I love reading. This is due to the fact that my mother read to me when I was a baby (according to my mother). However, a bit like dating an Eastern European woman, my love is becoming rather an expensive habit.
While there are several excellent second-hand bookstores in Berlin, they’re either very far out of my way, or not really that cheap. Wandering around Dussmann leaves me dizzy with desire, high on “new book smell” and, usually, broke. Books from Amazon cost next to nothing, until you factor in the postage and packaging. And, before you suggest it, I abhor the idea of e-books; I’m old-fashioned like that.
So, what was a girl to do?
As you may have guessed from the title (clever you…), I decided to join the library. Armed with some free time and the determination to tackle yet another German institution, I walked five minutes down the road to my local Bibliothek.
Deciding that I would “save” my German for when it was absolutely necessary, I slunk past the reception desk to see what they had on offer, and yes, to see if there was an English books section. There was.
It was time. I eyed the two women behind the reception. One was rotund, jolly and bespectacled; the other was rake thin, had classic “Bürgeramt Face” and was also bespectacled – a bit like a German, short-sighted librarian version of the odd couple. Anyway, you can imagine which woman I chose to assault with my German language skills.
I sidled up to the desk and told her that I would like to become a member. She smiled jovially at me, started shuffling things around on her desk and babbled away happily in German. Thankfully, I understood most of what she was saying. I dutifully produced my Anmeldung (registration document) and my passport. She explained some more stuff. I nodded, smiled and muttered “Ja” over and over again in an appreciative manner.
Then she surprised me by offering me a choice of colours of library card – have you ever heard of such a thing? I certainly hadn’t. I grinned at her and chose siren red. Or just red. Whatever…
I handed over €10 and she handed me my shiny new best friend.
Even though we had conducted our entire exchange in German, she clearly wanted to give a nod to my native English-speaking ways, so she started rummaging around for some pamphlets in English. She managed to produce leaflets in French, Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic but, sadly, no English.
I assured her I could understand the German version (probably) and scampered back over to the English books section to have a proper look. There was the usual fare like Michael Connelly, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy, chick lit (i.e. stuff I don’t read) like Maeve Binchy, Cecilia Ahern and Nicholas Sparks as well as a few classics and welcome surprises. I selected a couple of books and went back over to my new library mom.
She informed me that it was all electronic and that I had to do it myself. I looked dubiously over my shoulder at a computer.
Libhilde: NEIN! Not that computer!
Libhilde: Do you want me to help you?
I promise I wasn’t faking helplessness. I’m just bloody useless at times.
Libhilde marched me over to a contraption beside the door and instructed me to place my card in front of it. I waved it around and the machine asked for my PIN. I entered it. Libhilde beamed. She then placed the two books on a scanner and both titles popped up on screen. I hit a button and we were done. My jaw dropped.
Me: Wow, this is so much more modern than Ireland!
Libhilde did that reluctantly proud face that only Germans can do and I left her to get on with her day. On my way out, I realised that the last time I’d set foot in an Irish library was probably close to three decades ago and they’d most likely updated things a bit since then. Still, at least I’d made someone’s day.
In case you’re wondering, my €10 gets me a year’s membership and I can use my card in every library in Berlin – there are a lot of them. If I want a book that isn’t at my local library, they can order it for me and I can either pick it up there or they will deliver it to my flat. There is a wonderful website (that I’ve spent half the afternoon playing with), where I can do pretty much everything from the comfort of my own living room. And, in the event I do leave my flat, they even have free toilets – a rarity in Berlin.
This might just be the best €10 I’ve ever spent.