Helga Weyhe, Germany’s Oldest Bookseller, Dies at 98

Helga Weyhe, Germany’s Oldest Bookseller, Dies at 98
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Helga Weyhe, Germany’s Oldest Bookseller, Dies at 98

Helga Weyhe, Germany’s Oldest Bookseller, Dies at 98

BERLIN — After Helga Weyhe locked up her bookstore within the city of Salzwedel, Germany, every night, she would make her typical commute — a trudge to the condominium upstairs. She had been making the identical journey since World Warfare II, simply as her father had earlier than then, and as her grandfather had earlier than him.

The H. Weyhe Bookstore is likely one of the oldest bookstores in Germany. It was based in 1840, earlier than Germany was a rustic. Ms. Weyhe’s grandfather Heinrich Weyhe purchased it 31 years later. It endured by means of World Warfare I, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi regime. Ms. Weyhe took over the shop from her father in 1965, 4 years after East Germany constructed the Berlin Wall, and guided it by means of Communist rule and reunification with West Germany.

She locked up for the final time at some point in December. She died at 98 someday earlier than Jan. 4; her physique was present in her residence, stated Ute Lemm, a grandniece.

“Together with her life, she closed a circle,” Ms. Lemm stated. “She died the place she was born.”

Helga Weyhe (pronounced VIE-eh) grew to become an anchor in Salzwedel, about 110 miles west of Berlin. The city was within the former East Germany, and through Communist rule she stocked non secular books that had been unavailable in state-run bookstores, frowned on as they had been by the regime. It was a boon to the devoted, and for her a quiet act of defiance.

Ms. Weyhe was a lifeline of types to her clients. She traveled far and huge after East Germans had been usually allowed to depart for tourism, bringing again her infectious enthusiasm for the surface world. “She introduced somewhat little bit of the world to Salzwedel,” Ms. Lemm stated.

When the Iron Curtain was dissolved and those that had fled to the West returned to Salzwedel, they gathered at her retailer for readings she had organized.

“They’d purchased their faculty books on the Weyhes’ once they had been children, and now, once they got here again to town, they had been senior residents,” Steffen Langusch, the city archivist, stated. He held lengthy conversations with Ms. Weyhe about native historical past in her workplace behind the shop, amid piles of books and black and white images chronicling the shop’s previous.

Bookstores maintain a particular place for a lot of Germans. Throughout the pandemic lockdown, some had been categorized as “important” companies; the nation’s 3,500 small, unbiased booksellers (in contrast with 2,500 in the US) have been buoyed by a regulation that fixes ebook costs, stopping the small outlets from being undercut by massive chains and Amazon.

Ms. Weyhe in 2012 was the primary resident after reunification to be formally honored by the city, the equal of receiving a key to town, and in 2017 she acquired a particular nationwide prize for her bookstore.

“She wasn’t simply an honorary citizen,” the city’s mayor, Sabine Blümel, stated. “She was an establishment.”

The shop’s inside, with its well-stocked picket cabinets and show tables, has not modified a lot since Ms. Weyhe’s grandfather renovated it round 1880. Ms. Weyhe printed out quotations and poems and caught them to the store home windows for the advantage of passers-by.

She took delight in stocking solely books that she knew and permitted of, though she would order clients virtually something on-line from her suppliers.

As she advised interviewers over time, certainly one of her favorites was a 1932 youngsters’s ebook by Erika Mann, Thomas Mann’s daughter, known as “Stoffel Flies Over the Sea,” a couple of boy who tries to go to his uncle in America by hiding in a zeppelin.

“It was most likely the final bookstore in Germany the place you possibly can at all times purchase a replica of that ebook,” Mr. Langusch stated.

The ebook’s plot appealed to her personally. Ms. Weyhe’s Uncle Erhard lived in Manhattan and ran his personal bookstore, at 794 Lexington Avenue, close to East 61st Avenue. His obituary in The New York Occasions in 1972 described him as “one of many final of the good artwork ebook sellers.” An outdated signal with the Lexington Avenue tackle held on one of many cabinets in Ms. Weyhe’s bookstore.

“Since she was somewhat lady, she dreamed of going to the States, however she needed to wait her total grownup life till she was retirement age,” within the Nineteen Eighties, stated her grandniece Ms. Lemm, the creative director of a theater.

Helga Weyhe was born on Dec. 11, 1922, to Walter and Elsa (Banse) Weyhe. Her mom additionally labored within the retailer. She graduated from highschool in 1941 and was the primary lady, and solely the second individual, in her household to attend college, learning German and historical past at establishments in Vienna and what was then Königsberg and Breslau.

With the struggle slicing brief her research, she went to work on the bookstore in 1944.

Ms. Weyhe by no means married and left no quick survivors. Her prolonged household is hoping to discover a new supervisor for the bookstore.

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