My favorite Bookstore closes shop and i'm sad
My favorite bookstore in Berlin closes shop and i'm sad. The Bücherhalle (which translates to “bookhall” in english) is and soon was such a great store for handpicked used books with a quite unique selection of age old classics and nonfiction from anthropology to film theory, from anarchism to esoterics, from architecture to history, from philosophy to economics, all of them, mostly, in paperbacks.
If you’re in Berlin, they’re located in the Hauptstraße 154, 10827 Berlin-Schöneberg, one hundred meters away from subway station Kleistpark. It’s right next to the former appartment of David Bowie, here’s a link to Google Maps.
They’re pushing out all books with a 50% discount right now, and they’re definitely worth it if you like used books.
They were/are low on fiction, but they always carried some of the classics. I bought some Raymond Chandler crime novels some years ago together with a german edition of “Raymond Chandler on Writing”, all of these for 5 bucks. I bought Berthold Brechts diaries in two books for 4€, and a near complete set of books covering world history in a set of 32 volumes for 1€ each. Once i bought so many books there when i was on an extended anthropology trip, i carried them out with two bags, 50 books or so, for 80 euros.
The store is/was run by an elderly couple with a unique taste and range, and they didn’t buy everything. You could find Neil Postmans Amusing Ourselves to Death besides books about the history of palmistry, the pseudoscience of telling the future from your hands, they carried hundreds of books on theories in the humanities, featuring classics like Claude Lévi-Strauss’ The Savage Mind and his Mythologiques, Focaults The History of Sexuality, or some travel reports from Jacques Derrida in non-used quality which they got somehow directly from the printer.
I also bought all four german first editions of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy there, printed in four different colors. If i’d be rich, i would’ve bought the whole shop at one point, just to own all of this, maybe minus some of the more blatant esoterics like Dänekens pre-astronautics because seriously who reads this.
I discovered the Bücherhalle maybe 8 years ago, and i must have bought hundreds of books there. It was clear to me that at one point, they had to close up. Said couple were in their seventies, they always complained about business and that nobody reads books anymore, but i always hoped they’d find a successor who takes over. But nope.
Corona hit them especially hard, and now they’ll be gone within this month, and it makes me sad. Very.
So I did what i always did when i went there and bought 3 million books on history, sociology, philosophy, geology, neuroscience, dreams, jesters, design, evolution, the noosphere, information theory and so much more, most for 2-3 euro each, some for under a buck.
Globally, the sales of books are stable or even rising, but when young adult fantasy bestsellers are adding the much needed figures to keep the book industry running, this shop was very much the opposite of the spectrum. No crappy cheap YA fantasy that’s always, always the same, only sparsely scifi and thrillers too, some crime but a main focus on the outlandish, the interesting, the beautiful, the academic, the old and outdated, the weird and the bizarre. None of this sells on TikTok, and now my favorite bookshop is gone.
Here are some of them, to give you a taste of the quirkyness in these old, used books and how tastefully weird a bookshop can be, some of the quirky, cool, strange, interesting stuff i bought in my last haul, with some added thoughts where i have some, and let’s start with two visual candyfests:
Film Kunst Grafik translates to, well, Film Art Graphics, and it’s “A book for the new german graphic design in film of the 1960s”. In it, you can find all sorts of poster design-works, mostly for filmfestivals back then, and it looks like this:
What an absolute gem, i’m all over the moon with this one.
Today’s filmposter design is… not very good, at least when it comes to the commercial ones you can see hanging in the cinema, and Netflix just sucks at posters. The designwork for festival posters is, sometimes, pretty awesome, and, sometimes, you can find some more excentricly designed posters on Impawards when it comes to more arthousey films, like this one for Poor Things for instance. But most filmposters today suck, and none, not even the good ones, come close to the design of the 60s, when swiss minimalist typography went mainstream and clashed with new production methods in print like the new method for transfer lettering system from Letraset.
This book is full of this stuff, a feast for the eyes, and i bought it for a stunning 5 euros, together with the next one the most expensive books i bought there.
David Carsons The End of Print is the classic when it comes to experimental typography of the 90s.
I owned this back then when it came out, but i lost my copy when i moved to Berlin and didn’t bother too much to buy it again because i didn’t work as a graphic designer since 2008 and so i always thought, if i ever settle down sometime, i can always buy it again.
Carson was a surfer turned typographer who reinvented experimental type, did away with all the rules and gave a shit about readability. First in the surfer magazine Beach Culture and then in experimental music mag Raygun from 1992 on, he was given total freedom as an art director, which he used to its fullest extend. The result was a new graphic design aesthetic that resembled grunge and gave that sonic revolution in pop a graphic counterpart.
I bought this classic, too, for 5 buck which is a criminal low price for this.
