Sunday, June 10, 2012


Instead of going on the official cultural programs today, I decided to make my own personal program. I've wanted to get some books here for a while, so I looked up a few noteworthy book stores and libraries and made a day of visiting them.

1. Büchertisch (books table)

The first place I visited was a second hand book store not far from my apartment here. It lies in a quiet back courtyard and offers books on a wide variety of topics. What I found particularly nice was the free coffee and tea set up for customers. I didn't happen to find any books there that completely took my breath away, although one about dinosaurs wearing latex suits to hide among the humans sounded interesting. Thus, I left empty handed and moved on to the next bookshop.

2. Miss Marple: Die Krimibuchhandlung (Miss Marple: The crime novel bookstore)

I had a bit of trouble at first finding this bookstore, since I had to walk a bit from the subway station, and I got a bit turned around. However, eventually I got to the right street and found the shop. It was rather small, about two bedroom sized rooms next to each other. The second room had a rather nice rocking chair from which readings are periodically given. If I can find someone who'll go with me, I might attend one.

Now, apart from talking to my host and her friend or people at the Goethe Institut, I've had to do relatively little talking with native Germans. Mostly, I just say "eine Currywurst, bitte." Thus, when the woman running the shop asked me if I needed help finding anything (which I did), I was slightly nervous. However, I was able to ask for the type of novel I wanted and understand her response without difficulty. Woohoo! I got a book by Nele Neuhaus called Schneewittchen muss sterben (Snow White must die).


While trying to find Miss Marple, I stumbled across some sort of open air market where all sorts of food and other goodies were sold. I decided to wander around. Among the flowers, fruits, and vegetables were specialty meats, specialty breads, pastries to die for, and one stand offering primarily nuts and dried fruit. I decided to buy a few dates stuffed with assorted nuts, which without any added sugar were still sickeningly sweet. I also picked up a feta and zucchini tart for lunch, which was so much better than having yet another wurst. As delicious as they are, one should not eat exclusively sausage.

3. Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Center)

My next visit was to the largest public library in Berlin, named after the Brothers Grimm. From outside, it looked quite serious, and inside it was even more serious. You could not go into the library itself with a coat or bags or books without either putting them in a locker or placing everything in a plastic bag where security could check it. To use a locker, you either had to bring a lock of your own (I hadn't) or use on of the fancy electronically locked lockers. The lockers locked via a chip in a so called Mensa Card, which you had to purchase in the cafeteria. It was quite strange waiting in line with people with trays of food to get a card. Finally, after waiting a while to get an open locker, I went inside the library itself. It was huge.

Every floor had shelves upon shelves of books lining the perimeter while an enormous work room took up the center space. If you look at the picture to the left, it shows the central rooms, which get progressively smaller so that each floor can get some sun from the sky lights. There were perhaps 6 stories, all of which were beautifully organized and perfectly quiet, despite being full of people. That is one of the things I love about libraries, the peace.

4. Bücherwald (Books Forest)

This was one of my favorite places, simply because the idea is so clever. On a street corner in Prenzlauer Berg stand several tree trunks fastened together with nooks cut into them and covered by plastic flaps. Inside these nooks are books, which anyone can borrow and return as they will. People can also put old books there, as long as they contact the project organizers to get registration numbers for the books first. The tiny library is almost entirely autonomous, and yet it works. Since I'm only here for two more weeks, I decided against taking any with me.

5. Otherland

Finally, back in Kreuzberg, I visited a science fiction and fantasy bookstore. It was pretty ridiculously wonderful. Although small, it had a wide variety. A large section had only English books, which I mostly ignored. Instead, I hit the fantasy section. The woman working there helped me find the book Die Stadt der träumenden Bücher (City of Dreaming Books) by Walter Moers. When I asked her about other good German authors (many of the books there were translations), she went wild.

"This author is well known for more epic fantasy," she says, pulling down a book and handing it to me.
"And this author is rather interesting. His books are more unusual." another book.
"This is part of a popular series. It's fairly light." yet another book.

Had she not had to go back to the counter to check some people out, I think I would have ended up buried in novels. It was fantastic, pun intended. I ended up leaving with the Walter Moers novel and one by Christian von Aster called Der letzte Schattenschnitzer (The Last Shadow Carver).

All in all, today was a nice break from the tourist activities I've been doing. I got to speak to locals, familiarize myself more with the city, get lost a couple of times, and finally spend some money on something fun.

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