In a city where new discoveries are old hat, it’s hard to believe that finding a hidden gem is still possible.
No prizes for finding the amusing detail in this idyllic scene.
Let’s be honest: the secret hideaways of Berlin are fast becoming common knowledge. The infamous abandoned TB clinics and theme parks are regularly frequented by intrepid explorers; hipster cafes are impossibly full for the Berlin Sunday brunchtime; and if you find yourself haggling for an authentic vintage satchel at a flea market, you will probably have to engage in physical combat with your neighbours. More or less.
But finding something new doesn’t need to be this way; it doesn’t have to involve anything illegal, it doesn’t need to be covered in graffiti, and it doesn’t have to be in the East of Berlin, either. Not that I have anything against those qualities (well, maybe the first) – I love the East as much as any Expat. But in my opinion, consciously avoiding the West on those soul-searching flaneurs is a big mistake. If you really want to be different, stop thinking about what the mainstream is up to and think about what you (yes, you!) have not yet done.
In my case, this was going for a good old-fashioned stroll with a friend down Winterfeldtstrasse in Schöneberg. A mostly quiet district with a reputation for its gay scene, Schöneberg’s gentle trendiness seems bland in the face of its companions of East Berlin. Hence why I usually spend my nights out in randomly furnished bars in Friedrichshain. But this seemingly sleepy corner of Berlin offers abundant pleasures that even the most hardened hipster would enjoy, namely: second-hand bookshops.
Yes, yes. Second-hand books are easy to come by in Berlin, especially in the East: either on shelves in cafés or at the Aladdin’s den of bookshop bargains, Café Tasso, where each book will set you back by a mere euro. But on Winterfeldtstrasse in the West, they have serious stock, guaranteed in quantity and quality. In these, you don’t have to burrow week after week searching for something a little less irrelevant than a guide to nurturing mushroom cultures. The book that you’ve always wanted but have been too stingy to buy full price will probably be waiting for you on top of a neat stack in a Schöneberg Antiquariat.
After being pulled through the shop door by some peculiar magnetic force, my friend and I start browsing in the first bookshop we encounter, barely two minutes walk from Viktoria-Luise-Platz. It has carefully labelled crates outside, and inside the floor-to-ceiling shelves are overflowing but orderly. We wind our way between the displays and squeeze past the only two customers in the four-room shop to get to Psychology, then Theology, then Literature, then Biology, then Music, then …
But I hadn’t needed persuading. I’d already found two gems in a carton outside: 3 euros each. Guiltily ignoring my tight budget, I allowed my joy at my little nerdy discoveries to sweep me to the counter. “Make it five,” said the man, jovially knocking off a euro. Triumph!
Yet my purse barely survived the next half an hour; moving from Winterfeldtstrasse to Eisenacher Strasse, and then onto Nollendorfstrasse, we encountered one, two, three, countless more second-hand book and antique shops. The magnetic force which had acted upon us at the first stop pulled us in, but, with deep regret, we managed to tear ourselves away. It was almost a relief to see the U-Bahn station rather than another tempting boutique.
And this only happened after a total of 13.5 months living in this city. And Winterfeldtstrasse isn’t exactly supposed to be a side alley – it’s actually a pathway to one of the most popular farmer’s market on that side of the wall.
So don’t let the same happen to you: don’t stay in your Kiez, even if it’s cool.