Berlin is a city of readers, and a city of cyclists. It’s proving to be an excellent gateway to my summer adventure: I join a hundred librarians in Amsterdam next week for a bicycle and library tour, Cycling for Libraries.
This morning I sit in a corner cafe and watch as Villa Libris, a phone-booth sized kiosk full of free books, has a constant stream of visitors. They pull open the door, step inside, spend a few minutes or several; the shelves are double and triple stacked with old volumes, serious and popular, books left by other visitors. A man quickly unloads a bag of books, followed by a woman entering to browse; a middle-aged couple on bikes hover outside, awaiting their turns. And many cyclists pass by, one with a ladder strapped to his back, another with a child-seat contraption in front, all types of people on all kinds of bikes.
Yesterday, my first afternoon was spent in that surreal suspension brought on by travel and jet lag, on a walk with a friend through her neighborhood. We meandered through the cemetery where Marlene Dietrich and Helmut Newton are buried, down sidewalks that hold small squares of bronze remembering locals who were taken and died in the Holocaust, landing at last in a wine garden in the neighborhood park. Here, groups gathered at tables, bringing their own picnics (simple or extravagant, tablecloths and candles and elegant meals for some). We toasted with sparkling drinks, perched above the fountain; children splashed in the water, cyclists rode through the park, and in chairs and on benches, people read.