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Berlin and the Books

(Translation by Andrew Fentem)

You told me to leave Mylos. You told me to visit Berlin. I left Mylos and visited Berlin.

I never lived in Mylos of course. But for Mylos, read Stevenage, a town in the south of England where I worked for a year and where my lot was comparable to the workers of Mylos. These workers, as we are told in The Road to Armilia, were literally chained to the tools of production, eventually ending up being integrated into the machines themselves. It was hard going for anybody who actually wanted to remain human, such as little Friedrich, whose books were discovered one day by his superiors and thrown onto the fire. You told me to stay human. I left Stevenage – that Mylos of the south - and returned north, to near Liverpool, and Wales.

It was you who told me that the City of Books passed through Berlin, and that I should take a trip over there. So I took a flight from Liverpool to Berlin and got myself over there. The books were a civil institution over there, you told me. So I combed every inch of the city in search of any signs, the slightest hint, perhaps even the narrowest of passages, that might just lead me to the City of Books. I began with the remains of a wall - not a wall of books, but of concrete. It had certainly made the headlines in the past and when it fell down fifteen years ago, it even opened up a new chapter in history, so I just had to have a closer look. I couldn’t miss the River Spree either, and I went walking across its many bridges. In front of one of them, near Mehringplatz I noticed a sculpture in the shape of a tree, made from actual books. A short while later I visited the Staatsbibliothek near the Tiergarten, the large city park, then spent several more hours pacing up and down still more endless rows of books at the other Staatsbibliothek on Unter den Linden, this time in the former East Berlin. I went the few metres to the Humboldt Univerity, outside of which there were some people selling books.

There must be some secrets to discover in these places, I thought. But to tell the truth, neither at the at the university, nor anywhere else, did I find just what it was that was enticing me towards the City of Books. Maybe I missed something I ought to have seen, or perhaps I’m just not looking in the right way. Just what is it that you want me to find?

Leaving the university, I crossed the short distance to Bebelplatz. It was here, on the 10th May 1933, that the Nazi regime burned twenty-five thousand books by authors they considered to be enemies of the Third Reich. Not knowing where to look, I went a few paces further before, finally, in the centre of square, my gaze came to rest on a transparent glass window at ground level; under the window I could see an underground room with walls containing nothing but bookshelves, each one completely white and empty and, nearby, a short inscription that read:

“Where one begins by burning books, one will end up burning people.” Heinrich Heine 1797-1856

Vincent Fransolet