Death of more than a Salesman

One of Berlin’s legendary booksellers, Robert Kiepert, has died aged 88. From 1912 onwards, the Kiepert family were key players in Berlin’s bookshop scene with Robert Kiepert entering the family firm in 1956. Most famous was the enormous, sprawling but wonderful bookshop in Charlottenburg, housed in the equally famous “Haus Hardenberg” at Ernst-Reuter-Platz, close to the Technical University. After the wall fell, Kiepert opened another branch shop in Georgenstraße, so that Humboldt-Universität also got its large and well-stocked book-browsing space. Many pleasant and rainy afternoons could be spent there, and in contrast to today’s superstores, real booksellers worked in all local branch shops. If you needed to know the most recent developments in sociology, or wanted to find out which philosopher to read next, there was someone to ask and the advice you got extended far beyond the correct shelf to turn to, or the price of a book. But not only academic books could be bought at Kiepert’s, contemporary literature sat next to crime novels, travel books or art volumes and one often came home with more books than one had intended to buy.

When the Kiepert firm became insolvent in 2002, largely due to the competition from internet bookselling, Robert Kiepert and his daughter continued selling books, this time online. He delivered them in person, travelling around Berlin in his own car. None of the shops survived, though, and sadly, there is no proper, large bookshop save one anonymous department-store near Humboldt-Universität. No more rainy afternoons in the company of competent booksellers (only consumption without proper advice) but the age of the superstore seems to be mostly over anyway. And the good news: at least in Berlin, small bookshops are on the rise, browsing and buying local are once again possible in most areas of town.

A portrait of Robert Kiepert’s special role as one of Berlin’s best-loved booksellers can be found here:
Verena Friederike Hasel: “Zum Tode von Robert Kiepert. Der König der Kunden.” Tagesspiegel 10 Feb 2017 [2011] (last access 19 Feb 2017). (Link to Tagesspiegel website and article).