The Joy of Bookshops: Zabriskie, Berlin

Why do we love bookshops? For me there are two main reasons for loving a bookshop, each related to the type of establishment they be. The first is the cavernous hall, or the seemingly endless collection of rooms, with shelves from floor to ceiling. It is, on first glance, overwhelming. It smells of dust and leather and childhood. If you give it time, your explorations will be rewarded. It is a bookshop as a journey of discovery, to see what you might find and take home with you.

The second reason, and the second type of bookshop, is very different. It is a place with a purpose. It is the vision of one, two or a small group of people. It is a reflection of taste, of specific interest or passion. It is a place with identity, beyond simply ‘books’. And this, on a leafy side street in Berlin-Kreuzberg, across the road from a supermarket and a short walk to the banks of the canal and the urban hustle and bustle of Kotbusser Tor, is where we find Zabriskie.

‘You really need to visit Zabriskie… it is exactly our type of place.’

This was Julia, a few weeks ago before we had one of our periodic meetings to see each other face to face and have a chat about Elsewhere before meeting another friend for a drink. We live on opposite sides of the city and do not see each other in person that often. Indeed, Elsewhere in general is a print journal created thanks to the communication possibilities of technology, a throwback publication that needs the 21st century internet to survive. In any case, Zabriskie in Kreuzberg (Julia’s side of the city) had agreed to stock the journal a few months ago and ever since she had been urging me to go and have a look at this bookshop that was ‘exactly our type of place’.

She was, she is (of course) exactly right. 

Zabriskie is the brainchild of Lorena and Jean and is subtitled ‘Buchladen für Kultur und Natur’. Culture and Nature. The small-but-perfectly-formed selection of books reflects the owners’ interests and passions and brings together in English and in German some of our favourite writers. As I browsed their shelves, titled ‘Natural History’, ‘Counterculture’, ‘Utopias’, ‘Travel’ and more, I saw so many of the names that sit on my shelves at home. Solnit, Sebald and Macfarlane. Orwell, Chomsky and Deakin. There were books about identifying wild plants and musical revolution in Brazil, a portrait of Iran and the art of surviving the 1980s. The shelves house William Morris’ News from Nowhere and Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, as well as handbooks for new beginnings and field guides for getting lost. The room is small but it contains worlds, as the best bookshops do and I could have spent hours exploring their selection.

As befitting the first bookshop we have written about on our blog, Zabriskie’s name is itself intrinsically linked with place. Zabriskie Point in Death Valley gives its name to a Michelangelo Antonioni film from 1970 that has this location as a symbol of the soul of the wilderness that is threatened by new real estate development. Fittingly, for a shop that takes its name from one of the cult films of American counterculture, Lorena and Jean describe their bookshop as a place that concerns itself with cultural phenomenon that sit out of the range of the mainstream radar. What is also wonderful is that they not only promote writers of such topics, but they also offer support and visibility to independent publishers and small presses such as ourselves. 

Nature and Culture. When I flick through the first three issues of Elsewhere I think there is a lot of both contained within our pages. It is fantastic that our city houses a bookshop where our journal feels so at home. If you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Berlin, in search of inspiration, you will find it not only in the people, the buildings and the stories of the city, but also on the shelves of Zabriskie. 

Zabriskie (website)
Manteuffelstr. 73, 10999 Berlin (googlemaps)

We love bookshops and we will be profiling some more of our partners who support us by selling Elsewhere in the next couple of months.