The high streets of Southern Germany are very uncharitable when compared with those in England.
The only two towns I have visited in England in the past 5 years have been at opposite ends of the country, Seaham in Co Durham, a beachcomber’s paradise with friendly locals and mostly friendly local dogs and High Wycombe, a charmless university town filled with charming students. What these two towns have in common with many similar towns in England is the well documented desertification of their old town centres. Hardy, drought resistant species can still be found, hair dressers and bookies and the newsagent who sells the lottery ticket out of town, but I found many shops to be either empty or to have been taken over for charity.
In England Mary Portas made 28 recommendations ‘to put the heart back into the centre of our High Streets’ and is running a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept. But her services are not needed here in Southern Germany where internet shopping appears to be still less popular.
Germany has many charitable organisations and some with fine charity shops attached, but you have to want to find them and need to seek them out with internet, small adds and satnav as they are usually to be found in the outskirts of towns. They frequently occupy large warehouses and don’t just sell the smalls of typical English charity shops but have considerable stocks of furniture and of that staple of Germany’s apartment dwelling economy, the unfitted kitchen.
Breisach is a town of 16,500 people but it receives over ½ million day visitors in a year. It is a popular tourist destination for coach tours, Rhine cruises and cyclists. The average age of the tourists is somewhere between old and very old. The cyclists are usually oldish, the coach tourists older but still somewhat mobile but at the jetty where the long thin cruise ships dock I have counted over 20 Zimmer-frames (in Germany, rather strangely they are not called Zimmer-frames but Rollators) lined up and waiting for their drivers to be helped up the gangplank onto the starting grid.
A quick lap of the 3 high streets and small square finds 90 shops. A few are branches of well-known telephone and pharmacy empires but the vast majority appear to be small businesses.
Alas, we have not a single charity shop. Instead the German high street has two dominant creatures. The fashion shop and the decoration shop.
The decoration shops have the most extraordinary collections of tat with a popular line in garden ornaments such as wire framed herons or storks, rusty iron candle holders and spiky steel smiling suns. England has the gnome but in German there are so many more ways in which to junkify your garden.
Breisach is decorated with seven of these decoration shops and with 14 ‘fashion’ shops. @Sorcha has warned me to avoid any shop with ‘fashion’ (or ‘mode’ in German) in its name as this is a sign of the damned.
In Bavaria some of these German ‘fashion shops’ are reminiscent of those found in the small market towns of Kerry, Cork & Mayo 20 years ago. I wonder how many of those very small family businesses still survive. My all-time Irish favourite was on the high street, OK, the street, in Bangor Erris in Mayo. A 1930s mannequin dressed in 1950 twin set with matching varicose blue hat with half-veil could be seen through the roll of quality street toffee wrapper orange cellophane that had trapped a legion of blue bottles against the window.
There is a very macabre shop in Füssen that appears to combine ‘fashion’ with embalming and may have been twinned with the Mayo delight.
So even though I live in the pedestrian centre of Breisach’s high streets I am left with no choice but to resort to out of town shopping. I get on my bike and cycle the 16km to Umkirch industrial estate. Here I find the wonderfully named Secondo, my kind of fashion shop.