British bookseller Sharmaine Reid, 29, moved to Berlin in 2009 and founded Dialogue Berlin, an English-language bookshop. Here is her insider's guide to making it in Germany's most creative city...
I wanted to test what I was capable of doing outside the parameters of the UK publishing industry. I took my years of being a bookseller, a literary publicist and organising literary events and brought that experience to Berlin to see what I would come up with. I felt that if I was completely outside my own culture, I wouldn't have to think about class, race and gender in the way that I did in the UK.
From the start, I knew wanted to open a boutique bookshop, with 3,000 handpicked titles, lots of events and a book doctor service. For me, it's never just about the book; it's how you engage with the book, and that's why the shop is called Dialogue. There's a really strong German academic literary history in the city, so there are a lot of people who will take the time to go to events. Once we found a space at the T Room, we could implement the vision very quickly. Now the bookshop's going online, and the website will explore the cultural connections of each book. We're also still doing exciting events with authors.
There's a massive cliché about the rent being cheaper in Berlin, but that depends on where you choose to live. Generally, the cost of living is cheaper, and getting around is quicker, because the U-Bahn and S-Bahn are fantastic. If you don't speak German and you don't engage with German culture, you can still have a really great existence here, but you're so limited. There are lots of things you can't do, like go to the theatre, and so you're missing a whole experimental wave of new art that really hits the country's wavelength. My favourite places in Berlin are the Literature House on Fasanenstrasse and a club called Mind Pirates, which has the kind of distressed feeling you expect to find in Berlin but that's usually either too raw or too considered; this place is perfect.
Cities like London set hard and fast rules, such as working hours. In Germany a lot of people finish work at 4 and start a lot earlier, so at 4 o'clock there are a lot more people out and about, which means you can have more meetings in the evening. Because there's a proper 24-hour culture here, you find yourself having an afternoon tea meeting that will go into dinner and then into drinks, and by the time you've done that, you've concocted so many different ideas and plans; no one's clock-watching. I have met some wonderful people: I've never experienced such strong friendships over such a short amount of time. It's part of what keeps me here.
In London, everything's a panic; Berlin has taught me how to be candid and calm. I've put a lot of things into perspective, and I've put that perspective into my business practice. I work for myself, and I do lots of different things within that – for example, I also do literary consultancy for a television company. I couldn't have done that if I'd stayed in a city like London. In the UK, publishing is a really difficult industry when you're young and enthusiastic but don't have the right background. The openness of Berlin is really in tune with my thinking.
Sharmaine was talking to Hannah Davies.
For more info, go to Dialogue Berlin's website.
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Image courtesy of DanferbPhoto.
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