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


BERLIN — Immediately after Helga Weyhe locked up her bookstore in the town of Salzwedel, Germany, every evening, she would make her normal commute — a trudge to the apartment upstairs. She had been creating the similar journey due to the fact Globe War II, just as her father had in advance of then, and as her grandfather had in advance of him.

The H. Weyhe Bookstore is a single of the oldest bookstores in Germany. It was founded in 1840, in advance of Germany was a nation. Ms. Weyhe’s grandfather Heinrich Weyhe purchased it 31 many years later on. It endured by means of Globe War I, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi regime. Ms. Weyhe took above the retailer from her father in 1965, 4 many years following 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 a single day in December. She died at 98 sometime in advance of Jan. four her physique was uncovered in her residence, explained Ute Lemm, a grandniece.

“With her lifestyle, she closed a circle,” Ms. Lemm explained. “She died exactly where she was born.”

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

Ms. Weyhe was a lifeline of kinds to her consumers. She traveled far and broad following East Germans have been usually permitted to depart for tourism, bringing back her infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors planet. “She brought a very little bit of the planet to Salzwedel,” Ms. Lemm explained.

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

“They had purchased their college books at the Weyhes’ when they have been youngsters, and now, when they came back to the city, they have been senior citizens,” Steffen Langusch, the town archivist, explained. He held extended conversations with Ms. Weyhe about regional historical past in her workplace at the back of the retailer, amid piles of books and black and white images chronicling the store’s previous.

Bookstores hold a distinctive location for lots of Germans. In the course of the pandemic lockdown, some have been classified as “essential” enterprises the country’s three,500 compact, independent booksellers (in contrast with two,500 in the United States) have been buoyed by a law that fixes guide charges, avoiding the compact retailers from currently being undercut by substantial chains and Amazon.

Ms. Weyhe in 2012 was the 1st resident following reunification to be formally honored by the town, the equivalent of obtaining a essential to the city, and in 2017 she acquired a distinctive nationwide prize for her bookstore.

“She wasn’t just an honorary citizen,” the town’s mayor, Sabine Blümel, explained. “She was an institution.”

The store’s interior, with its nicely-stocked wooden shelves and show tables, has not altered a lot due to the fact Ms. Weyhe’s grandfather renovated it all around 1880. Ms. Weyhe printed out quotations and poems and caught them to the store windows for the advantage of passers-by.

She took pride in stocking only books that she knew and accepted of, despite the fact that she would buy consumers virtually anything at all on the net from her suppliers.

As she advised interviewers above the many years, a single of her favorites was a 1932 children’s guide by Erika Mann, Thomas Mann’s daughter, known as “Stoffel Flies In excess of the Sea,” about a boy who tries to pay a visit to his uncle in America by hiding in a zeppelin.

“It was almost certainly the final bookstore in Germany exactly where you could generally obtain a copy of that guide,” Mr. Langusch explained.

The book’s plot appealed to her personally. Ms. Weyhe’s Uncle Erhard lived in Manhattan and ran his very own bookstore, at 794 Lexington Avenue, close to East 61st Street. His obituary in The New York Instances in 1972 described him as “one of the final of the fantastic artwork guide dealers.” An previous signal with the Lexington Avenue deal with hung on a single of the shelves in Ms. Weyhe’s bookstore.

“Since she was a very little woman, she dreamed of going to the States, but she had to wait her whole grownup lifestyle until finally she was retirement age,” in the 1980s, explained her grandniece Ms. Lemm, the artistic director of a theater.

Helga Weyhe was born on Dec. eleven, 1922, to Walter and Elsa (Banse) Weyhe. Her mom also worked in the retailer. She graduated from substantial college in 1941 and was the 1st lady, and only the 2nd individual, in her loved ones to attend university, learning German and historical past at institutions in Vienna and what was then Königsberg and Breslau.

With the war cutting quick her scientific studies, she went to perform at the bookstore in 1944.

Ms. Weyhe hardly ever married and left no instant survivors. Her extended loved ones is hoping to come across a new manager for the bookstore.

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