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 traditional commute — a trudge to the residence upstairs. She had been making the identical journey since World Battle II, simply as her father had earlier than then, and as her grandfather had earlier than him.

The H. Weyhe Bookstore is among 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 World Battle 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 Communist rule and reunification with West Germany.

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

“Along 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 have been unavailable in state-run bookstores, frowned on as they have been by the regime. It was a boon to the trustworthy, and for her a quiet act of defiance.

Ms. Weyhe was a lifeline of kinds to her clients. She traveled far and vast after East Germans have been usually allowed to go away for tourism, bringing again her infectious enthusiasm for the surface world. “She introduced slightly little bit of the world to Salzwedel,” Ms. Lemm stated.

When the Iron Curtain was dissolved and people who 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 after they have been youngsters, and now, after they got here again to the town, they have 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 pictures chronicling the shop’s previous.

Bookstores maintain a particular place for a lot of Germans. Throughout the pandemic lockdown, some have been categorized as “important” companies; the nation’s 3,500 small, unbiased booksellers (in contrast with 2,500 in america) have been buoyed by a legislation that fixes guide costs, stopping the small outlets from being undercut by giant 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 the town, and in 2017 she acquired a special national 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 wood 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 pleasure in stocking solely books that she knew and authorised of, though she would order clients nearly something on-line from her suppliers.

As she instructed interviewers over time, one among her favorites was a 1932 youngsters’s guide by Erika Mann, Thomas Mann’s daughter, referred to 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 in all probability the final bookstore in Germany the place you can all the time purchase a replica of that guide,” Mr. Langusch stated.

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

“Since she was slightly woman, she dreamed of going to the States, however she needed to wait her whole grownup life till she was retirement age,” within the 1980s, 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 girl, 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 quick 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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