Expatica checks out the best English-language bookstores in Germany and the difficulties they face.
Learning German is one thing – enjoying the language is something else entirely. Although you may know enough German to survive, hold an enjoyable conversation or even scan a German newspaper, that is still a long way short of reading German for pleasure.
Germany may not be the best country in Europe to find English language books but you will find that many of the major bookshops have a strong English language section that caters to those wishing to learn English and those who already speak English as their native tongue, alike.
However, there are also quite a few smaller bookshops in the major cities that provide a larger range of English language books.
Shirley Wray of Marga Schoeller’s Bücherstube in Berlin explains the origins of that store’s strong English-language section:
“During first half of the century, Marga Schoeller refused to sell Nazi literature,” she said. “When the end of the war came, she got the license to start selling English books from the Allies. That is when our tradition of selling English books started.”
In the tradition of its founder, the store maintains a “slight ideological edge” in choosing its books. Therefore, among fiction of all types, there is also feminist and anti-racist literature, strong theatre and cinema offerings and a particularly strong collection of humanities and social sciences books.
In Munich, Claus Melchior of Words’ worth bookshop reports that the original store was founded in 1985. A second store opened in Munich University’s Department of English and American Studies after David Conolly-Smith closed the Anglia English Bookstore, which had been open since 1954. However, the original Words’ worth store was closed down because “it was not feasible to keep paying the rent on two stores.”
The store holds a wide range of fiction books, though also has a non-fiction that is strongly biased toward the humanities to provide for the university students.
David Solomon of Books in Berlin got his start selling English-language texts in front of the universities’ quarter in the 1980s and bought his own store in 1993. The shop now deals mostly in used books, although new books can be ordered.
This business is far from easy, and many of the independent bookshop owners are struggling to compete with convenience-based Internet “stores” such as Amazon.
Solomon agreed that he has not chosen an easy business but he is well connected to the United States and has found that he can provide a good option for ordering certain hard-to-find titles, often helping some of the larger German stores with some of the rarer book orders.
“I can get a lot of books just as quickly as Amazon, and for some books, I’m the only option they have got,” Solomon said.
He has, however, had to reduce the opening hours of Books in Berlin and even open an English language school on the site to keep money coming in.
Thomas Rodig of Marga Schoeller’s Bücherstube has also noticed a decline in book sales, although the shop has a German section that is bigger than its English one, which also helps.
And Words’ worth’s Claus Melchior agreed that the Internet has made the business more competitive. “It is certainly not a Godsend,” he said. “On the whole, it is a problem but it has also increased people’s awareness that they can obtain foreign literature.”
However, all is not lost. Edith Strommen, director of Penguin Books Germany reported that since the release of the Harry Potter books, there has been an increase in English book sales in Germany in general. She noted that it had been a door opener to many non-native English readers as the books could be read easily. “People know that they can see movies in their original language and now they want to read books in their original language.”
Nevertheless, Strommen also says that sales were possibly taken away from independent English language bookshops due to the increasing availability of English language literature in the bigger German chain stores.
So which customers can these small stores rely on?
“I think the book buying public is very discerning,” said Wray. “Dedicated customers like a store where they can browse and get personal attention.”
So even though much book buying these days has gone digital, particularly on the part of institutions, devoted fans of Marga Schoeller still love having this store in their neighbourhood.
“We have noticed a difference,” Wray said. “We are getting a different kind of customer. They used to be mostly younger people, travellers. Now they are a bit older, a bit more well-established.”
Books in Berlin tends to rely on the local customers who are loyal to the shop, while Words’ worth depends on the growing English speaking community in Munich.
One thing all the stores agree on though, is that most of their clientele are not native speakers of English.
“The majority of our customers are German, with expats making up only a small part.” said Melchior.
All of these stores offer in-store collections but will also take orders and the majority have their own sites online where orders can be placed.
— Louise Osborne
Dialogue–New Book Club in Mitte
Expand your literary horizons with Dialogue Berlin’s monthly Book Club Meeting in the cosy surroundings of the T Room, between Mitte and Prenzlauerberg. The Book Club takes a sideways approach to international, English-language books, with an emphasis on less-expected titles, contemporary themes, and up-and-coming authors. To sign up for a Dialogue book group and receive a discount on all current book club titles, visit the book shop at Christinenstra e 27, 10119 Berlin or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Marga Schoeller Bücherstube
Friendly staff and a painstakingly chosen collection make Marga always good for a look around.
Tel: 030/881 1112
Fax: 030/881 8479
Hours: Mon-Wed: 9:30am-7pm; Thurs/Fri: 9:30am-8pm; Sat: 9:30am-4pm
Books in Berlin
Dealing mostly in second hand books, although any books that you want new can be ordered in.
Tel/Fax: 030/313 1233
Hours: Mon-Fri: 12am-5pm; Sat: 10am-4pm
New and used texts traded in German and English in a small Kreuzberg storefront.
Tel: 030/694 4675
Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am-7pm; Sat: 10am-6pm
A second hand bookshop, which also acts as a library as you are able to borrow the books for a small charge. Also holds events and a weekly social hour.
Tel: 030/6940 1160
Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am-8pm; Sat: 11am-4pm
East of Eden International Bookshop
A second hand bookshop, which also holds regular meetings and events.
Tel: 030/423 9362
Hours: Mon-Fri:12pm-7pm; Sat:12pm-4pm
St Georges Bookshop
A shop with a comfortable atmosphere that sells both used and new books. Also holds events and a weekly film night.
Tel: 030/8179 8333
Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am-8pm; Sat: 11am-7pm
The British Book Shop
Germany’s most famous in Germany’s business capital. Knowledgeable staff, wide selection.
Tel: 069/28 04 92
Fax: 069/28 77 01
Hours: Mon-Fri: 9:30am-7pm; Sat: 9:30am-6pm
Great selection of books, admirably experienced staff, and a great place to browse.
Tel: 089/28 36 42
089/280 91 41
Hours: Mon-Fri: 9am-8pm; Sat: 10am-4pm