Because rents are low, because people love books, because Berliners love thrift, because winters are long, streets are wide and blocks are long, whatever. There are hundreds and hundreds of new and second-hand bookstores on Berlin streets. I’m talking independent ones, charming, quirky, and thoughtful ones. Walking in you feel like you are entering someone’s Dream. They serve coffee, tea, wine, beer, snacks–depends on the day. Hold events, feature bestsellers, the rarest of books, indie-press, out-of-print, weird, beautiful and pornographic.
We spend lots of time in bookstores here.
The best English ones–Dialogue Books, Shakespeare & Sons, Saint George’s and Marga Schoeller Bücherstub–are spread across the city. Marga Schoeller, in business since 1930, earned serious respect when she removed all Nazi literature from her shelves during Hitler’s reign. Twin brothers from England opened Saint George’s in 2003–and the selection is literary, heavy on British and American authors. And Sharmaine, a Londoner from the publishing world, well, she opened beautiful little Dialogue Books in 2009, with a carefully curated selection of books in translation and international literary fiction and non-fiction. Prenzlauer Berg’s newest English (and French) bookshop (2012) is an offshoot project of a Prague-based bookstore of the same name, and it is gorgeous.
I’m constantly surprised by the depth of books in this city–stuff I know I’d never find on the shelves of major Vancouver or Montreal bookstores. And the staff are knowledgeable, like enviably, deeply knowledgeable about books. The kind of knowledge that comes from hours spent reading and thinking and talking about books–you can feel it. They’re in love with their shops, the books, other book lovers. And so generous and warm, like they hope you’ll embark on their next great adventure or project with them. I guess having to work less and having cheaper rent and like-minded, educated, thoughtful people around can’t be too bad for a city’s literary life. I feel I’ve stepped back in time. I like it.