Wro’s most striking markets (and those of the most use to its bargain-hungry residents) are the remnants of free-for-all Polish capitalism of the 1990s, an explosion of makeshift stands and ramshackle open-air bazaars that appeared as soon as communism breathed its last. For some, those rickety eyesores are an embarrassing reminder of the country’s growing pains, an equivalent of seeing a pimply 7th grade picture of yourself; for others, they’re simply a convenient, nostalgic, or neighbourhoody way to get some shopping done without breaking the bank. We’re talking here specifically about the Świebodzki Market and ‘Under the Mill’; get there while you can, because both are in danger of disappearing as new investments transform the face of the city.
For something more elegant and just as impressive, take a peek inside the historical Hala Targowa (Market Hall), where you’ll be greeted by a horror vacui scene of fresh produce and shelves upon shelves of dry goods inside a concrete cathedral of elliptical arches. For a bit of serious antique hunting – the above we mostly recommend for the anthropological factor rather than the actual shopping – it’s off to the flea markets taking place monthly next to the Centennial Hall and at ul. Gnieźnieńska. Lastly, return to the 21st century to mingle with bearded, flannelled, and tatted types at the Foodie Bazaar – located in a splendid 18th-century brewery complex – and the Phonographic Fair, where you can lose yourself in boxes of vintage records.
1. FRUIT & VEGETABLE MARKETS
Eliciting feelings of either relief or frustration (depending on whom you ask), many open-air food markets – essential during People’s Republic times and early post-communist years – are disappearing from the city’s streets and squares. Public opinion is split over whether there is still a practical and cultural need for them: while some lament the loss of a community feel and point out the continued importance of bazaars in Western cities like Barcelona and Vienna, others are pleased to see these ‘shanty towns’ disappear from the fabric of the city. The most conveniently-located of these is ‘Bazaristan’ on ul. Ptasia, which has been enrolled in a Local Revitalisation Project (Facebook) and set to expand. Don’t set your expectations too high, though; while interesting as an unthawed slice of the nineties, it is no Grand Bazaar of Istanbul (we can’t stress this enough, really). Opening hours vary, but morning and afternoon Mon-Sat is a safe bet if this is something you want to see.
Designed by Richard Pluddemann and Heinrich Kuster in the neogothic style, Wrocław’s Market Hall was built in 1906-1908 and still serves as one of the top places to shop for produce, despite a proliferation of convenience stores and supermarkets. Simply put, this is a place with a lot of soul, visited for the aesthetic and nostalgic aspect as much as practicality. Sporting a handsome, traditional-looking facade and a cathedral-like interior, this innovative reinforced-concrete structure directly inspired Max Berg to create Wrocław’s UNESCO-listed Centennial Hall. On the ground floor you’ll find earnest locals hawking top quality fruit and vegetables, as well as a wide selection of local cheese, salami, and hams, while upstairs is a bewildering array of bric-a-brac, nylon underwear, and plastic kitchen utensils, and a set of surprisingly clean and modern public toilets. As a bonus, see if you can spot a tiny cafe where aeropress champion Filip Kucharczyk brews some truly splendid coffee. And if you need another reason to visit, you might be interested to know that a new craft beer pub named Targowa has made a home for itself in the market’s cellar.
If you want a real cultural adventure that you’ll remember for a long, long time, head to the no-man’s-land behind the defunct Świebodzki train station on a Sunday afternoon and check out this unbelievable open-air bazaar sprawling endlessly west over the train tracks. A truly mind-blowing scene, the size and scope of this market is almost hard to comprehend given its location; from the main entrance near Plac Orląt Lwowskich it unfolds through an endless maze of blue and white striped tents, before devolving into acres of rubbish laid out on dirty blankets over the train tracks or the muddy, barren earth. Here you can buy literally anything under the sun at prices about 50% lower than those you might expect to find anywhere so audacious as to have a floor or a roof. Some of it is perfectly legit, of course, some of it quite dodgy, and most of it complete rubbish; amateur photographers and cultural anthropologists will have a field day here. As mentioned above, the days of this phenomenon are numbered, as the Polish State Railways are planning to resume train service to the station in the near future, probably as early as 2017, though there have been a few false alarms in the past couple years.
Each Sunday this legendary flea market, a true Wrocław institution, springs up around the late 19th-century industrial behemoth that is the Sułkowski Mill (Młyn Sułkowski), now boarded up despite recent efforts to turn it into an expo centre. Here merchants hawk everything from German laundry detergent to questionably fresh fish to second-hand bikes missing vital components while entire families rummage through rows of beaten- up cardboard boxes. While there is little the average tourist would want to buy, with a little bit of luck you might be able to score antiques, old collectibles, records, and – as we’ve been told – Nazi memorabilia from Wrocław’s Third Reich days. Considered by many locals to be an indispensable Sunday adventure, this market has moved to its current location after being kicked out from Niskie Łąki, near the Racławice Panorama, in 2008. To get here, take bus number 128 from Pomorska or 904 from Galeria Dominikańska and get off at Brücknera.
For an experience that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been transported to ‘wild wild East’ nineties (fascinating and depressing in equal measure), check out the hipster food market taking place weekly at one of the city’s quirkiest locations: the Municipal Brewery (Browar Mieszczański) tucked away in the Wrocław Południe district. Here local foodies and cool-hunters sample everything from vegan pierogi to spinach cake to decked-out hummus. In keeping with current trends, much of the offer is vegan, gluten free, and/or organic, but meat lovers will find a little something here as well. The lack of signage makes this bazaar a bit difficult to find – after entering through the main gate of the brewery, walk around back and look for the double doors. Weather allowing, food trucks also set up shop in the small courtyard. To get here, take tram number 31 from Pl. Jana Pawła II or Arkady (Capitol) to Gajowa.
Those intending to hunt for antiques or looking for a proper flea market experience – dust mites, mothballs, and all – will do best to try their luck at the Centennial Hall, where vendors set up shop monthly underneath the Iglica spire. While not huge, the market is a reliable source of dusty porcelain, tarnished jewellery, and vintage mechanical contraptions. If you get the timing right and have a bit of change on you, you can continue browsing inside the Centennial Hall, which charges a few złoty for entrance to its various themed fairs – though depending on your luck you might end up at a stonemasonry expo or something equally exciting.
ul. Wystawowa 1.
The fair will take place on 28-29.01, 25-26.02, 18-19.03, and 29-30.04;
Opening hours approximately 8:00-15:00.
Open-air flea market with all the usual trappings.
ul. Gnieźnieńska 6-8.
Open from 6:00 to approximately 14:00 every last Thu-Sat of the month. Entrance 2zł.
Sale and exchange of vintage records at Wrocław’s legendary music venue.
ul. Grabiszyńska 56 (Klub Firlej).
Open 13:00-15:00 on the first Saturday of each month.