Type "Amazon Brazil" into Google and the results list new books above the ancient rainforest. But as Tamsin Walker discovers, Berlin's independent booksellers are writing a new chapter in the history of the printed word.
Lost in Berlin's bookshops
I love books. I love reading them. I love writing them (very slowly - don't watch this space). By the same token, I love - and yes, I'm aware that my amorous side is coming to the fore here - bookshops. The minute I cross the threshold, I'm transported into the beckoning worlds of possibility that line the shelves. They are places of comfort and calm.
A contrast, then, to the tiny phone screens which have become gateways to more printed pages than we will ever be able to imbibe. But before I write myself up onto a high horse, I'd better come clean. I have not always been loyal to my love of the small book store, but have all too often joined the global legions who increasingly lend their affection to the big, not-so-friendly-giant we call Amazon.
In some places, where said giant has already made short work of its short competitors, a lack of alternatives might actually be an excuse. But I don't really have one. Here in Berlin, there are four independent bookstores within a 10-minute walk of my front door. And that's slim pickings compared to other parts of the city.
A bit further south in Berlin's beloved Prenzlauer Berg district, which long dined out, or perhaps it was in, on tales of being home to more babies than anywhere else in Germany, the competition is even stronger. These days, the borough could possibly make a similar claim about independent book shops. My research says there are at least 20 within its 11-square-kilometer boundaries.
It seems almost impossible that they can all survive. But they do. Largely, it seems because they curate their stock in the same way a museum does its exhibits, thereby ensuring a degree of individuality that keeps people coming back for more.
Katharina von Uslar, co-owner of one of the places I went to on my turn-over-a-new-leaf tour, says Berliners can easily come to regard book stores with the same sense of ownership as they do their favorite cafe or restaurant.
Her place, which is pretty slick, has made a thing of interesting literary events and overtly trades on personal taste. By her own admission, their selection is completely subjective and their motto is not to try and please all the people any of the time.
In that spirit, she and her co-owner stock and sell what they're interested in, and don't bother with the rest. Luckily for me, that includes a good selection of English books. I know, I know, that old chestnut.
Now that my application for German citizenship is almost complete, I guess it really is time for me to start reading in the local tongue. And I will. Just as soon as I take possession of my ID card. And in the meantime, I have found plenty I'm happy to read in the carefully chosen English sections of this city's bounteous book stores. The end.