German bookseller packing suspense
When Helga Weyhe began work at her beloved bookshop, the Red Army was on the march towards her east German town, Hitler still clung to power and Sartre had just published “No Exit”.
Fast-forward more than seven decades and the remarkably spry 95-year-old, Germany’s oldest bookseller, swats away any talk of retirement, or even slowing down.
Still staffing the store six days a week, Weyhe said books got her through two dictatorships and would see her through her last chapter too.
“I started in 1944 and I’m still here,” she told AFP with a smile, sitting in her back office stacked with handpicked volumes.“I had lots of dreams when I was young but they always involved books.”
Weyhe represents the third generation of her family to run the shop, which has occupied the same spot since 1840.Her grandfather had the caramel-brown shelves built in the 1880s, when Otto von Bismarck ruled Germany.
A tome about the life of the Iron Chancellor is propped among the political biographies, one of the specialties of Weyhe’s eclectic selection ranging from French existentialists to German classics to Hollywood screenplays.
Each volume in the shop carries Weyhe’s endorsement, even if she hasn’t read each cover to cover. She can’t abide the towering identical stacks of the big chain stores.
“You won’t find mystery novels here either, not unless they’re something special,” she said sternly, reserving praise for Agatha Christie and German thriller writer Ingrid Noll.
With World War II still raging, Weyhe started working with her father Walter at his shop that still bears the family name in the half-timbered house where they both were born.
They ran it together under Soviet occupation and the East German communist state (GDR) and she took over in 1965, four years after the regime made them prisoners of the country behind the Iron Curtain.
“In the GDR the most horrible thing was getting used to it all, thinking: ‘I won’t live to see the day things change’,” Weyhe said.
That meant biding her time until East Germany’s official retirement age -- when travel restrictions for citizens were loosened -- before she could go abroad to visit a favorite uncle, who ran a prominent bookshop on New York’s Lexington Avenue.
Although she doesn’t see her shop serving a “missionary” purpose in leading customers away from political extremes, she does make a point of selecting books that open minds.
“In the post-war years I mainly stocked German history books so people here would know what actually happened,” she said.“I simply don’t sell the kind of books now that strengthen the AfD,” she said, pointing to recent bestsellers that whipped up fears of mass migration.