Much as the vinyl record, the now ‘iconic’ flip phone and old-style photo booths, the book has never left Berlin’s streets.

Lately, I have observed a new tendency among digital professionals to bring a book to their morning coffee or lunch break – providing a welcome buffer against the ever-blinking phone, a rest for screen-tired eyes and last not least, the blissful escapism that reading a good book entails.

Wikipedia describes the book as “a medium for recording information in the form of writing or images, typically composed of many pages bound together and protected by a cover”. But it is so much more than that. A book can either entertain, educate and/or inspire and it forms a bridge of communication between two minds – the one of the writer and the one of the reader. Now, while acquiring the new edition of your favorite author can cost you a fortune, in Berlin there is always a way of simply picking up a book in the street for free, usually in good condition.

Cornelia Brelowski: Read and Let Read

To a good home – detail of the book tree in Sredzkistraße, Prenzlauer Berg.

The Tauschmobil translates as ‘share vehicle’ and is available every Saturday morning at the end of the weekly market at Seelower Straße in Prenzlauer Berg. It is a non-profit which accepts books as well as clothes and household items as donations – and in turn offers any passerby the chance to browse through said items and – on finding something of interest – to take it home for free. I recently found a well-preserved paperback on a very specific topic there, namely on the philosophy of the indigenous nation of the Oglala Lakota. What are the chances? It became just the right birthday present for a much-delighted friend who is an expert in the field.

At the opposite end of the same borough, in the renowned Kollwitz-Kiez, the observant wanderer may stumble upon the surprising sight of a book tree – which is indeed a carved-out tree that houses literary gifts offered by Berlin citizens to a good home. Conveniently, it is located right by the well-visited Anna Blume café which doubles as a flower shop, where you can sit down and read your new find with a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade cake.

Cornelia Brelowski: Read and Let Read

Left: The Bücherwald concept is part of the worldwide ‘bookcrossing movement’. Right: Book booth in Reinickendorf.

Lübars is a dreamy, green historical village in Berlin’s northern suburbs. Always worth a visit, the architecture of the village center throws you back to either the Biedermeier era, or the Fifties respectively. Near the old village church, a former pay phone (remember those?) was turned into a free book booth. My walking companion found a minor-known Francoise Sagan novel there, which she immediately proceeded to read with glee.

In the end, it is not so much about the finds being free of charge – if you choose to step into your Pippi Longstocking’s ‘thing-finder’ mode, you may be surprised at the quality of the free gifts Berliners choose to pass on to a like-minded soul.

Berlin Notes: Town of coffee

Photo: Coline Mattée

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