Left to right, top to bottom:
Norbert Bischofs Das Rätsel des Ödipus (The Oedipus Riddle) is a groundbreaking work in psychology about a biological barrier for incest and at a whopping 600 pages, it seems to be a meandering trip through mythology, biology, sexuality and psychology.
Paul Watzlawik - Die erfundene Wirklichkeit (The invented Reality) is a collection of essays on constructivism and how we build reality in our minds. Watzlawick himself writes 30 pages on the “Building blocks of ideological realities”, which seems one of the most appealing entries in this one regarding my interest in memetics.
Michael Hauskellers Mögliche Welten (Possible Worlds) is a trip through the history of philosophy and describes some of the more outlandish ideas, or what Hauskeller thinks is outlandish. Not sure about this one, but i grabbed it for a buck.
Am Fluß des Heraklit (At the River of Heraclitus) edited by Eberhard Sens collects texts and essays on cosmology with an eclectic group of authors ranging from Goethe and Hölderin to Rupert Sheldrake and Lewis Carroll, writing about the “resonance of existence” and how “everything is one”. This seems to be one of those books i love finding in this shop, weird science writing in historical contexts edging on esoterics, but not crossing over into bullshit. Should be fun.
Dieter Wellershoffs Wahrnehmung und Phantasie (Perception and Fantasy) is a collection of essays on literature and writing. I know that Wellershoff has some interesting theories on fictionality and escapism, and this is what i hope to find in this book, given that with the web we basically invented one giant editable space for fictionalities and made it our main perceptive media machine.
Robert Spaemanns Ethik-Lesebuch von Platon bis Heute (Ethics-Reader from Plato to today) is pretty straightforward. Not sure how interesting this one will be.
Alfred Gierers Die gedachte Natur (The thought up Nature) on the roots and the history of natural sciences, scientific thinking and the development of theories.
Andreas Senkter - Wie kommt die Welt in den Kopf? (How does the world enter your head?), “a travel to the working places of researchers of consciousness”, including visits and interviews with David Chalmers and Daniel Dennett. The book is from 1998 so it’s surely kind of out of date, but it should be interesting nevertheless.
Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel Dennetts Einsicht ins Ich (The Mind’s I) is a collection of writings on consciousness, the self and the mind from authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Alan Turing, Richard Dawkins, Stanisław Lem, accompanied with commentary by Hofstadter and Dennett. It seems to be kind of a companion book to Hofstadters Gödel, Escher, Bach which i haven’t read (yet) and which i want to read before this one.
Pierre Teilhard De Chardins Die Entstehung des Menschen (Man's Place in Nature) is a companion book to his famous The Phenomenon of Man in which he lays down his theory of evolution and the noosphere, a concept of an evolution converging towards a singularity in which all conscious matter fuses into a semi-divine being. I read Phenomenon after i read Dan Simmons Hyperion, and these theories are mighty interesting if you want to find out the background some transhumanist thinking, you know, the guys who think we’ll merge with AI. I don’t buy this idea, but it’s fascinating as hell.
John F. Mortimers Henker (Executioners) is a “document of human cruelty” and collects historical documents on death sentences and the people who execute them. It wants to show the history and the psychology of executioners, and i have a morbid interest in that. I usually despise real crime stuff, but for psychological history lessons, i’ll make an exception.
Maurice Levers Zepter und Schellenkappe (Scepter and Fool’s Cap) is a history of the court jester, the royal fun makers, which is also the roots of comedy and modern trolling. I’m looking forward to this one as i was involved with troll culture for some time and i know people who excuse psychopathic behavior on the web (admittedly the most harmful of all forms of trolling) with arguments ranging from “You can’t do anything and trolls gonna troll” and “They’re harmless jesters”, both of which is wrong. I think this book can give me some additional historic fodder strengthening my arguments.
Speaking of trolls, Alfonso di Nolas Der Teufel (The Devil) is a 400 page tomb on the emergence of the demonic, the psychological history of the devil and satanic symbolism in all cultures, from Mesopotamia to ancient Greek to Rome to Christianity to today. This gonna be fun and i already love it.
Speaking of the devil, Christian Neuhäusers Unternehmen als moralische Akteure (Corporations as moral actors) researches the status of corporate personhood as defacto rulers of societies and the responsibilities that comes with that status and how corruption and greed undermine these responsibilities, resulting in desastrous consequences for society. I’m already convinced and this book is preaching to the choir here, but it should be an interesting read anyways. For people who enjoyed The Corporation and The New Corporation documentaries like i did.
Rainer Werner Fassbinders Filme befreien den Kopf (Movies free your mind) is a collection of essays and notes by the famed german director from whom i’ve ironically not seen very much yet. I’ve seen Welt am Draht (World on Wire) and Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), which are among his most famous films, but i have a bunch of his movies in my collection and when i come around, this book will make an interesting read.
