Not interested in the mainstream? Neither is Auge Lorenz, the owner of Renate, Germany's only comic library. He's busy looking for the hidden pearls.
Renate, Berlin's comic library is looking for the next great German superhero.
Every Japanese child is familiar with "Raamen" -- the basic, but ever popular, noodle soup. This instant brew is part of a "Starter" offered to the fans of mangas (Japanese comic series) who flock to Renate, Germany's only comic book library, which is located on Tucholskystrasse in Berlin's trendy Mitte neighborhood.
The complimentary noodles, however, aren't the only thing the fans are hungry for. Anime, a short film incorporating Manga-style heroes, is the main draw. Devotees are free to peruse the stacks and indulge their passion for eastern-style comics, and many hang round for the evening screenings of Anime.
"The Noodle Negoations, Part. 2"
"During the day I leaf through Mangas over a cup of tea," says one frequent visitor, "in the evening, there's soup and Animes!"
Classics and curiosities
For newly-minted manga enthusiasts making their first visit to the library -- the interior is filled with enormous dragon balls and other figures from cult Anime programs -- it's clear that the comic world has a lot more to offer than the usual Disney variety. Emphasizing this point is the goal of "Auge" Lorenz, Renate's owner and founder.
"Every child in the world in familiar with Asterix and Mickey Mouse," says Lorenz. "But there's so much more to discover, which is every bit as exciting -- if not a bit more unusual." He aims to bring the culture of comics to a wider audience and, thus, is more interested "in the little pearls than the mainstream."
Lorenz has quite an assortment on offer: over 5,000 comic books line the shelves and a further 5,000 are available for loan. All genres likely to send the hearts of manga fans aflutter are represented here, from the classic to the curious, the well-known to the insider's secrets.
"Mr. Auge Lorenz"
Auge, a.k.a. Peter, has long since not answered to his given name -- not since he started drawing comics himself. (He is the creator of the series "Novoman" and "Ravi.") Today he uses that insider knowledge to pontificate on the finer points of Manga history with lectures entitled "Comics for Beginners," "Nazis in Comics" und "Superheroes." A former punk in his late thirties with scruffy bleach blond hair, he can be found in the shop most days.
The manga in you
Renate is not just a gathering place for readers: many of the frequent visitors, like Lorenz himself, are comic book creators who are well known in the Berlin scene. Bernd Schmucker, for example, has been the creative force behind "Nettman," a strip in the "Magazin der Haupstadt," for the last 10 years.
The accommodating Nettman is a departure from the usual superhero mould: he brings out the trash, helps pregnant women cross the street and ensures good behavior. His only weakness seems to be his inability to be punctual. Nettman planned on world domination by the year 2001, at least according to his homepage. As yet, he's still working on it.
Lorenz is now hoping to inspire others to create; he is collecting stories in a large over-sized, limited-edition format called "Rorschach." "Your creations will be published," proclaims a prominent sign that has been hanging on a wooden box outside the shop for several weeks.
True to it's name, this is "art on the fly." Spontaneous doodles -- in the tradition of the ink free-association drawings of the famous psychologist Hermann Rorschach -- are being gathered. The next great manga phenomenon could start with a doodle in Mitte. (But for those who can't make their way to Berlin, submissions are also being accepted by mail.)