A salute to shopkeepers in an unusual October for Germany’s book and publishing industries
Publishers, authors, and audiences would usually descend to Frankfurt during the early autumnal days of October for what was the world’s largest book fair. Stories and anecdotes were shared from decade-to-decade at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, a monumental toast to literature in its physical form. 300,000 people would flock to mammoth halls and the experimental circuit of events hosted throughout the city. This year’s edition of the fair takes place in a digitized context, bringing together over 4,300 exhibitors from 102 countries in a virtual experiment.
All over Germany, bookstores and literature fanatics sought new and innovative solutions to the problems that the pandemic presented them. From book parcels summoned for window collections to the boundless possibilities of digital storytelling, the book industry had to get creative to bring people together in 2020. New models were introduced to capture the imagination of young readers and dazzle those who chomp through books by renowned authors on a weekly basis. To celebrate reading and those who have kept their doors open to the community, we shine the light on three German retailers as featured in Do You Read Me?.
Pro qm, Berlin
The revolution will be printed: this bookstore trusts in the combined forces of art, culture, and politics to bring about a fair future.
This most legendary event, in the early 2000s, was an evening with British dance icon Michael Clark and The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, who performed in our space.” No, you’re not mistaken—we’re talking about a bookstore here. But this is a Berlin bookstore, after all. Pro qm has been part of the German capital’s art and cultural scene since 1999, providing food for thought, hosting panel discussions, and selling the right kind of reading material. “The store evolved from theoretical debates and discussions on urban politics and alternative spaces for cultural production, especially here in Berlin in the late nineties, into a physical location to engage in these issues with a wider public,” says Katja Reichard, who today runs Pro qm alongside Jesko Fezer and Axel John Wieder as part of a team of seven. The impetus that led them to open the store was none other than a book.
If You Lived Here: The City in Art, Theory, and Social Activism was published to accompany a series of events and exhibitions organized by the artist, Martha Rosler, in New York in 1989. “The publication brings together artists, activists, planners, scientists, residents, and neighbors, documenting the crisis in New York’s housing market in the late 1980s, while also presenting a broad range of analysis and strategies to counteract this,” Reichard says. Focusing on the core theme of the city and its interfaces with politics, pop culture, business, architecture, design, sound, and art, Pro qm is building on precisely that legacy. That’s a whole lot of revolution per square foot!
Mundo Azul, Berlin
This children’s bookstore invites readers on a fascinating journey around the world with original-language books and cross-border cultural projects.
Mundo Azul, the name of this children’s bookstore in Berlin, reveals the intention behind it: the shelves are stocked with titles from all over the world, from Portugal to Korea—and all in their original language. “I have a vivid memory of a typical day in the store last winter,” says the owner, Mariela Nagle, who is from Argentina. “While browsing the shelves, a German man, a lady from the U. S., two women from Saudi Arabia, and a French illustrator got chatting. It was brilliant. Books are great at bringing people together.”
Mundo Azul started in 2007 as a meeting place for Spanish and German families. Today, the little store holds intercultural workshops, provides consultancy for festivals, and supports libraries and universities. “I could read the British author Roald Dahl and the French writer and illustrator Tomi Ungerer all day,” says Nagle. “By contrast, I often find German children’s book authors a bit too didactic. One of the things I like best is showing that children’s books can be so much more in terms of fun, art, and—last but not least—literature.”
Proust Wörter + Töne, Essen
The bricks-and-mortar and mobile incarnations of this plastic-free bookstore are happy to help customers in their search for an engrossing book.
Proust Wörter + Töne is a cultural institution in the Ruhr region. “Every six months, we put together a new selection of books with subjects that we find stirring,” said Peter Kolling and Beate Scherzer, who has run the independent bookstore in Essen since 2005.
“We might choose from independent publishing houses that give us a fresh insight into ourselves from the outside in, or which urge us to be open to literary diversity of compelling cultural diagnoses,” says the on owner. Such wonderful encouragement is only sweetened by the homemade cakes served by the friendly Café Livres and an excellent music section. The “Töne” (“sound”) bit of the equation comes in the form of classical music and jazz. The bookstore team answers visitors’ thirst for culture with events at which even literary heavyweights like T. C. Boyle and Herta Müller have been known to appear and join in the discussion.
The bookstore is also deliberately plastic-free: the team issues paper and fabric bags only, and actively encourages publishers to refrain from shrink-wrapping their books. And that’s not all: it also offers a free delivery service by bike or Proust-mobile. “Some people are unable to visit the store in person for various reasons, but we might still want to make them our customers or keep supplying them with reading matter if they’re no longer as mobile as they’d like to be,” says the staff. Twice a week, the team hits the road and delights people with lovely books, great wine, and, not infrequently, a living-room chat. “Everyone’s a winner!” beam Kolling and Scherzer. The fact that they win the German Bookstore Awards year after year is a testament to their success. After all, as long-established publisher Klaus Wagenbach says: “Only in a bookstore like Proust are you likely to chance upon books that you weren’t looking for but definitely need.”
Bookstores are more than just places that sell books. Learn more through Do You Read Me?.