Monday, 21 August 2017

The Flea Market in Malashevtsi: From Communist Rebellion to Memorabilia

Alternative Cultural Guide to Sofia*   
Until 1989, this used to be the place where one could legitimately buy all kinds of images of the West – from Beatles tapes, Levi’s jeans, Turbo chewing gum (the kind that came with a picture of a car inside the wrapper) to Chicco baby bottles and pacifiers. Through them, one would mark his little, personal victory over the regime with its “hard-stitched” Pioneer and Rila jeans (an alternative to decadent West's Levi's).

Nowadays, Bitaka – literally meaning ‘the flea market’, has lost much of its rebellious appeal. Objects from socialism are now sold as antique artefacts of the past. Currently prized are no longer the western Marlboro cigarettes, but the Slantse (‘Sun’) and Fenics (‘Phoenix’) brands, which have been off the market for 20 years, but can be bought here for 2 leva (around 1 euro).

How to get there? From Stochna Gara, take the number 86 bus and get off at the stop before the main entrance of the Malashevtsi graveyard. Cross the Rezbarska Street crossing and walk along Parva Balgarska Armiya Street, making sure the gigantic Mercedes store is on your left.

You are at the centre of all the action. You pass by horse-drawn carts carrying entire Roma families, who have come here to sell everything they have found on the streets of Sofia. You continue on the street and cross the railway tracks. You get to the first displays, arranged on newspapers spread out on the ground, and find all kinds of “treasures.”

You are abound to wonder how somebody managed to sort through piles of old telephones, remote controls, chargers, used make-up, even lipstick, empty perfume bottles, pens, shampoo bottles, little plastic dinosaurs, electric plugs, wrenches of all sizes, bolts, sun glasses. And yet, you have not even reached the actual Bitaka – first you need to cross over the bridge of the Malashevska River and then turn right on Lavandula Street.

On its top, you’ll come upon the enormous paved meadow, half of which has been turned into a parking lot. Next to the cars are parked the carts, the horses grazing to the side of the old Sofia television sets, sold for around 10 leva (around 5 euro).

You give up? If you continue on and enter the heart of Bitaka, waiting for you - for 50 stotinki (0.25 euro cents), will be Borges, Márquez, Turgenev, Vazov, medical books and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. A little further down, you’ll see towers of videocassettes with cult actions movies from the 1980s and 1990s – “Conan the Destroyer,” “Two Dragons,” “Tango&Cash,” the first parts of “Terminator” and “Rambo.” And then (just take one more step!), you’ll find yourself in the Painting section, represented here by a few square metres of colourful paintings, lined like a mosaic on the pavement. Further, expecting you are entire living room furniture sets, beds and chairs, standing under the open sky, along with objects from the basement of some member of Sofia’s bourgeoisie, found covered in photographs, letters, diaries, birth certificates and gas lamps.

Just take a look around.

* This story is part of the Alternative Cultural Guide to Sofia. The guide was created by students from Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski. Initiated by associate professor Alexander Kiossev, it was supported by the Sofia University’s Academic Research Fund. The texts, published in Bulgarian by the student magazine Piron, were edited by Lyuboslava Ruseva, and translated into English by




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