To go against the trend of online bookstores and e-book, the new form of bookstores is being questioned. An independent bookstore specialized in culture and nature, called Zabriskie, is located in the Bezirk Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district of Berlin. Inside the bookstore, Ambient music and the pleasant-smelling aroma of coffee hangs in the air. They have a selection of books as well as readings and other events that awake your intellectual curiosity. It’s been 6 years since the start of the bookstore. We would like to look into how the owners of “Zabriskie”, Lorena Carràs and Jean-Marie Dhur, perceive the identity of their quite new bookstore.
ーーI heard you both were doing another job before opening this bookstore.
Lorena “Before opening the bookstore, I used this place as a project space for exhibitions, mostly related to nature, environment, sounds, and the artistic practice of publishing. During that time, I had the idea to open a bookstore and I talked with Jean about it. It was my dream to have a small bookstore. Before the bookshop, I was also working in other art galleries in Berlin.”
Jean “I did many jobs before having the bookshop: writing texts for NGOs, working in a wine bar, and Djing on the weekends. Though I studied literature at university, I didn’t think back then about having my own bookstore. But now I can see a red thread. Interest in subcultures was always there in my life.”
ーーThere are many independent bookstores specialized in art and photography, but it is rare to see a bookstore specialized in culture and nature.
Jean “What is most important for us is that we have only books that we like on the shelves. What makes us more special than big online retailers is that we have a very personal connection and thus a deeper knowledge of the books we present, and can give this knowledge to our customers. If you want to make money, you don’t open a bookshop. You open a bookshop because you love books, and you open a specialized bookshop because of very special personal interests. As we both have an interest in nature and environment, and in subculture and counterculture, it made sense to put our focus there. Also, we found that many of the topics we are interested in were underrepresented in other bookshops, which gave us the feeling that there is a niche that we could fill.”
Lorena “Fortunately, more and more people are interested in ecology, in the environmental changes they are surrounded by. People are concerned, want to know more about how things can be changed for the better. Of course there is also egoist green capitalism, but more and more people are waking up and seeing that we have to change our ways of life. And fortunately, not only scientists, but also many writers and artists are discovering environment, nature, climate as important things, and more and more books related to these topics, also artistic ones, are published.”
―― I have an impression that there are many books with rich cultural contents that can only be found in this bookstore, but how do you select the books?
Lorena “In the beginning, we only had around 250, 300 titles. And from there, we developed to the present selection. There are different ways how we find books: through publishers we like, through other bookshops, through book fairs, through recommendations from friends and customers, but mainly through research, in the internet, through blogs, but also in the bibliography of other books, in magazines, etc.”
―― Apparently, this bookstore was named after “Zabriskie Point, 1970” directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.
Lorena “Yes! It was a bit difficult to choose the name. We wanted to give it a name that is special on one hand, related to a film, to a landscape, to a counterculture, and on the other also quite open for interpretation, which is Zabriskie, in the end it is a polish family name. We had many names, for example of some obscure Mexican communes in our mind. But finally we were attracted to the title of the psychedelic counterculture movie.”
Jean “This movie covers topics as wilderness, psychedelics, revolts and counterculture. The name somehow stuck. People now start to call us not by our passport names, but by our bookshop name. We are the Zabriskies now.”
Michelangelo Antonioni『Zabriskie Point (1970)』
――― It’s a name when you remember it once, you cannot forget. Can explain about the reading event “Between Us and Nature – A Reading Club”.
Lorena “The Reading Club was proposed 3 years ago by two friends, the artist Eva Fiore Kovakovsky and ecology and art researcher named Sina Ribak. They picked books as “The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, 2015” by Anna Tsing and essays she has contributed to in “Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet – Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene(2017)” in each session and then we read these texts and discussed them afterwords.”
―― What kind of people participate?
Jean “Artists, scientists, researchers, curators, students, a lot of people from different backgrounds and different approaches. Most of the participants are female though.”
――Having experts talk in a walking session seems like an event that would Zabriskie come up with.
Lorena “From 2016 on, we have hosted such walking events to find out more about the plants and the birds that live in the neighbourhood, from spring to summer every year. Some walks are in the direct neighbourhood, some are in other parts of the city, some are in the countryside around Berlin. The duration is
around two hours. Our friend, Daniel, who is a Naturopath, is doing the plant walks. In the first walk, we strolled just once around the block. We found over 20 different kinds of medicinal plants about which Daniel explained all the healing qualities, and how you can use them.”
Jean “But of course it is better to not use the urban street plants for herbal teas and medicines, you have a lot of fine dust from the cars, dog urine, and other urban features. Parks are ok, but not the regular streets. Later, we send e-mails to the participants with all the information that came up during the walk.”
Lorena “The guide of the bird walks is Christian Schwägerl, a journalist and biologist, who we met at a birthday party of a mutual friend in a forest in Brandenburg, where he did a spontaneous bird walk. There came the idea to do something together in Berlin, in our neighbourhood.”
―― It seems fun! There seems to be many experiences that cannot be obtained by just reading books.
Lorena “What’s more beautiful is that we can have first-hand experience of other living things in the urban ecosystem. During the walks, we go very slowly, are often quiet, and listen a lot. You get a better feeling of these other inhabitants around us. You are in the very moment, it’s like Zen.”
―― As a bookstore, how are you confronting such issues as Global Warming that the Earth is dealing with?
Jean “Of course through books and readings. The books we have offer different perspectives and approaches towards the environment, they help to move away from the anthropocentric worldview. There are many books that are not apocalyptic, that help to live in a positive way with the situation, despite the crisis we live in now.”
Lorena “Also in the reading club Between us and Nature, we address issues that are very important regarding the necessary change of human behaviour towards plants, animals, the oceans, our whole environment.”
――Lastly, can you talk about the activities you are planning for the near future?
Jean “At the end of March, we are moving with our bookstore to a place 50 km 50 metres away from here, 30 seconds around the corner, to Reichenberger Straße 150. We have a bit more space, more light, but we stay in this neighbourhood. Sometime in the future, we will start with small publications, like riso printed zines or small books.”
Lorena “We are planning to do another female reading group very soon in the future, with a focus on female perspectives, in literature, science, arts, where we will read books from and about unjustly not so well known female thinkers. Also we will introduce some different walking activities, which will have a focus on the perception of landscape in the city. In one of these tours, we will investigate in the traces of the Ice Age in Berlin.”
photography Martina della Valle
text Yukiko Yamane
Manteuffelstraße 73, 10999 Berlin Germany
New adress from 01 April 2020: Reichenberger Straße 150, 10999 Berlin
Opening hours：Mon-Sat 12:00〜19:00
Tel：+49 30 695 667 14