America Memorial Library: Goethe, Wi-Fi and the dinosaurs

Everyone is allowed in, no one bothers, everyone should do their thing: why a Berlin library is more than just a place to borrow books


He goes in the direction of religion, in his territory. He pushes a small ladder with rollers in front of him. He goes and pushes through empty corridors. There are no visitors in the library yet. It's just after eight.

Roman Draeger turns behind the philosophy, turn right, and dives in between two book walls. He walks to the end of the row of shelves, where there is a box, inside those books that customers have returned the day before. Roman Draeger, 30, sorts them back in, each one in its place. That's his job.

The first book of the day is titled Shinjinmei and Shôdôka: The Lion's Roar of Fearless Doctrine, Signature Rel. 153 65. He climbs the ladder and puts it between Zensho W. Kopp: The Great ZEN Path and Daisetz T. Suzuki: The great liberation. Introduction to Zen Buddhism. He goes back to the return box. The next book: Mindfulness. Living conscious moments. Then one about contemplation.

When he places the books from the return box into the shelves, Roman Draeger says, he already realizes what people are currently doing. At present, the topics of Buddhism and mindfulness are very much in demand.

In front of the library entrance, homeless people rummaged on benches in their plastic bags. Two American backpackers crawl out of the bushes behind the building and roll in their sleeping pads. You have heard that there is Wi-Fi and cheap coffee here.

The forecourt fills up every minute. From the subway exit, a young man approaches in black leather jacket. Barik Khafaji is 31 years old and fled Iraq in 2015. He lives in a shared apartment not far from here and studies social work in the second semester. "My law degree was not recognized in Germany." Three or four times a week, says Barik Khafaji, he comes to work, today at a presentation, topic: Hitler's People's State of Götz Aly.

Nafiye Kilic has tied her red silk scarf around her neck, put on her walkie-talkie, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and dark trousers. Her uniform.

Kilic runs into the foyer. Through the glass front she sees the people standing in front of the entrance. Sometimes it's 60, 70, 80 waiting for her to open the door. Kilic is part of the security team of the library. Your first task is to catch up, to close their last. In between, she ensures that there is no stress.

Kilic looks at the clock. Shortly before ten. "Let's go."

It is 98 meters long and 21 meters high and nine meters deep. It has five floors, an adjacent low-rise building and a small courtyard. It is made of glass and steel and concrete and listed. It employs librarians, archivists, educators, gatekeepers, cleaning staff, service employees, business administrators, drivers, historians, lawyers, janitors, Roman Draeger and Nafiye Kilic. It houses 577,835 books, 82,490 audiobooks and CDs, 55,607 DVDs and Blu-rays and 2422 console games. It was designed for 500 visitors per day, today it is over 4000. It is one of the largest public libraries in Germany. Her name: America Memorial Library. But no real Berliner calls her that. In abbreviation jargon, the slim building at the Blücherplatz in Kreuzberg is called AGB only, which sounds like "Aageebeee".

An hour after opening, the workspaces in the glassed-in pavilion of the reading room are so densely occupied that some people dodge their laptops onto the low sills. Barik Khafaji sits at one of the long tables and reads in Hitler's Volksstaat. Seniors leaf through daily newspapers, the backpackers linger half asleep on the cube-shaped seat cushions in the so-called salon behind the cafeteria.

If there are educational conditions, then they are also educational, and if they are characterized by the use of books, then the two children of Ahsen Turan spend their days in close educational proximity. Sometimes after school they do not even go home, but directly to the library. The children's and youth book department is more extensive than any other in the country with its 165,352 media. Much more fascinating, however, is their social magnetism: pupils from Kreuzberg and Neukölln serve as a second, often beehive-like, overcrowded home. Here girls with headscarves and their brothers are buffing for graduation. The homework help is free and open to everyone.

Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Ahsen Turan accompanies her son and daughter, the mother honors the homework with her presence. That's what other mothers do. Only Ahsen Turan is not sitting at home kitchen table, but in the basement of the Terms.

Her third year, son, opens his grammar book. Lesson # 10: "Underline subject and predicate in different colors." Below is a series of exercises. For many - "Franz is in the meadow", "The butterflies fly around the bushes" - beckons the subject already at the sentence entrance, in the difficult ones it hides further behind. Linda Moog, who has just completed her master's degree in linguistics and directs the study group, bends over the boy and reads, "The clouds are moving in the sky." She emphasizes the verb, says: "Think again, who does something in the sentence?"

"The sky?"

"Hmmm ... who's pulling?"

"The clouds?"

"Exactly! The clouds are the subject!"

Ahsen Turan is not far from the library. It only has to cross the six-lane road that runs in front of the AGB. Behind it lies the Mehringplatz, and behind Mehringplatz is the residential quarter with the statistically highest child poverty in Berlin. About 70 percent of the under-15s live there from state aid. Ahsen Turan lives with her family in this neighborhood, five in a three-room apartment. She does not want to be visited. She also does not want to know her real name. She does not want to be reduced to the immigrant neediness folklore of a shabby apartment block.

ref: zeit