Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people, things to do

English bookshops in Neukölln

Guest post by Álvaro Sendra González 

A lot of things have changed in Neukölln in the last five years, for good and bad, and a new international community is growing in the former “problem neighbourhood”. Suddenly those dark streets with empty casinos and betting offices were taken over by cafés, restaurants, vintage-shops, and art galleries, and many locals who couldn’t afford their apartments anymore had to leave.

Books in Neukölln

Part of this new-Neukölln encompasses numerous independent bookshops that have recently opened their doors in an era dominated by multinational companies with “creative“ tax strategies. I’ve always believed that books unite us; bookshops are meeting-places for book lovers, be they newcomers or locals. Because many of us newcomers can read English better than German, I made this list of six English-speaking bookshops in Neukölln:

Berlin Book Nook
This cosy place offers a broad selection of second-hand books, mostly fiction, humanities and art.  Gardening and cooking fans will also find joy here. Children are always welcome, since they have a wide range of books for readers aged 2 and up. Thursdays is the Book Nook Late Night, when they open till 10pm!

Pflügerstraße 63, theberlinbooknook.de

Buchbund
Even though this is a mostly Polish-German bookshop, their English selection is very well curated. Here you’ll find new books, mostly literature, including many translations of sadly overlooked Polish authors, as well as other literature from around the world. Buchbund is a good place to buy philosophy and history books, or to just sit and enjoy a cup of good coffee in the best company (a book).

Sanderstraße 8, buchbund.de

Buchhafen
The newest bookshop in Neukölln is a great destination for international book lovers looking for new books in Turkish, German and English, while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee. They specialise in anglophone literature, and their theory section (philosophy, politics, social sciences, humanities etc) is remarkable. Don’t miss the room in the back, which houses second-hand books.

Okerstraße 1, buchhafen-berlin.de

Curious Fox
Probably the best English bookshop in Neukölln. Their broad selection will satisfy pretty much everyone: fiction, poetry, new and second-hand, graphic novels. Especially remarkable is their crime, sci-fi and fantasy selection, and also their children’s books corner. Like them on Facebook to keep up with the many readings, poetry-evenings, quiz nights and other activities they organize.

Flughafen Str. 22, curiousfoxbooks.com

Pequod Books
This very organised, clean bookshop sells second-hand books in more than 25 different languages, hand-picked by the owner’s taste (actually by me, the author of the list you’re reading. Hi mum!), among them some 1000 books in English: mostly fiction, but also children books, humanities, theory, art… If you’re looking for books written by Paolo Coelho or some football player this might not be your place.

Selchower Straße 33, pequodbooks.de

Topics
And last but not least, the most interesting bookshop of the six: a concept bookshop. Here the books are not organised from A to Z like in other places, but by topic. Instead of shelves, they have boxes, each of which has a topic: drugs, post-modern westerns, conspiracies, love triangles, black literature… A great place to discover new authors.

Weserstraße 166, topics-berlin.com

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people

Pigeon Posts: Letters from Berlin and Giveaway

Letters from Berlin is a collection of twelve essays by writers, film-makers, photographers and artists based in different districts of the German capital. The essays are being released in staves, or weekly installments, by Berlin-based digital publisher The Pigeonhole.

Like all good start-ups, The Pigeonhole has managed to combine an old idea – serialising books (the model in Victorian times) – with modern technology. You can read on your Kindle, laptop or other devices, click on extra content like photos, sound recordings and videos, and interact with the writer and fellow readers as the book is released – or simply catch up with everything afterwards.

The first essay The Squirrel Principle by writer and translator Lucy Renner Jones, who’s been living in Berlin since the late nineties, was released last week. It starts:

After a morning run, as a friend of mine lay stretching on the grass in her local park, she spotted a red squirrel running up a huge oak tree. Clutched in his mouth was a coffee-to-go cup, plastic lid and all. Once he reached the first branch, he took the cup between his paws, flung aside the lid, and, head back, drained the last dregs of latte.

Yes, this essay is about Prenzlauer Berg, where even the squirrels are gentrified. Part of me clung to the hope that Renner Jones would pursue the caffeine stoked squirrel and, like Alice, fall down the rabbit hole of absurdity, or, at the very least, discuss her friend’s dubious mental state. Another part of me was resigned to the fact that this essay would, inevitably, be about the demographic changes that have affected this particular area of Berlin.

But this is not just another whine about the good old days. Renner Jones is honest about the ambiguity she feels as a Prenzlauer Berg resident. On one hand, she struggles with flocks of tourists, on the other, she admits she is part of the problem. She sidesteps buggies and wonders “why people can’t be more considerate,” while her own “daughter almost slices off their toes with her longboard.” Moreover, Renner Jones knows her topic. Her portrait of Prenzlauer Berg is filled with acute details, funny observations:

The most radical thing you can do here nowadays is give your kid a bag of crisps in public instead of an organic rice waffle.

I’ve been living in Prenzlauer Berg for a while and, being nosy, thought I knew everything about it. I was wrong. The Water Tower is not filled with luxury apartments; a housing commune on Lychener Straße had a yoga studio, library, and communal bathrooms you had to wait half an hour to use every morning; eighty-five per cent of the original population of Prenzlauer Berg has left the area since the Wall fell.

Gentrification is a particular Berlin neurosis (see my recent review of Berlin film Victoria) and, although I still mourn the loss of the latte-sipping squirrel, it’s probably apt that the opening essay of a collection about the city tackles the issue head on. I’m curious to see what insights and discussions the other essays, about districts of Berlin that I’m not so familiar with, will provoke.

The Pigeonhole are giving away five subscriptions to Letters from Berlin to readers of An Englishman in Berlin. To win, leave a comment below saying which area of Berlin you would most like to read an essay about.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature

Blind Dates with books in Berlin

If you live in Berlin and you like books, you’ll be as excited as I am about Book Flaneur – a novel way of introducing Berliners to books!

I spoke to Nadia and Piotr, the people behind this new community project, to find out more.

Tell us eberswalder_bookhow Book Flaneur works.

We love to call Bookflaneur the ultimate matchmaker for blind dates with books in Berlin. The idea is simple:

Step 1: We lovingly wrap a book

Step 2: We label it nicely to hint at the genre, feel or plot

Step 3: We map secret pick-up locations via Twitter and Google Maps

Step 4: We drop it off at a local business, bench in a park, U-Bahn station or anywhere else

Step 5: A book lover picks up their date

How did you come up with the idea?

Both of us have a soft spot for books. Nadia likes stocking bookshelves with books from flea markets and Piotr likes giving books away to friends and lovely strangers (we make a good team, don’t we?). So, it’s needless to say that we had an itch to do something with books for a long time.

Initially we were inspired by a small library project somewhere across the pond (Piotr stumbled upon this picture of wrapped books while aimlessly browsing the Internet). A couple of entrepreneurial librarians in Australia came up with a simple idea to recycle books by wrapping them up and giving away to speculating readers. This is how our idea was born.

After that, we tweaked the concept several times and added a little jeopardy: We tweet about future book dates using hashtags and post book excerpts on our website to hint at the genre or plot. We also enrich the book-dating experience with geotagging. In other words, we pin our next book-date location on Google Maps. You are very welcome to check it out on our website.

Are the books in English or German, or both?

The original idea was to send only English-speaking books on blind dates with Berliners. However, having listened to the voice of our little community, we have decided to change this. We no longer discriminate books based on language and we spread our book love in both English and German. (*pssst* Expect to see a German version of our website sometime soon in the chilly autumn months to come.)

blind_date

How many blind dates have you set up so far?

Blind dates with books? Four (and counting) in two weeks of our existence. There are many more to come.

Blind dates with people? None so far, but you never know.

Are there any books on your own shelves that you are wed to, and would never give away?

This might sound quirky but Nadia would never part with her collection of dictionaries  – several rather thick volumes of Oxford English dictionaries and a much more humble collection of German, Russian, Polish and Finnish ones. Whenever she moves to a new place, there is a spot on the shelf ready for a new dictionary filled with words of an unfamiliar language.

Now, Piotr discovered a real gem of a book some time ago and he is certain he will never forget the life lessons this book once taught him. Overwhelmed by the speech of an upbeat and terminally ill professor, Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams, Piotr rummaged through bookstores in his hometown to find his biography. The title of the book is The Last Lecture and the said academic who captivated the world with his cheerful and inspirational take on human life is Randy Pausch.

What do you hope Berliners will gain from the project?

A thrill of anticipation. We would like Berliners to get impatient about books. But, of course, patient enough to get through the week until the next blind date.

In addition, we aspire to mainstream the understanding that books are more than just their covers and can live in an ecosystem in which they have several ‘lives’.

Book Flaneur is a free, non-profit community project. Follow them via Twitter @bookflaneur, like, pin, share, subscribe, and upvote their website to help spread the word. You can also support them by suggesting local businesses and interesting places to drop off books, donating a fiver, books, or giving them a high-five.