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Berlin’s massive 5-story Humana is ‘the mothership of second-hand stores’

(Editor’s note: This post on Humana in Berlin is part of our series on thrift shopping.)

For cheap threads in Berlin, there’s one place that is an absolute must-visit: Humana!

This beloved thrift store has many various-sized locations all across Deutschland, but for the widest breadth of affordable and stylish offerings your first stop should be the Mother Ship Of Second Hand Stores: the massive five-story Humana shop in Friedrichschain at Frankfurter Tor 3, right next to the Frankfurter Tor U Bahn stop.

This particular Humana is known as “Europe’s biggest Second Hand Shop” and upon entering, one is overwhelmed with choices. The New York Times even featured it in a 2019 “36 Hours in Berlin” post.

From traditional German Lederhosen, to contemporary leather club wear, Humana truly has something for everyone.

If you’re like me, a thrift store isn’t actually a real thrift store unless they have scores of T-shirts for 1-2 euros, random glassware that costs next to nothing and maybe even a few costumes. On this front, Humana delivers soundly.

Good deeds done cheap

While everyone in Berlin has walked by or even perhaps visited a Humana, many might not be aware of its history and humanitarian mission. Humana offers not just good prices but also good deeds for the world at large.

Humana thrift stores are a part of the larger organization Humana People to People, a global network of NGOs that work towards sustainable development projects funded by the sale of second hand clothes and public and private donations. These projects include improving healthcare and education as well as developing sustainable and environmentally protected agriculture world wide. 

An outgrowth from a Danish organization founded in 1977 called U-landshjælp fra Folk til Folk (UFF), Humana People To People Deutschland was formed in January 2005. As well as selling cool clothes to thrifty Europeans, Humana funnels its donations in kind and money to underprivileged regions all over the world and uses volunteers on the ground to build schools and help communities. They also have a program to sponsor orphans.

All of this is to say that when you shop at Humana, not only are you getting a good deal for yourself, you’re helping a good global cause.

You’re also doing something nice for the environment as is evidenced in their most recent Sustainability Report:

Re-manufacturing a cotton T-shirt (100 g) consumes four tons of raw materials, as much as the weight of a full-grown elephant. A second-hand T-shirt from us and our partners requires raw materials that weigh less than a mouse, namely around 30 grams.

About those bargains …

By now, you’re probably wondering:

“Also, was ist mit den Schnäppchen?” (So, What about the bargains?) “Fangen wir an!” (Let’s begin!)

Humana Frankfurter Tor is like a giant tower of great deals that one can wander for hours in, each floor connected by a spiral staircase. On the ground floor and first floor are racks and racks of women’s fashion, accessories, bags, lingerie, swimwear, children’s clothes and even home textiles. As one ascends to the second and third floor, there are ample selections for menswear, endless amounts of athletic clothes, shoes of all kinds, books, and my favorite section “odds and ends” where one can find cool things like old cocktail glasses.

The best part of the store is undeniably the top floor, called the “Vintage Shop,” with “Mega-Klamotten” (very cool clothes) from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. They even have a whole rack that as a millennial gave me quite a chuckle called “Y2K Fashion.”

As a member of that generation, I have to let go of the pain it causes me to see the popular fashion of that time re-visited because here in Berlin, a city of tolerance, we wear what we dig, you dig?

And dig we do, whilst shopping at Humana. A good practice for a first visit is to take a rundgang (walk around) and survey the whole shop broadly, listening to whatever section speaks to you, before settling into the careful sorting of choices, letting the flick-flick-flick of hangars shuffling across racks underscore your thrift-journey.

My adventure drew me first to T-shirts, where I found some Berlin standard-issue black tops and then to leather wear, where I hoped to find some decently priced artificial, tight leather pants which can help one gain entry into some of the more risqué clubs.

I didn’t find any 2023 Lederhosen, but I did find a very nice fake leather sleeveless jacket for just 35 euros. In the women’s section I walked by a whole rack of black skirts, one of which was only 15 euros. It struck me that this, combined with my cool new jacket-vest-thing, could be a killer look for the clubs. I really do prefer wearing pants when I’m out on the town, but I felt compelled to buy it anyway, perhaps as a backup if I wouldn’t be able to find my preferred party trousers.

Cool clothes with a cause

I had been inside for about an hour and felt pretty good about my new outfit. Now I just needed some tough-looking accessories to tie it all together, namely some chains, or spiked bracelets or belts. Unfortunately for me, on this day it seemed that this section had been picked clean. “Egal, nächste Mal,” I thought. (“No matter, next time”)

Whilst paying for my goods, I asked the Verkauferin how often they got new stuff. I was delighted by her response: “Jeden Tag!” (“Every Day!”) Now I had a cool new thing to do in my Kiez! Or perhaps a new addiction.

My shopping adventure was a success and with slight pangs of hunger coming on and a deep need for my second cappuccino, I headed just down the street to an absolutely adorable café and used book shop (more on that in another dispatch) with a similar mission: Tasso. 

As a lover of thrift stores in the US from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Brooklyn, shopping for cheap funky threads was always something I felt homesick for in Berlin. At Humana, lovers of second-hand culture can satisfy that itch for cool clothes with a cause.

__________

See more about Berlin here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more by Chris here.

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