100 Favourite Places, the Stabi

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In my years of freelancing in Berlin, I’ve had a lot of workspaces, many of them terrible: a desk in my two-room apartment in Treptow, damp with the smell of laundry drying indoors in winter, as a baby crawled on me. A basement office share next to Görlitzer Park where my Australian fashion designer office-mates were great but there was no heating. A sunny, well-heated open-plan office which I unfortunately turned out to be sharing with a two-person cell of attachment parenting extremists who insisted that toddlers should be rampaging around the office at all times. More recently I’ve spent a lot of time in coffeeshops, where distractions – music, Internet, overheard conversations – abound, and where the implicit hourly rent is paid in more caffeine than is good for me.

But no more, for now I have belatedly discovered the best place to work in Berlin, if not the world: the Stabi, the state library (Staatsbibliothek) at Potsdamer Platz. Although I knew several grad student friends had written their dissertations at the Stabi, for far too long I was too lazy to go through the hassle of getting the membership that’s required for entrance to the reading room. I am so glad I finally overcame my inner dog-pig and did so! The Stabi has some books and periodicals, but above all it has workspaces and magnificent silence – acres of desks spread across four floors, each outfitted with a crimson work lamp and a plug for your computer cord. The search for an unoccupied desk has taken me to many corners of the library: today I am writing this from a terrace of desks overlooking the Rechtswissenschaft reference works; yesterday I worked in the Sonderbereich for periodicals about Eastern Europe. The Stabi also has a funny retro cafeteria – dimly lit and overlooking the Potsdamer Platz mall, equipped with a fridge that doesn’t actually cool anything – and a lot of rules. For a non-German, the protocol here takes some getting used to: your coat and computer case must remain in a locker at the entrance. Everything you carry into the library must be in a clear plastic bag. You’re not allowed any food or drink, but a bottle of water will be tolerated as long as you keep it under rather than on your desk.

I work so much better at the Stabi than anywhere else that I am tempted to ascribe to it supernatural powers of inducing productivity. A more rational explanation might be that I don’t have Internet access here. Everyone I know who works at the Stabi says it is imperative never to figure out how to access the Internet there (by the way, if gaining Internet access at the Stabi is not in fact an onerous bureaucratic process, and you know how to do so, and you share that information in a comment on this post, you will be BANNED FOREVER from this blog).

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The Stabi is not only my current favorite place; it is also one of the 100 corners of Berlin profiled in 100 Favourite Places, the enchanting new book by the thoughtful local travel website Slow Travel Berlin. As a Slow Travel Berlin contributor, I had the privilege of reading the proofs of the book,* and I highly recommend it to both visitors and residents. From a refurbished 19th century market hall to a medical history museum, from places I’ve long loved – the open-air gas lantern museum in the Tiergarten, the Tajik tea room in Mitte – to places I’d never heard of before – a shop exclusively devoted to Turkish Delight, a Japanese deli in Prenzlauer Berg – the book is bursting with unexpected treasures and infused with a charming combination of local savvy and wide-eyed wonder.

100 Favourite Places tells me the Stabi was built between 1967 and 1978; the “cluster of pomander-like hanging lanterns on the ceiling” is Günter Ssymank’s Philharmonieleuchte;  and the reading room is kept “at a constant 22 degrees – for the books, not the readers.”

100 Favourite Places is available in print and as an e-book. A Stabi membership costs €12 for a month or €30 for a year; you’ll need to show your passport and Meldebescheinigung.

Photo at top is from 100 Favourite Places.

*I didn’t write any of it, this isn’t self-promotion.

7 thoughts on “100 Favourite Places, the Stabi

  1. To tell you the truth, I’ve just been taking books home and have for some reason never thought about using the reading room for working!

    What do you think, though? Is there enough room to spread your stuff out? The set-up sounds similar to the state library in Paris, whose main reading room always seemed crowded. I suppose I could go find out for myself, too. 🙂

    1. I find the desks pretty spacious and comfortable. It’s certainly a popular place, but I’ve never not been able to find a free desk, and it’s also never felt crowded the way that, say, a college library around finals does.

  2. I am awed by that building; I accidentally got a membership there my first year in Berlin, thinking it was the city library and did use the collection a few times. The globe collection! But I never tried to work there. Friends described it as kind of a scene, full of law students who actually dressed up to study, see, and be seen. Do you see any of that? It sounds much more appealing here!

    By the way, we have a temporary desk open in our office right now in case you feel moved to travel to Friedrichshain. Low commitment. And I can withhold the Wi-fi password from you if you want 😉

    1. Yeah, I haven’t noticed anyone dressed up and didn’t know it was a law student scene, but there are definitely people scoping each other out. Not in an obtrusive way, though – it really is an amazing place to get work done. Your office sounds fun, especially if the wi-fi password is withheld, but Friedrichshain is actually incredibly terrible to get to from my neighborhood – like, given how close it is as the crow flies, I don’t understand how it can take so long to get there.

  3. Ah yes, the mysterious Kreuzberg 61 to Friedrichshain anti-wormhole, makes everything twice as far away. But my office is immune — we’re on the U1! However, don’t know if it can compete with the StaBi…

  4. When I arrived in Berlin, many years ago, I was thrilled to finally enter the Stabi in person after having admired it in Wings of Desire. (Am struggling to think of other movies filmed in real libraries.)

  5. Lovely! However, I will point out that as a frequent user of Canada’s National Archives and Library, the clear plastic bag is NOT a German thing. Standard archives so that they can see at a glance that you have not taken anythingin you shouldn’t or worse, taken anything OUT you shouldn’t!.

    Thanks for the write up!

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