I’m an avid reader, and always have been. But as an expat in Germany, it wasn’t always easy to feed my fervent need for reading material. When I was a kid, I sat between my brother and sister in the back of the car for every vacation with a pile of books at my feet. Or, this being the seventies, I sat on the floor of the car with the books on the seat. My brother, who was dyslexic, couldn’t be bothered with much more than Tintin, but I went to the library and grabbed a stack of books that were beyond my age and reading level, but kept me happy.
When I first moved to Freiburg in the early 90s, I quickly noticed the gaping hole that came from having no access to the library, and no money to buy books myself. Sure, there were English books in the German bookstores, but you really had to depend on someone else’s taste and hope that one of the ten books available appealed to your taste. The UB had books too, but these also tended towards the classics, and there is only so much of that sort of the thing that a person can consume without being hungry for something lighter. Magazines at the train station were 10 – 12 DM a hit, and when you read as fast as I do, it quickly becomes a very bad Preisleistungsverhältnis (price-performance ratio).
I remember the sheer desperation of the situation hitting me when I had to plunder a shopping cart of castoff books that someone left in the hall of the dorm, reading anything I could find that was in English, even dark mysteries and very bad true crime stories, which normally aren’t my thing. This approach did open new literary doors, as it were. At that point in my German career, I could read German, but not well. I managed to drag myself through Rosamund Pilcher, but couldn’t be bothered with much else. Nowadays, I can read German almost as well as I can English. But with the stress of my life, job and everything else, I still prefer English.
Nowadays, we have the Kindle (my favorite gadget ever). We also have the joys of www.amazon.de (check out our recommendations). Without Amazon, my life would be much more complicated. Not only do they have almost every book that is available in the US, they ship for free (!), which doesn’t happen there, and they are incredibly speedy. With the Kindle, I only have to wait about 6o seconds until the book appears. With a hard copy, it is usually 2-3 days, and sometimes just one. I also order just about everything else we need on Amazon, including birthday presents and kids’ clothing. I hate having to shop with two small children and two whinging large children. Amazon eliminates a huge amount of stress.
Another trick I have discovered is ordering English books at my local bookstore, thus supporting the local economy. Unfortunately, I have to pick them up there to avoid an additional charge, and usually Mr. DHL arrives at 8am around here, so I am not always completely willing to order and troupe into the bookstore when I get home from work. We do swap books at work, and every English speaker I know here likes to read, so if you are lucky enough to find someone with similar tastes, you can save some money.
The last path I have found to cheap English literature is www.bookswapper.de. There you can list the books you want to get rid of and browse for ones you would like to have. As soon as you list five books, you get a token for a book for someone else. You use that to buy another book and the chain continues. You can mail a book within Germany for around €.85, so there’s no complaining about price there! There are any number of similar sites throughout the world, so be sure to check it out…And if anyone has books to swap, let me know…