Hidden treasure

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This month, we are lucky to to have a guest blog by Julie Davis, one of our neighbours who shares her experience volunteering at the local Brocki.

There is the old adage that one man´s rubbish is another man´s treasure, and what could be truer than what is found in the local Brockenhaus – the Swiss version of a thrift store (or charity shop).  Those tedious items that we find in our corners and drawers at home that we are forever meaning to get rid of.  Once released (a.k.a. donated), they become transformed into treasure through a ‘Brocki’, and so for another becomes just the item that was long looked for or much needed and beloved.

They also say, beauty (or in this case, treasure) is in the eye of the beholder so I would also share aspects of treasure that I found which may not at first glance seem so treasure-like to others, but when examined closely, glitter and sparkle much brighter than any jewel.

My hidden treasure in Basel turned out to be the Heils Armee Brockino, at Erasmusplatz in Klein Basel.  The most modest of places, tucked away from sight, so no-one would know about it unless  you already knew where to look.

I think all Brockis tend to have their fair share of rare and unusual objects you would not find in the standard high street stores.  And here at Erasmusplatz we get more than our fair share.  One particular recent find was a musical instrument called an ‘Ocarina’.  For those of you who are already familiar with this instrument, hats off to you, as I had never seen one before in my life.  Its shape is vaguely reminiscent of a Star Trek phaser and it is a small hand-held object with holes of different sizes. It’s actually a wind-instrument and sounds a bit like a recorder. This ancient instrument dates from around 12 thousand years ago, linked to Aztec and Mayan Civilisations - although this one pictured, I believe is from Vienna at the end of the 1800s.  I mean, who knew, right?

However, what makes this Brocki different to others for me is the opportunity I have had to get up close and personal with the Erasmusplatz Heils Armee Brocki, by becoming a volunteer. I have a corporate background, which is not in any way related to the Brocki, and on reflection that was one of my core motivations to request the opportunity to volunteer here.  It´s a complete contrast to everything I have ever done and one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.  In addition, I get the much-needed opportunity to practise my German, something very important to me.  I don´t claim to spend much time there but the time I do spend is very precious to me as it also provides me an access point to the real spirit of my Quartier and its people.  It is in this experience that I have been able to learn more about the nuances of society here. 

The people who work here are a real mixed bag.  Amongst us are people like myself whose careers are not related.  There are also those from the older generation doing good, keeping themselves active when they have more spare time to offer, and there are also volunteers who may I say, most probably behind the smiles, have experienced traumatic circumstances that are alien to most who live the comfortable lives that are available in Basel-Stadt.  You would find it hard to have contact with such a mixed group linked only by their connection to fill free time or find some purpose other than the day to day grind - and it is this magical combination of people which make it very special. There is a very strong case for people to get involved in their community in whatever way they can, and I think many (including myself) get far more back than the efforts I make.   

As well as the wonderful characters who work there, there are of course the wonderful customers.   Again, as varied a kaleidoscope of types as the people who work there.  It really is a beautiful thing. 

I get the chance to chat and learn about the people living here and for some, the Brocki is a focal meeting point.  Somewhere they can browse and spend time with others.   Providing support to those that need it and bringing a sense of community mindedness in a world that is growing ever more insular. Places like the Brocki are a lifeline for those who can experience loneliness and isolation. There are generally not many places where one can be accepted at face value, without pre-conceived judgements and ideas, and I think credit for this goes to the staff of the Heils Armee.    

In my humble opinion, if William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the Salvation Army (in the East End of London in 1865) were alive today, they would be more than satisfied that the true spirit of their endeavour still lives on in this Brocki in Basel-Stadt.  

I am also really encouraged to see a far more diverse group of people are coming into the Brocki.  Hipsters and young professionals especially, as they are the driving forces of our economy.  To see this particular group shopping with ethics shows me that there is hope for our world.  If anyone was in any doubt, our planet desperately needs our help and places like the Brocki and ecochair are really worthwhile endeavours, both from a reuse and recycling point of view as well as connecting our local community.  What I like to call Win/Win.  

So, whether you are a treasure hunter or wanting to learn more about your local community, my advice would be to get out there and rock up at your local Brocki, or even stop by our treasure in at Erasmusplatz in Klein Basel.  You never know what you may find and who knows... you may even find something you were looking for all along.

Text by Julie Davis

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