Berlin Library

When I was visiting a friend in Berlin last spring, I came across this wonderful science fiction like library. I very much regret not going in, yet it gave me the benefit of being able to freely imagine the insides of this strange orange monster of a building.

A couple of days ago I read Borges’ ‘The Library of Babel’ and was reminded of my spacey Berlin library:

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest.” (Borges, Jorge Louis: ‘The Library of Babel’)

Though the orange building certainly looks quite finite from the outside, it seems perfectly plausible to me, following the science fiction logic of its rounded square aesthetics, that the inside might be as vast and geometrically intricate as the universe library described by Borges. It also reminds me of a big bug, which in turn reminds me of Kafka. A big bug full of books, well there it is.

BISU Library

With rows of umbrellas parked in the entrance, the library seems to be providing a safe haven for the students of Beijing International Studies University (BISU 北京第二外国语学院) during one of Beijing’s rare rain falls. Inside the red brick building, the two floors circle around a central hall, which is lit up by a polygon sky light, made to look like an enormous crystal.

On the second floor is a room lined with shelf after shelf of Chinese fiction. Mouth watering, and I’m not allowed to borrow a single volume, as I’m not strictly a student here, but working in the Dean’s office. The shelves are ugly gray ones, but the books are all used and creased and lovely, they’d make any plastic rack look homely.

Along every walk way and every wall there are tables filled with notebooks, tea cups, mobile phones and stacks of books mainly on oral English, tourism and how to write good papers. It feels like a common living room, and in a way that just what it is. I sit down with The Semiotics of Exile in Literature by Hong Zeng, and sink in for a few hours.