Sunday, January 6, 2002

How To Get a Seat at the Staatsbibliothek, Haus 2 (Potsdamer Straße)

[A text from the deep-storage archives]

This is more of a problem than you might think, particularly near the end of the semester when students are writing papers, high schoolers facing their graduating exams are tearing out their hair in little whispering groups of three and four, medical students are reading picture books and tomorrow’s lawyers are pouring over the Grundgesetz in fat red volumes. The StaBi is a maze, a labyrinthine anthill, an anti-aleph—from no point in its interior is it possible to see all other points (even for angels). Hence the streams of increasingly desperate, randomly cruising readers in search of an empty seat, more and more of them as the day wears on. The hierarchy of seats is best observed in the morning hours. The first to fill up are the banks of seats along the large plate-glass windows facing Potsdamer Straße that let in the sunlight and rainclouds, followed by the single desks on the various upper balconies that also offer a window view. Only some of these desks are fitted with sockets for plugging in laptops—the experienced cruiser can size up the electric capabilities of a seat without breaking stride. And what about the seats that are located near the window but face away from it? These are worth less than the others, but more than the seats near the center of the reading room beneath the banks of fluourescent lights. One corner of the window wall is a jungle: tier after tier of potted plants, including fiddle figs. How to get a seat: come early, by 10:30 in the morning, unless you crave a window seat, in which case it’s 9:30. On crowded days, there will be no seats at all left by 11:00, and sometimes the nervous employees will decide the reading room is dangerously overcrowded and begin refusing entrance to new arrivals by mid-afternoon. Barring this, one can invariably find a place in the map reading room: just think of a reason why you absolutely have to consult one of their excellent atlases, or a map of Magdeburg, or Bordeaux, or Madagascar…

1 comment:

KleistFan said...

This is really a bit depressing. It reminds me of my college library around exam time-- people vying for seats like land at a gold strike. None of them anywhere near a window, either. It came down, I believe, to rather subtle, capricious differences. I think, for example, magazine-style carrels were generally preferred to the pinwheel arrangement. Or one seat would be under an irritatingly buzzing fluorescent light; an otherwise identical one wouldn't and therefore might be vastly preferred. The choosiness you describe seems within normality by comparison