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Culture

Coffee, Cigarettes and Classics on Tape

Cologne's Hörbar is part of a growing stable of new bars in Germany where book fans gather to get their aural fix with audio books, radio plays and a frothy latte.

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Hörbar offers books on tape, booze and more.

On one recent evening, Hörbar owner Carsten Tölke, 29, hosted a live reading of "Monsieur Abraham and the Flowers of the Quran" to a packed house. But that's really nothing new, since crowds have been swarming to get their fill of books on tape in a group setting since Hörbar opened at the end of November.

The name is a play on words in German. "Hörbar" means "audible," or is could interpreted as something like "listening bar."

Listening bars like Hörbar are a growing trend in Germany, with similar establishments also doing brisk business in Berlin and Hamburg.

"First, I think this is part of a revival trend in Germany right now," he told Deutsche Welle, explaining his recipe for success. "Audio books and dramas are still a vivid part of many people's childhood memories. Secondly, I think our stimuli are oversaturated through the Internet and mobile phones. On every corner and very edge you're bombarded ... it's sensory overload. But here you can really just sit and focus on listening and, of course, escaping a bit into your fantasies."

Red sofas and a thousand pleasures

Hörbar in Köln

Hörbar in Cologne

At Hörbar, which resembles more a living room more than an actual bar with its red sofas and arm chairs, guests can find refuge from the sensory din outside and just focus on sound of the spoken voice. Owner Tölke makes some 1,600 audio books and radio plays available to customers on a given day.

And they love the place.

"The setting really helped me capture the atmosphere (of the audio)," said Sandra Staudenrausch. "I could hear the audio really well and I was able to get completely absorbed in it."

During the afternoon, guests get to choose the selection that gets played in the bar, but during the evening there's a set program of works ranging from horrors stories like "Jack the Ripper" to fantasies like "Lord of the Rings" and classics like "Dracula." Every genre is represented and according to Tölke, customers at Hörbar are just as diverse as the productions that get played.

"It's really a random group of people who come," he said, "from 16-year-old teens to 80-year-old grandfathers who can remember radio plays from the early days of broadcasting. A large number of blind people also come. And for them, coming here really does follow our motto: 'Cinema for the Ears'."

Live and unplugged

The cafe is also home to a number of live productions, like tonight's production of "Monsieur Ibrahim," which is being staged by the group Hörmacher 04. The four actors have textured their live version of the best-selling Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt book with rich music. But that's not the only attraction for visitors.

"What I really like is that when you watch people read, you get the feeling that you're sharing a private and intimate moment," says Lilia Lehner, an actress with Hörmacher 04. "People grimace and make huge gestures that just can't be captured in a recording. It takes it to another, much richer, level."

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