Joachim Körbers J.G. Ballard - Der Visionär des Phantastischen (J.G. Ballard, visionary of the phantastic) is a collection of essays on J.G. Ballard, aswell as shortstories and nonfiction writings by the man hiself. Körber is a well known figure in german scifi and was an editor at Heyne Verlags scifi section, where he issued various collections of horror and scifi-writings. He also translated pretty much all Stephen King books in the 80s. I’m not that big of a fan of Ballards writing style, but i do love his weird ideas fusing architecture, urban structures and outlandish scifi ideas, and i think i’m gonna love this book.
Rainer Becks Der Tod Lesebuch (Death-reader) is a bundle of classic writings on, well, death, biting the bucket, the grim reaper, rot, the end, nada, fin, done, gone. It collects writings from classics such as Platon, Goethe, René Girard, the Gilgamesh epic, Max Weber, Foucault, Barthes, Andy Warhol and Wilhelm Busch and i think i’ll read this in tandem with the book on executioners for some extra morbid sensations.
Joachim-Ernst Berendts Nada Brahma - Die Welt ist Klang (The World is Sound) is a philosophical book by a famed german professor for music theory and Jazz, and here he tries his hand at developing a unifying theory of existence as harmony and resonance, fusing music theory and the physics of accoustics to a sort-of epistemology of sound. I’m already a fan.
Louise B. Youngs Die Selbstschöpfung des Universums (The Unfinished Universe) presents a new theory of the universe that does away with entropy and claims that order in the universe is constantly increasing. Actually, i think there’s something to this thinking and like Sabine Hossenfelder, I’m inclined to not believe the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I don’t think that entropy increases in the large picture and i already wrote in my weird superspeculative memetic “theory” about why that might be the case. So I’m very intrigued by this book, and it sounds like an update on the noosphere from Teilhard De Chardin.
Henning Genz’ Die Entdeckung des Nichts (The Discovery of Nothing) is a book about vacuums and absence and quantum physics. I was hoping for a more philosophical book on nothingness, but this seems to be more scientific and physics. I’ll take it anyways.
James Monacos Film verstehen (How to read a film) from 1977 is a by now surely outdated standard textbook on how to make and analyse a movie. Its an all encompassing work about the “art, technology, language, history and theory of film” and it features pretty much everything from semiotics of moving images to the economics of how to make them. I always was interested in movie making, and i think this gonna be interesting at least in part because it is technologically outdated.
Traumgeschichten (Dream Stories) collected by Jutta Freund is a shortstory collection revolving around, well, dreams, and features no less than 69 stories from the likes of Oscar Wilde, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Jorge Luis Borges, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Mann, Max Frisch, Truman Capote, Novalis, Dostojewski and many others. I’m interested in everything brains and minds, and shortstories from lit-history about dreams are right up my alley.
Egon Fridells Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit (Cultural History of the Modern Period) is an epochal history book in two volumes on a whopping 1800 pages or so, covering everything from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. I have a ton of other history books on my PUB (pile of unread books) which i want to read before, but i love having this in my anti-library.
Norbert Elias’ Über den Prozess der Zivilisation (The Civilizing Process) is a famed work of sociology in which he painstakingly documents the historic development of social attitudes regarding violence, sex, table manners or speech, and how those resulted in increasingly complex social networks which enabled the creation of the modern nation state. As with Fridells work above, i’ll postpone this two-volume tome for later, but love owning it for the price of 2 bucks each volume for which i feel slightly ashamed.
Volker Klotz’ Das europäische Volksmärchen (The european Fairytale) is a history of the fairytale as a literary genre, covering everything from it’s roots in orally transmitted folk tales to the “stories of wonder” in romanticism. I love fairytales as they are the roots of the genre lit which is best described by the french term Fantastique, and where modern scifi, fantasy, magical realism and horror stem from.
Gunter Gebauer and Christoph Wulfs Mimesis is an encyclopedia on the concept of imitation, about imitation as fiction, about imitations as a social tool, about imitation as a form of power in the presentation of the state, imitation as perception of the world, imitation as everything. I’m highly interested in mimesis because it’s the root of memetics (no meme spreads which we don’t desire to imitate, in geradian terms), and this gonna be a long, dense, theory packed, absolutely-not-easy read.
Rüdiger Safranskis Romantik (Romanticism) is a history of the titular era and having just read Andrea Wulfs fantastic book about it, and given that Safranskis is one of germanys best writers on the history of philosophy, i’m very much looking forward to tackling this one, last not least because i think idealism, basically the idea that everything is mind, is bound to make a comeback in this day and age.
Solomonica de Winters Das Gesetz der Natur (Natural Law) is a 2022 novel about humans in a postapocalyptic world without written records, in which reading is the rare gift of a few survivors and the heroine wants to find the last remaining books on earth. One of the few fiction books i bought in this haul and i liked the blurb of the story so i grabbed it.
