The city of Berlin has launched a new initiative to cut waste by recycling a very old idea: the second-hand shop.
Authorities recently unveiled what they claim is the city’s “first Re-Use Store”: a state-run second-hand shop that takes up an entire floor of an ailing department store.
The city’s left-wing coalition government has rented 7,000 square feet of retail space in the once iconic Karstadt am Hermannplatz department store and thrown it open to existing charity shops and recycling schemes.
The scheme has been named B-Wa(h)renhaus, a somewhat laboured pun on the similarity between the words for “wares” and “conserve” in German.
For the next six months, the initiative will offer vintage clothing, second-hand furniture and electronic goods to Berliners at affordable prices.Many of the wares on offer have been recovered from the city’s recycling centres.
It will also offer small IT repairs and workshops for local residents on how to recycle food and clothing.
The city government is touting it as part of an initiative that could reduce the amount of Berlin’s rubbish that ends up in landfill each year by more than 12 pounds for every resident.
But critics say it is pouring government funds into an already failing high street retail model in the middle of a global pandemic.
Berlin already has a vibrant market for recycled goods, with several specialist shops, but the city authorities say they want to introduce the idea to a wider audience.
“If you check first to see whether you really need to buy new, you can save valuable resourced and cut CO2 emissions — and save a few euros as well,” said Stefan Tidow, the regional environment minister.
“For this to become the new shopping normal, we need buzzing second-hand department stores. We want to take this out of a niche market and make it attractive to all Berliners.”
The site the city has chosen for the venture was once the largest department store in Europe. Built in the Twenties as a flagship for the Karstadt chain of department stores, it was largely destroyed by the retreating SS in 1945 as the Soviet Red Army advanced on Berlin.
Attempts to rebuild the iconic store have so far been blocked by the local authorities, and only a small part of the original structure remains.
The Karstadt chain has fallen on hard times. Already struggling in the face of online competition, its business collapsed in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown and in April its parent company declared bankruptcy.
It now plans to close around a third of its 172 branches across Germany as part of a plan to get the business back on a sound footing.