Lumpex? Ciucholand? Does it ring a bell to you?
Following the etymological path we get closer: Lumpen means rags in German, ciuchy is a colloquial Polish term for clothes. The syllable-land comes from English as well as from German. The ending –ex is taken from shops called Pewex which emerged during the 1980s in communist Poland selling unobtainable, mostly imported goods in exchange for Western currencies.
The mystery of the ciucholand
To unravel the mystery: all the expressions are colloquially referring to second hand shops which import clothes from Western European countries. Spread not only in every single town in Poland but also all over Eastern Europe, they are a world of their own, with a certain smell, a special clientele and a literally unique selection of goods: used clothes, from cloaks, suits and shoes, up to underwear, pyjamas and children clothes, as well as toys, books and even perfume.
A ciucholand is a zone of its own rules. Entering the shop your bags stay in a wardrobe. Several shop assistants take a good look on what you are doing. The clothes are sold according to their weight in kilograms with prices that often change during the week; they get lower the longer the goods are offered.
The clothes are imported from different countries – from Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany. The majority originates from “the rich regions of Great Britain”, as you can read on the website of a lumpex chain. Every one or two weeks white minibuses arrive, stuffed with big white sacks of new ware which will replace the old. Unloading his minibus an owner told me: “You know, they have a different mentality there. They give their clothes away to charity organisations which sell them in big ware houses.”
While for example in Albania such shops are called “MADE IN GERMANY – ORIGINAL” or “SWISS QUALITY” (with signs in the colours and with symbols of the nation they refer to), in Warsaw most of the shops don’t stress the clothes’ origin.
Drop in and dig it up
Unrest and fluctuation dominate the atmosphere in the shops. Some shops even provide a new ware every day. The constant movement of customers is also remarkable. Some just drop in hoping to find something nice or extraordinary; others stay longer and search meticulously. Most of the shops are crowded. Clothes which you saw half an hour ago are already gone when you come back to buy them. It is true that many customers come here because their financial situation forces them to but it has also become hip among younger people to hunt some extraordinary “trophies”. Strikingly, the big majority of customers are women.
One of them writes on a special lumpex forum: “I was raised in a family where it has always been a reason to be proud of if you had hunted down something ‘divine’ in a lumpex!!:)” There are several internet forums where “AprilSky”, “musli” and many others share, for example, lists of all lumpex shops of Warsaw, news about the exact opening time of a new established shop etc.
Like on a flea market, every time you go in a lumpex, there is something new to discover because it is nearly impossible to search through all the products at once.
But it’s worth it! The brands and slogans on the t-shirts tell stories about their home countries and their former owners. The prints on t-shirts let you know about marathons, many other sports events and 30th birthday parties of the last 5 years. You can also buy excellent souvenirs there, as you sometimes find shirts with your or a friend’s name on them, e.g. “Chrissie is best when she’s drunk”. Or you are lucky enough to discover a charming, completely new leather bag, and then you take the things back to your and their home country which I would call a lump-in.
Pictures by the author