Bookish Berlin


I was very tempted to call this post ‘Goodbye to Berlin,’ but the truth is I have been back in Galway since late Friday night. Also, I have never read that book.

But Berlin was a trip. It really does appear to be the hippest city on the planet. Glad I got to spend a month there.

My travel philosophy as of late seems to involve following the bibliophile trail. And for some reason, I am in the foulest mood and really do not want to write tonight, so let’s see if the pictures can lead us through one more blog post.

First, some German-language books that caught my eye.


1) A bilingual edition of The Great Gatsby, which I found in a bookshop called Jokers or Jesters or something; it looked like a chain. The book was wrapped in plastic, so I’ll never know if it had facing bilingual pages, which would be ideal for learning a new language but difficult from a production stand-point (a friend I met in Berlin is a graphic designer; he said translations are a nightmare because the size of the text box varies so much from English to German). I was intrigued by this book and almost bought it, but am so glad I didn’t. I saw the movie in English while I was in Berlin, and I was so horrified in the first two minutes by the framing device imposed on Fitzgerald’s story that I sat through the rest of the screening simply shell-shocked. (From this day forward, high school English teachers will trip up their students with trick questions about Nick Carraway’s time in the sanitarium. Seriously. A f*cking sanitarium? That’s your improvement on the great American novel? And I won’t even get into the new dialogue – at least Romeo + Juliet stuck to the script.)

2) The Bloggess’s book in German. I actually have this book on my Kindle, and though I don’t read the blog with any degree of regularity, one of the posts I do remember is about seeing her book translated into German. That must be such a cool feeling. Even just browsing the bookstores, I was always thrilled to see a book I knew in its German edition.

3) A book of photographs by Efraim Habermann. I met him at the Literaturhaus one rainy afternoon. He invited me over to chat and see his photos while he had coffee and I uncouthly scarfed down spargel with hollandaise sauce, baby potatoes, and some sort of rhubarb concoction for dessert. A friend of his showed up, and they conversed in English for my benefit, all the while apologizing because their mastery of the language was not up to snuff. It was actually quite good, and I was sitting there with absolutely no German, fairly certain I was mispronouncing Danke. Anyway, the book contains a photo of Bruno Ganz, star of Der Himmel Über Berlin (Wings of Desire). I was thrilled to recognize him, trying to explain how I knew him from “that movie with Columbo and the angels.” So sophisticated.


Above, random book art on the sidewalk. This was outside a curio shop, located somewhere between Ron Telesky’s Canadian Pizza and the U-bahn stop where I screamed because I saw a rat run across the sidewalk in broad daylight. I guess I’m just a country mouse… can’t take me anywhere.

Below, the back room at Shakespeare and Sons, home of Tuesday Night Writing Club.


This is the Bebelplatz, site of the 1933 Nazi book burning. The big pretty building is the old library of Humboldt University, and in the plaza itself lies the underground library, which is a room of empty white bookshelves, lit from above. It’s very moving. I’m sorry the photos don’t do it justice; it was rainy and muddy. But I don’t think any of the photos I’ve seen convey the depth of the monument. It really was powerful, and I’m glad I went to see it.

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And finally, the Book Forest Library in Prenzlauer Berg. I had seen this on Pinterest and Galleycat, and was thrilled to find it was in the neighborhood where I was staying.


Also, nevermind why, but the apartment I was staying in came complete with a pile of giveaway books.


That’s my stack on the left. I had to halve it, halve it again, and halve it one more time before I left Berlin, in order to fit everything in my suitcase. See, on my way to Berlin, I got popped with a Ryan Air gate check fee, which is what happens when your carry-on is too heavy (or, in my case, simply too big structurally). The baggage fee ends up costing more than your flight ticket. It’s the budget traveler’s equivalent to the Cone of Shame.


One thing I thought I might do, though, to improve my travel karma, was to drop off some books in the tree library. I wound up leaving both of my Anna Funder books (including a copy of Stasiland with the €4 Charlie Byrne’s sticker still attached) and a current bestseller (and Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction contender) that I pilfered from the giveaway pile.


So, there it is. If you’re in Berlin, drop by the tree library and see if my books are still there. I need all the good karma I can get right now.IMG_1761

Date a girl who reads…

I’ve been doing a lot of online sleuthing lately for school and internships, but sometimes (okay, a lot of the times) I get swept up in the moment and blur the line between sleuthing and stalking. Over the past few days I’ve found some stuff on the internet that I was probably better off not seeing – an engagement photo here, the name of an expected baby there – and it’s all the type of news that makes you feel like you’ve been punched in the ovaries. It doesn’t help that everyone in Berlin is pregnant.

It’s not that I envy their lives; I envy their happiness. I don’t want marriage, motherhood, or a mortgage anytime soon, but the fact that these people do want those things and they are getting them makes me wonder why the hell I can’t have the things I want. My demands are small: a good job in a meaningful field. Maybe some money to travel. And I’d like to stop wearing thrift shop clothes, if for no other reason than there is a song about it now.

To feel better about my life choices, I went looking for this quote that has been falsely attributed to Robert Pattinson (guilty). It’s actually credited to blogger Rosemarie Urquico. The quote in its entirety (which, oddly enough, disses Twilight) just keeps getting better, except for the part about the lying… I’m not okay with the lying. Never okay with the lying. But I need this right now, so I’m posting it here, with the hope that it will remind the superfly specimen of manhood who has stuck by me through all this craziness that someday, it will be worth it.

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent.  Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilightseries.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

– Rosemarie Urquico