My second day in Berlin I stumbled quite accidentally on Shakespeare & Sons in Friedrichshain. I was actually on my way back from a different English bookshop in Neukölln, when the bright yellow open drawers full of paperbacks spilling out from the shop caught my attention. Inside, the store is well-lit and organized, with German- and Berlin-themed reads featured prominently as you walk in the door (among them, the required reading of Anna Funder’s Stasiland and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin novels). To the right, there is a coffee and bagel counter, and a little bar against the window. I was doubtful at best about the caliber of bagels that would be available so far from New York City. Thankfully, a little goat cheese and honey on a zatar bagel (still not really sure what zatar is) satisfied my hunger and homesickness.
The dining area consists of about eight tables, neatly lined up a few steps above the main floor in front of the windows. The massive fiction section wraps around this area, interrupted only by a few shelves of poetry, drama, politics, sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, and a small selection of French works. Everything is organized alphabetically, and either the patrons here are especially attentive to detail, or the workers actual maintain the organization regularly.
The wifi is reliable, although the outlets are limited to a power strip by the floor lamp. Luckily, I am an expert hoverer and have been able to secure the table next to the lab every time.
Staying at the Sunflower Hostel a few blocks away, the store became my working space oasis. I visited several times a week for the month I was in F’hain. I love the cleanliness and the order and the sound of new book spines cracking open.
Book browsing here is almost too easy. It feels so natural to start with the A’s and move right down the wall, piling up the Egan, Franzen, Morrison, Sedaris, and Vonnegut. Come here to find those literary staples you didn’t have room to fit in your suitcase.
In Prenzlauerberg, Shakespeare & Sons has another store with the same name and a different vibe. This one is more cozy, with rugs and mismatched shelves and furniture instead of sleek, hardwood floors and wide, clean, glass windows.
The front two rooms have most of the same books as the partner store—all new and primarily paperback. But there is a large back room in Prenzlauerberg filled with used books and cushy chairs and couches. I spent several hours with my books and computer spread out on one of these couches and was reminded of working in the Walker Room at my college library, surrounded by vintage leather-bound books and Tiffany lamps. Granted, here I only saw one small shelf of leather-bound books that did not appear to be for sale, and not one Tiffany lamp, but still. The atmosphere was cozy and familiar.
At F’hain, I studied German and wrote blog posts. In P’berg, I read poems and eeked out beginnings of stories. I’m not sure if the people who operate Shakespeare & Sons realize that they’ve got two very different bookstores on their hands, but I’m glad they do. I’d recommend them both, depending on the vibe you’re looking for. But if you only have time for one, the cappuccino is 30 cents cheaper in Prenzlauerberg.