From a broken home…

brocki haus1

Over the last few months I’ve done my best to introduce you to my new village with stops at city hall (where, for tax reasons, I proudly declared my Protestant faith), the garage (with the impressive wine chiller in the waiting area), and most recently the recycling center (which, I now know, should not be visited on Saturday morning, if at all possible).

Today’s destination is the Brockenhaus!

To my English-speaking friends, this might sound like a sad and depressing pastoral visit, but the broken home in Switzerland – known by most people simply as “the Brocki” – is actually a second-hand or re-sale shop.  When people move and, yes, break up their households, many of these people give their unwanted household items to the Brocki for resale. Every village seems to have one.

And since the Swiss themselves – cultural stereotype alert – prefer to buy items that are new and expensive, the Brocki is frequented mostly by expats like me, looking to buy a chair for the balcony, or a set of wine glasses, or just about anything else imaginable.

I am not a shopper, so visits to the Brocki have been painful, but even I can grudgingly admit that we have found some great deals there. And maybe the best part is that we have contributed to the work of non-profits in our area.

In 1904, on the initiative of local merchant Dr. h.c. Arnold Scherrer, the first Brocki in Zurich was established, with a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi on its board of directors. The actual history of the Brocki is somewhat murky to me, but at some point the Salvation Army also became involved, and so some Brockis today are non-profit and charitably run, while others aren’t.

As a preacher I can find spiritual significance just about anywhere, including the Brocki.

By nature I am not a saver. When something is old or broken or has otherwise outlived its usefulness, my first inclination is to throw it away. I tend not to be sentimental about stuff. Please don’t judge.

Fortunately, I believe in a God who by nature is very much a saver, who is strangely attracted to the old and broken and useless, and who can find a new and dazzling use for just about anything. In fact, I like to think of the church, at its best, as a Brocki, not because anyone is for sale, but because the people there are no longer new and in pristine condition, but nevertheless have worth and value and purpose.

I look forward to going to the Brocki on Sunday – not the one I can see from my window, which will be closed, but the one in Zurich with the pulpit in front and the organ in back. We’ll be remembering the worthiness in us that only God can see.

Brocki haus

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

, , ,

10 Responses to From a broken home…

  1. Susan July 19, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    LOVE the Brocki’s!!

  2. Bettina July 19, 2014 at 5:14 am #

    Funny how we construct images of other people: since I started reading US blogs, I’ve had the impression that Americans often go to the thrift store (I had to look up the word, it wasn’t in my Cambridge English vocabulary. I’m Swiss, and I do go to the Brockenhaus, which in Fribourg is called Emmaüs, and it’s a catholic welfare programme aiming at reintegration of marginalized people, mainly homeless, addicted and/or unemployed. From each of my visits there I tend to bring back way too much stuff…

    • Doug July 19, 2014 at 9:29 am #

      Yes, the cultural stereotype of the Swiss is that they are all very wealthy and would never think to buy second-hand merchandise. When the idea of the Brocki was first discussed, I doubt that the expat population was very large, so clearly shoppers over the years have had to come from the native population. I was conscious of the stereotyping as I wrote. I hope that counts for something. 🙂

  3. Warren July 19, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    Even if only the expats shopped there, the expat population is roughly 25% in Switzerland, and roughly 40% in Zurich – so it’s not a small market…

    • Doug July 19, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

      Thanks for that, Warren. Now am curious to know if Brockis actually know who their customers are. Companies like Amazon maintain vast quantities of information about their customers. I’m thinking small non-profits (like churches) just try to survive day to day.

  4. Lizzy July 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    So many great, revealing lines buried in this blog post!!

    “I am not a shopper, so visits to the Brocki have been painful”

    “My first inclination is to throw it away. I tend not to be sentimental about stuff”

    “As a preacher I can find spiritual significance just about anywhere”

    (I love the analogy in the post as well, but my first instinct is to point out how true these quotes are)

  5. Susan July 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi, I am an expat from the States, I lived in Zurich until moving north to Munich in March. I LOVE the Brocki. In our 8 years in Switzerland, I did a considerable amount of shopping there. For things I needed, and for things I didn’t! But I love the thrill of the hunt. This is a great post. Thanks for blogging!

    • Doug July 19, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

      Welcome to the blog, Susan!

  6. Georgia Hamilton July 21, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    Doug, love the analogy of the Brocki and church; also the reminder that we all have worth and value in God’s eyes. this is my mantra for the week–thank you!


    • Doug July 21, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      Hi, Georgia! Miss you.

%d bloggers like this: