Berlin may not be an obvious literary city when compared to Paris or London, but it has still proven itself to be a source of inspiration for iconic literary figures like Kafta and Brecht. And with a host of beautiful bookshops, historic sites, and libraries, book lovers will still find themselves swept up in the exciting plot and ever-changing setting of Berlin. Here’s the story.
Berlin is bursting with an amazing number of indie bookstores, including many English language stores catering to the huge expat community. Stop by Shakespeare and Sons in Friedrichshain for your dose of books and bagels, covering a diverse range of old and new titles for their collection that matches the variety of yummy bagel toppings you can choose. Do you read me?! is another English language bookstore in Mitte, while Curious Fox books in Neukölln is where secondhand books go to find new lovers. Bücherbogen Savignyplatz is a unique specialty bookstore for architecture, art, design, and photography, set in an exceptional arch at Savignyplatz under the S-Bahn in West Berlin.
From Nabakov, Fontane, and Brecht to Kafka and Isherwood, Berlin has captivated the imagination of many great writers throughout its tumultuous history. Christa Wolf, for example, was a significant writer during the time of the GDR. Noted for her non-conformist voice and critique of modern society, Wolf joins a host of authors that have helped reconcile understanding of the old and new Berlin.
In the late 1920s, Christopher Isherwood came to Berlin as the city became increasing known for its sexual freedom, wild nightlife, and intellectual movements during what was called the Weimar Republic. The writer stayed at Fraulein Thurau’s boarding house at Nollendorfstraße 17, a place which can be visited today, and this was the starting point of his semi-autobiographical account of his time in the city called Goodbye to Berlin. The tour is given by Brendan Nash from Cabaret Berlin, and will transport you back in time to the places and culture that were entwinedned with the writer’s life.
Berlin has some amazing literary houses to boast. Literaturhaus is a bibliophile’s oasis in the west of Berlin, reputed as a home for contemporary literature. It has a wonderful little café and garden to relax in, while hosting regular readings and discussions from significant figures in modern German and international literature. Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus, the former residence of critical writer Bertolt Brecht and where his manuscripts are still housed, is dedicated to events and discussions around the social functions of art and culture.
Bebelplatz is the place where books were burnt under Nazi rule in 1933. Thousands of books, collections, and volumes of Jewish literature were piled together and set alight after a speech given by Joseph Goebbels. Today, the site of this tragic event can be visited where an installation by Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman now stands. The installation depicts a window into an underground library where all the bookshelves are eerily empty, and a quote by German poet Heinrich Heine that reads “Where books are burned in the end people will burn.”
This is one of Berlin’s most spectacular public libraries, and marks an important stop on any literary tour. The Grimm-Zentrum, located on Friedrichstrasse, is named after the famous children’s book storytellers and fairytale writers, The Brother’s Grimm. The library was built for students of Humboldt University, although it is also open to the public.
End of your day of literary inspiration with a drink at John Muir. In the heart of Kreuzberg, enjoy a top shelf whiskey is this charming little spot named after the 19th-century American naturalist and nature writer.