Eric Kandels Auf der Suche nach dem Gedächtnis (In Search of Memory) is a biography about “the rock star of neuroscience and the most important brain researcher of the 20th century” and it was a, uhm, nobrainer to buy this one. There’s also a documentary of the same name, which i haven’t seen yet.
Jeremy Haywards Die Erforschung der Innenwelt (Shifting Worlds, Changing Minds: Where the Sciences and Buddhism Meet) tries a synthesis of western (neuro)science and buddhist meditation practice in a theory of perception. I’m very convinced that the intuitions of buddhism (which some people don’t see as a religion at all), that everything is one and consciousness and the self are illusions which stand in the way of perception of reality (meditation is an exercice to get rid of those illusions) are pretty spot on, and i’m looking forward to reading this.
Robert Clairbornes Die Erfindung der Schrift (The Invention of Writing) is a small 150 page Time Life-book on writing systems and alphabets from 1974. It’s clearly outdated and as i’ve read a bunch of books on the topic, i don’t think i’ll learn anything new or even read it. But i kind of collect books on writing systems, so i buy any used book on the topic i see, so i grabbed this.
Rüdiger Safranskis Schopenhauer und die wilden Jahre der Philosophie (Schopenhauer and the wild years of Philosophy) is a biography of the titular Schopenhauer, the pessimist of the romantic era. I already read Safranskis book on Nietzsche some years ago and it was just great, and i’ll read his take on Schopenhauer after his book on romanticism mentioned above.
Uroš J. Jovanovićs Schlaf und Traum (Sleep and Dream) is an in depth study of all things sleepy from 1974. I’m not sure i’ll read it in full because it’s full of neuroscientific data and slang, but i’ll skip through and like having it.
Berthold Brechts Der Kinnhaken (The Uppercut) is a book about boxing and sports as a spectacle in archaic fighting and it’s, for me at least, kind of an outlier in Brechts work. I haven’t read too much from Brecht, but i did read his most famous works in school and reread his Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) in it’s novelized version recently. I like Brecht, and this one is just kind of an outlier because i always thought that his writing has a punch. So I think i’ll enjoy this one. Also, my father was a boxer, and even when he was no reader of books, I guess he would’ve liked this one.
Knut Hamsuns Hunger: I read Hamsuns Growth of the Soil last year and i loved it, but he’s most famous for this one, which was his first success as a writer and his breakthrough. It’s about a writer driven to insanity by starving. I already owned a copy of this one, but lost it due to water damage which sucks. Then i found it at the Bücherhalle sale for €1,50 in excellent condition and now i own it again.
Hans Joachim Schulz Science Fiction is a history of the genre from Edgar Allan Poe to the early 80s. We’ll see if i can learn anything new from this.
Béla Kékis 5000 Jahre Schrift (5000 years of writing) is, like Invention of Writing above, an outdated book on the history of it’s subject, and i bought this because i collect these books.
Volker Spierlings Kleine Geschichte der Philosophie (A small history of Philosophy) collects 50 portraits of famous thinkers from Thales and Diogenes to Bacon and Spinoza to Popper and Adorno. I’m a sucker for the history of philosophy and i guess i’ll like it.
Wolfgang Promies’ Der Bürger und der Narr, oder das Risiko der Phantasie (The Citizen and the Jester, or the risk of fantasy) is about “the irrational in literature or rationalism”, the grotesque during the age of enlightenment, and our urge for the absurd. It contrasts rationality and enlightenment with the figure of the court jester, and seems to be an early book (1966) about exaggerated scientism. I bought this for its interest in the absurd and the grotesque, and because i already grabbed a book about jesters.
Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrinks Die “Bastille” (The “Bastille”) is about the history of political symbolism and uses the french Bastille, which became the symbol for the french revolution, as a, well, symbol for his story about semiotics in political narratives. I’m highly interested in this one because i’ve read my share of Jan Assmanns writings about monuments and buildings as symbols in collective memory formation, and this should be very compatible to that topic.
That’s it. That was my last Bücherhalle-haul. There are other stores for used books in Berlin, but none of those i’ve seen can keep up with the weird, cool, highly interesting, eclectic mix of topics sold in this bookstore, run by an elderly couple in Berlin. I’ll miss this shop.
So goodnite, Bücherhalle, and thanks for all the pages.
When i'll read all those gems, i don't know. I am surrounded by books, they are everywhere. I have enough reading material for 5000 years, and if you knew where i live and under which circumstances, you'd figure it's outright bizzare that i have a small library here. But if you'd knew where i live and under which circumstances, you may also think, like me, that it's pretty awesome that i have a small library here, in this place.
So let's end this post on a lost bookseller with the only two conclusions left to draw: Read and buy more books, and support your local library.