Anya Weimann discovers a great atmosphere and fine bagels at one of Berlin’s newest bookshops…
Shakespeare And Sons feels like a home away from home. Both a cozy bookshop and café, it reflects the combined vision of the owners, Roman and Laurel Kratochvila, who know that books and bagels complement each other well.
The name was Roman’s idea. It’s in honour of George Whitman, a well-known literary figure from Paris who taught him all about books.
Before opening his first bookshop in Prague, the original Shakespeare And Sons, Roman worked for a year at Shakespeare & Company in Paris. A friend introduced him to George Whitman, the owner and very passionate bookseller. Everything about books and the book selling business Roman learnt from him.
After his apprenticeship in George’s bookshop, Roman went back to Prague in 2002, where he opened his first book store and cafe, naming it in tribute to George as well as the eponymous bookshop in Paris’s bohemian quarter, originally run by Sylvia Beach and a former meeting point for writers such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
Drawn to Berlin since his first visit in the early 1990s, Roman decided to open a second store there. Berlin was just the perfect location for a second store. It is just a couple of hours from Prague which is important because he goes back usually two times a month to look after the collection and orders in the other shop in Prague.
In 2011 Laurel and Roman went together to Berlin and found the perfect spot. Unfortunately the shop was pretty much run down and so they had to renovate everything from scratch – the floors, the walls and built the bookshelves. Finally they opened the shop in May 2011.
Since the opening they established a nice little clientele. The regulars usually drop in for a coffee and a bagel. And to browse the books, of course. The owners feel to be just many in a sea of small business people, trying to do their thing. Berlin has a large international community – anything can happen here!
Two years on and the community aspect is already evident at Berlin’s Shakespeare And Sons. Elderly couples enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere over a cup of tea, travellers take a break from sight-seeing, friends sit in armchairs, catching up.
Walking through the entrance does really feel like walking into someone’s living room, thanks to the shop’s vintage furniture, the wooden floor-to-ceiling shelving plus the aroma of fresh coffee and baked goods.
The front room accommodates a dark wooden counter with an old cash register, plates of fresh bagels and sweets next to it on display. You can find English fiction, foreign books (predominantly French), and graphic novels. There are notes pinned to the shelves with hand-written recommendations from Roman and Laurel, as well as from Julia, the shop assistant who looks after the French collection.
An adjacent, smaller room allows space for the children’s section, while the large back room has a respectable philosophy section. Each room has cozy corners with vintage armchairs, coffee tables and reading lamps.
They are a good general bookstore, every book is hand-picked. They go to book-fairs but also accept recommendations from friends and customers. Roman has a great sense for books and the overall space selection. They also pick the books relevant to location, so they have quite a few books that are of German interest.
Shakespeare And Sons has a substantial collection of Eastern European literature in English, not to be found anywhere else in Berlin. Roman usually picks books that he likes or that he assumes his customers would read. At the moment they own between 20,000 and 30,000 books. It’s not a very large collection but one that is carefully selected. Laurel is particularly fond of illustrated books, so their graphic novel section is quite good.
Shakespeare And Sons also prides itself on running special events. They have readings with authors such as Dan Savage and all sorts of concerts in the back room. A while ago some bands approached Roman, asking if they could use the back room for concerts. Since then the venue hosted all sorts of musicians and bands in here – from string quartets to folk singers.
At the moment they host these events just every month. In the future they are hoping to host special events like readings, concerts, film nights and writing workshops on a regular basis.
Yet another reason to call in at Shakespeare And Sons are “the damn fine bagels,” baked by Laurel from an old family recipe. “I have to confess that I’m a much better baker than bookseller,” Laurel declares with a smile. She has worked in cafes back home and her family is very fond of good food. Baking has always been a strong connection to her family.
“The bagels have been very well received, so I got encouraged to transform the counter and all of the front room into a cozy café. In June we separated the café from the bookstore, renaming it Fine Bagels - Fine being my mother’s maiden name.”
The wall at the entrance is lined with old black and white photographs. That’s the Fine family, they all eat a lot of bagels, especially the Laurel’s grandma. Thus Fine Bagels is the perfect name for the cafe.
And of course those who feel inspired to learn more about eating bagels the proper way can also pick up a book here too. It’s called “Proper Care And Maintenance Guide For Bagels” and sits with a smattering of other bagel-specific literature at the counter.
10437 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
U: Eberswalder Strasse
Open: Mon – Sat: 10-20 (no fresh bagels on Mon & Tue); Sun: 11-19