Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Berlin libraries...or: an die Arbeit!

An die Arbeit! = (roughly) Get to work!
So, although the blog may suggest the contrary, I have been working some long days lately. I have been to one archive a few days, getting into the materials I am here to work with, mostly diaries from the end of WWII written by German civilians. Every day I have to spend lots and lots of time sorting through stuff, requesting materials from the archive and then sorting through it to see if it's useful. But each visit I usually discover a few things that stay in my mind. Sometimes it's really depressing stuff, sometimes it's fascinating or just interesting. One woman's job after the war was to sort out books in the school, and remove all the books published after 1933 (when the Nazis came to power). One young girl was going to the movies just about every day in March-early April of 1945, and writing in her diary each film she saw, while many other Germans were really struggling to survive and were being bombed regularly and living in the air raid shelters. They write about their first impressions of the Americans, and one girl writes that a soldier pulled over on the road where she was walking and asked her "Will you sleep with me for chocolate?" She ran away...but still describes later flirting with other soldiers. Others write about the arrival of the Russians, which was overall much more violent and a more emotional victory.  Anyways, I am presenting my work on Friday and again in two weeks, so I am very busy.

A few words on German libraries: Michael and I also have been working at the Philologische Bibliothek at the Freie Universität (top and right photos). It is nicknamed "the brain" because of its shape. It's a nice and modern library, with good lighting and space to work, and you can actually access the stacks (instead of ordering a book for a librarian to go fetch for you), which is not so common in German libraries.

We also went to the StaBi (Staatsbibliothek), which is HUGE, and paid 25 EUR for  year-long library privileges.  (pictures below of this amazing space/building) We will still use our US libraries for ordering journal articles and book chapters, but here we can also check out books and use the reading room to study. We took a little tour of the library to help navigate the various check-out areas and processes, and the woman also explained a little bit about the history. There are two main branches, for what used to be East and West Berlin (Unter den Linden / Potsdamer Platz). Of course today they are linked and you can have books sent from one branch to the other, but it's interesting to hear about how the collection was divided after the war, and how some books have been lost in the process.

pictures from:
Both these libraries are very strict with what you can bring in. You get a clear plastic bag to put your belongings in and you lock your coat/bag in a locker outside. You can't take in any food or drink, even water! So you have to leave the library to have a snack or drink water. (P.S. Germany has NOOOO public water fountains.)

Also, at the StaBi you can't directly access any of the collection. You have to order what you want online, and it will be there after a few hours, or the next day if you order it late. You then enter a little area and find the book according to a number, and then go to circulation to check it out. But you can imagine us working hard in this awesome place! :)

Even at the public library, the local Berlin one, I had to pay 5 EUR for a membership. I know it's not much, but it's the principle. I like how in the US we have pretty good local libraries and they're free. Also, the closest local branch to me is the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek (below), which was sponsored by the Americans after the Berlin Air Lift, to promote freedom and democracy.
the plaque below, about the foundation of the library, is a quote from Jefferson about the "unlimited freedom of the human spirit"...about "truth" and "reason"
Added 10/13: Thanks to Nic for reminding me of this clip from Wings of Desire. The main character walks through the StaBi and can hear the thoughts of all the people reading. Amazing.


  1. I love that you have a post on libraries :D

  2. Oh, Jessica, me, too! And these are BEAUTIFUL. water fountains...a germ thing?

    taking out books published after 1933...were they destroyed? are there fewer books from this time? were they saved somewhere? ...interesting

  3. Yeah, great libraries. :)

    Water fountains: I don't think because of germs. They just don't drink water like we do. Not sure why...but you have to pay for water or bring your own everywhere. Restaurants don't put tap water on the table for you, even gyms don't have public water fountains. Strange. (Native Germans? Warum?)

    About the books after 1933: this was about school books. She was cleaning out a school library, so I am sure they were destroyed. Especially school books were very ideological. About literature, there are fewer (good) books from this time. most of Germany's great authors were in exile.