Do you recall my post about the quaint German town of Fredericksburg? It contained many delightful shops full of expensive wares, but one stood on a pedestal above the rest. It was called Berkman’s Books.
I wish I had pictures now, but one doesn’t simply go around a shop snapping photos … especially when one’s mind is bent on exploration. Berkman’s Books was a small building, perhaps a converted house, on Main Street with a red and white sign mounted on a shingle roof. Inside was everything a bookshop should be.
There were four rooms divided into five sections filled with bookshelves. Oriental rugs warmed the floor and interesting antiques, books, and paintings capitalized on the empty spaces atop the shelves and on the walls. Classical music filtered out of nowhere, as if emanating from the classic books themselves. The first section upon walking in, immediately on the right, was the most enticing -- the bookcases were antique and in the center was a sofa with a coffee table stacked artfully with old, old books. My friend discovered two handwritten journals from the 1830s. Yes. Handwritten. In a flowery, twirling, brown script, bold yet hard to read, fully displaying the art of penmanship. One journal even held drawings of flowers. That such things were not in a museum but in a bookshop, available for purchase, amazed me beyond measure. We could hold them in our hands and touch the pages and read the words for ourselves, directly from the thoughts and hand of a person who lived 180 years ago.
That first section was for first editions, mostly royally-colored antiques, not infrequently 19th-century. Also there, on a wall by itself, the proprietor, Mr. Berkman, had placed a refreshment table with coffee, tea, and water. The drinks could accompany you as you browsed or settled into one of a number of comfortable chairs here and there throughout the shop. This was not your average contemporary bookstore. This was a bibliophile’s haven.
Even outside the rare, first-edition sector, a good sprinkling of antique books found place on the shelves, whether fiction, history, cooking, gardening, art, philosophy, geography, religion, or children’s. There were plenty of worthwhile younger books, but it was always a treat to pull out an antique where you least expected it -- for example, in geography, a circa 1930s volume on the bayous of Louisiana. I sigh as I reminisce … there were so many treasures. So many.
The prices were high, though not unreasonable for such treasures, but I received enough pleasure by paging through them and piecing together a synopsis of what each had to say to and about the world. One alone I chose to take home with me: Great Britain, Palestine, and the Jews, a sort of book-pamphlet published in 1918 in wake of the Balfour Declaration, which proclaimed that Great Britain, who took over Palestine from the Ottoman Empire during WWI, fully supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the land of their heritage. This book contained a collection of speeches by exultant Jewish leaders and other supportive world officials, which were very uplifting to read. To own such a piece of history is so exciting!
There was lots of history in Berkman’s Books … I hope it prospers, because Mr. Berkman is doing his dream job and bringing great contentment to his fellow bibliophiles.