Helga Weyhe owner of Germany’s oldest bookstore in front of her computer in her shop in Salzewedel, January 10, 2018
When the young Helga Weyhe started working in the family bookstore of Salzwedel, a village in former East Germany, Hitler still put Europe on fire and Jean-Paul Sartre published „In camera“.
Seventy-three years later, at 95 spring, the country’s oldest bookseller is still very dashing between piles of books from her back shop.
„I started working there in 1944 and I’m still here (…) I had a lot of dreams when I was young and they always involved books“, tells AFP this proud descendant of a passionate family of literature.
She represents the third generation of Weyhe to run this open bookstore in 1840. The shelves date back to the 1880s, the era of her grandfather and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
On the bridge six days out of seven, Ms. Weyhe carries at least as much history as her stalls, her business having survived two dictatorships, Nazi then communist.
The Helga Weyhe bookstore, the oldest in Germany, in the city of Salzewedel on January 10, 2018
After the Second World War, the young German woman who was still working alongside her father had to live with the regime of the GDR and once again with prohibitions and censorship.
– ‚Not a missionary‘ –
„In the GDR, the most horrible thing was to get used to this everyday, thinking: + I will not survive until the day things change +“, says Helga Weyhe.
It was only after her 60s in the 1980s – the legal age of retirement in the GDR for women – that she was able to leave her country. And literature was at the heart of his trip to his favorite uncle, owner of a renowned bookstore in New York, Lexington Avenue.
Her past under lead screed did not make her a „missionary“, for example against the extreme right-wing movement Alternative for Germany (AfD), which gains influence in its region.
Helga Weyhe the owner of Germany’s oldest bookstore among the books in her shop in Salzewedel on January 10, 2018
Her positioning is through the choice of her goods, she explains: „I just do not sell the kind of books that are currently strengthening the AfD,“ she says, referring to recent bestsellers that have stoked fears of mass immigration.
„In the post-war years, I basically stored history books so that people would know what had really happened,“ she says.
Winner last year of the Association of German Booksellers Award, Ms. Weyhe dedicated her award to her family: „It was not just my reward but that of all my family who held the place so long.“
– ‚Customers from all over the world‘ –
Its bookshop is still the pride of this city of Saxony-Anhalt of 25,000 inhabitants, thanks to the quality and diversity of his works.
„I’m trying to get books that amaze people to say that you sell it in this small town?“, Says the nonagenarian. „That’s why I attract customers from all over the world!“ I like to say that my clients range from Boston to Bangkok.
Helga Weyhe behind the window of her oldest bookstore in Germany, Salzewedel, January 10, 2018
In his business, one finds political biographies, books on French existentialists, classics of German literature, and even Hollywood film scripts.
Every volume sold in the bookshop has been approved by Helga Weyhe, although she admits she has not always read every page.
„You will not find detective novels here unless they really have something special,“ she says, looking serious, reserving just space for Agatha Christie and Ingrid Noll’s German thrillers. .
– And retirement? –
A long-time client, Pastor Klaus Schartmann believes that the bookseller has a rare gift for recognizing what a reader is looking for.
„She always falls in the middle, whether it’s about children’s books or adult literature,“ said the 78-year-old. „We are always happy because you can not really find that in German bookstores, but only in Salzwedel.“
For even in the country where Gutenberg invented printing in the 15th century, customers are increasingly focusing on online platforms, whose sales grew by 5% in 2016.
When asked about her retirement, the bookseller who has never married and has no children is mysterious. „It could be today, like tomorrow or in a moment …“
Several people are ready to take over, she says. „But my God, who else can help a man like Mr. Schartmann, you need some experience for that!“