Once a year. For two days. The World comes to Lille in Northern France for what is proclaimed as the World’s largest flea market. Several days before vendors claim their turf with chalk lines along every street and sidewalk. Some sleep in their cars, others have been lucky and scored a hotel room in the area. Bright and early the bargain hunters come off the train in groves, or find their way from the giant overflow parking lots near the citadel.
Moules frites – mussels and French fries – are consumed in hugely impressive quantities on picnic tables set up for the occasion down the middle of several streets, and at the end a great enclosure holds a mountain of empty shells. By the time Sunday comes around and the packing up begins, the mountain has risen beyond the height of a man.
As you walk, shoulder-to-shoulder along the streets and boulevards, there are vendors on every corner, and every inch of sidewalk in-between. Local farmers bring whatever they found rusting in the barn, while others bring serious antiques from the high-end markets in Paris. There is something for everyone. And by everyone, I of course include myself with my camera. I had the great pleasure of walking this insane gathering twice. Each time was a challenge simply to have enough frames to capture the wonderful spectacle that flea markets so often can present.
As so many things, the 2020 version of the great Braderie was cancelled. This was not unexpected, given the hundreds of thousands of people that attend each year. Social distancing would just not have been an option there. But of course it is always sad when an event that has gone from being a simple flea market to a major international attraction – well regional anyway – is postponed, or cancelled outright.
I attended a few years ago and have selected a few photographs here for your enjoyment. I can strongly recommend the great spectacle and encourage anyone with the finger on the shutter to have a look. It is well worth the trip to Lille. But, fair warning; book early, expect insane crowds and don’t forget the mussels and of course the excellent beer. Northern France has a great brewing tradition, and given that Belgium is only a dozen kilometers to the north of Lille, it is hardly surprising that the selection and quality is top notch.