I used to say that if you’re looking for some weird or unusual stuff in Sofia – go to Jumbo – a big store with everything you can imagine. But from the last weekend I would advise Bitaka flea market known also as the Malashevtsi Mall. Just because there you can buy everything that is even beyond imagination. Basically if you are looking for a dictionary definition of “randomness” this is a place to start from.
Early on Sunday morning we’re following people carrying heavy bags and random objects that haven’t fit into bags – electric keyboard, an office chair etc. And just behind the modern building of Kaufland we spot the first blankets with things for sell randomly displayed on them. A high contrast, when in one moment you are in the world of organised merchandise with shelves, aisles and price tags, and in the other you see books, rubber dinosaurs and old watches put together in piles on a dirty bedsheet on the ground.
Everything’s for sale
It is extremely hard to describe what kind of things you can find in Bitaka market. Maybe it would be easier to say what you cannot find here – new, shiny, unused things. If you are into that then this is not a place for you, but otherwise – feel welcomed. Old telephones are neatly stacked to chaotically piled books. Used shoes next to chipped mugs. Piles of broken children’s toys next to guitars missing strings. You can find silverware, and few steps further worn-out military clothes. You pass by stands full of pirated and original CDs of once-famous bands, vinyls of Balkan choirs and you get to gardening equipment. While walking pass a car you can spot a cardboard sign with the price behind the wipers. At one moment when I was looking at stuffed animals displayed on a table I saw a sign – “table is also for sale”. I don’t think I can be more precise with the description then what I just gave you.
Photo: Svetoslav Todorov
Photo: Svetoslav Todorov
Some things appear to be on a serious promotion at Bitaka. Photo: Svetoslav Todorov
In Bitaka many things have different names
The most puzzling things for sale for me where postcards. No, not empty new ones of course, but old postcards with messages written on their backs. Some from 60s, some from 70s. A story carrying a piece of somebody’s life scribbled on a piece of 50-year-old paper, that travelled to Bulgaria from God-know-where. And now is sold, stacked in a leather suitcase. I don’t know if they were the personal items of people who were selling them, but anyway… sad and intriguing at the same time. A single glimpse of an idea crossed my mind – what a story it could be if somebody read dozens of them and tried to put the story together… what would it say about the author?
I wish I had more photo material from Bitaka, but most of the sellers didn’t want to take any pictures. Protesting, shouting, getting angry, demanding money… So I had to respect their wishes and some really interesting shots passed me by.
Walking through Bitaka you can witness such strange situations like a young guy taking something quickly at his pocket, showing it to another one, and hiding it back. After that he gets a smile and receives patting on his back. “Good work”. Cannot prove nothing, cannot intervene, life goes on.
Being on Bitaka can be a moving experience. You can get the feeling that some of the people are selling all that they have, including very personal items. It is like they have just brought all the things from their homes with a tiny hope that somebody will pay few leva for anything from the pile. And sometimes it is even hard to distinguish pile of things for sale from piles of trash lying next to them. In some way you can be struck by the misery, but I don;t want to offend anyone. Just my impression that I got while being there.
At the same time it is great that these kind of markets still exist – uncontrolled, deregulated, free. Place for people to do their business whatever they want it to be – more and more rare in our age of shopping malls taking the public functions of marketplaces into private hands. A small island of public space in the ocean of privatized world.
How to get there?
East from Lyvov Most metrostation hop on the 86 bus in the direction of Malashevtsi. Get out with the crowd carrying empty and full bags, or – another way to spot the place – when you see Kaufland on the left. But if there is no crowd to follow it means that you are too late for shopping already. Anyway, pass Kaufland from the left side and immediately you will encounter first “wild” stands, and following their trail you will get to the hill and the official Bitaka place. I cannot believe I’ve just used “Bitaka” and “official” in one sentence…