Once” – allows people to record personal messages and videos for their loved ones, which are then secured for several years in a “digital tombstone”.

Unveiled at “Life And Death 2022” funeral fair in the northern city of Bremen this month, its creators claim it allows users to have their final word before they slip gently into the good night.

Traditionally, Lutheran northern Germany has long had a rather stiff and stern approach to death.

But as religion and ritual loosened their hold, the crowds at the fair show people are looking for alternative ways of marking their end – a trend some say has been helped by the coronavirus pandemic.

“With globalisation, more and more people live their lives far from where they were born,” said Corinna During, the woman behind Youlo.

When you live hundreds of kilometres from relatives, visiting a memorial can “demand a huge amount of effort”, she said.

And the Covid-19 pandemic has only “increased the necessity” to address the problem, she insisted.

READ ALSO: What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

No longer taboo

During lockdowns, many families could only attend funerals by video link, while the existential threat coronavirus posed – some 136,000 people died in Germany – also seems to have challenged longtime taboos about death.

All this has been helped by the success of the German-made Netflix series “The Last Word” – a mould-breaking “dramedy” hailed for walking the fine line between comedy and tragedy when it comes to death and bereavement.

An angel figure stands on a grave at the Westfriedhof in Munich.

An angel figure stands on a grave at the Westfriedhof in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Much like British comedian Ricky Gervais’ hit series “After Life”, which turns on a husband grieving the loss of his wife, the heroine of “The Last Word” embraces death and becomes a eulogist at funerals as her way of coping with the sudden death of her husband.

“Death shouldn’t be a taboo or shocking; we shouldn’t be taken unawares by it, and we certainly shouldn’t talk about it in veiled terms,” Bianca Hauda, the presenter of the popular podcast “Buried, Hauda”, told AFP.

It aims to “help people be less afraid and accept death,” she said.

“The coronavirus crisis will almost certainly leave a trace” on how Germans view death, said sociologist Frank Thieme, author of “Dying and Death in Germany”. He argued that there has been a change in the culture around death for “the last 20 to 25 years”.

These days, there are classes to teach you how to make your own coffin and even people who make a living writing personalised funeral speeches. Digital technology which was “barely acceptable not so long ago” was also beginning to make its mark, he said.


Historian Norbert Fischer of Hamburg University said they have been a shift toward individualism in the “culture of burials and grief since the beginning of the 21st century.

“The traditional social institutions of family, neighbourhood and church are losing their importance faced with a funeral culture marked by a much greater freedom of choice,” he said.

However, the change has been slower in Germany because “legal rules around funerals are much stricter than most other European countries,” said sociologist Thorsten Benkel, which is at odds with “what individuals aspire to”.

Some political parties like the Greens also want to loosen this legislative “straitjacket”, particularly the law known as the “Friedhofszwang”.

The 200-year-old rule bans coffins and urns being buried anywhere, but in a cemetery. Originally passed to prevent outbreaks of disease, it has been largely surpassed as a public health measure, particularly since cremation became popular.

Germany also had a very particular relationship with death in the aftermath of World War II.

Back in 1967, the celebrated psychoanalysts Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich put Germany on the couch with their book “The Inability to Mourn”.

One of the most influential of the post-war era, the book argued that Germans had collectively swept the horrors committed by the Nazis in their name — and their own huge losses and suffering during the war –under the carpet.

Thankfully, said Benkel, mentalities have “changed an awful lot since”.