The duck and I still go for little walks whenever we feel like we’ve gotten a bit too lazy (or when the weather is particularly nice). On one of them, we walked past our favorite phone box and remembered what it was like when we first came across one of those. In 2021 it’s more common to have a cell phone than a landline, and even if you get lost and your phone’s battery is dead, it is more likely that you will find a kind stranger who carries disinfectant phone wipes and will lend you their cell phone to look up your route or call someone to let them know that you’ll be awfully late than it is to find a payphone in the streets (being a spontaneous criminal in Germany who doesn’t have a burner phone must be exhausting these days). Can you imagine the duck and my surprise when we espied a phone box that hadn’t been there the last time we’d walked that route?
The weirdest thing was that this wasn’t even a German phone box, but one of those pretty red British telephone booths. I was sure I had never seen those in Germany before. When we came a bit closer, though, we realized what that red booth was actually being used for (no, ‘discount time and space travel’ is not the answer):
Now offering more than the phone book!
At some point, a phone box with built-in shelves had been put up at this street corner and then it was gradually filled with books, thus turned into a bookcase. The use of these mystery bookcases that you can find throughout Germany is straightforward: if you have a book that you want to give away, you can place it on one of the shelves and if you’re looking for something new to read, you can just take out any book and decide whether you want to return it later on or not. In short, public bookcases work as a book exchange without direct contact – perfect for a pandemic, especially now that many public libraries are closed (again)! There are no membership cards or fees, no regulations or responsibilities (other than not filling the bookcases with trash or moldy books, maybe?). While these public bookcases are usually sponsored and maintained by a specific institution or individual supporters, anyone can participate and exchange books through them.
Not all German public bookcases look like British telephone booths. Some are actual bookcases with doors, some are book tree( trunk)s – there even is at least one converted book mobile home, just to name a few. The only thing most of them have in common is that they are weatherproof. This is probably why so many of them are recycled phone boxes that have become redundant, some of which have been put up recently to function as bookcases whereas others have never changed their location, only their purpose. While a few public bookcases are located inside (public) facilities and therefore have respective opening hours, most of them can be accessed day and night, just like a public telephone! Their central locations also make picking up a book when you’re traveling, going for a nice little walk or grocery shop super easy and spontaneous!
Those book exchange boxes seem to have been around since the (late) 1990s, but they have become more popular in the past decade or so, which the duck and I love since there is this one book that we have several copies of so that whenever we know that we’ll pass by our trusted public bookcase we’ll take a copy with us to leave there for someone else to discover. We’re down to single digits now!
Have you seen public bookcases in your neighborhood? Do you also have way too many copies of a single book that you’d love to get rid of this way?
We’ll get back to the book that we are currently reading now!
The duck and I