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The Pigeonhole lands (an essay collection set in Berlin…)

8th September 2015


MAIN_IMAGE_LfB_LinkaAOdom-1-1050x700The Pigeonhole has brought out their first essay collection set in Berlin – such a great and innovative idea (The Pigeonhole has been shortlisted for the International London Book Fair Excellence Awards, 2015).

The format is based on an older format of publishing whereby chapters are released over time, much in the vein of Dickensian publishing. Thus you purchase and read a series of instalments called staves, sharp and observant pieces of prose written by selected writers who know the area and the culture really well.

It may be an old format but it is very much made for the age of digital reading.Twelve writers cover twelve Berlin Districts – “Bezirke” or Kiez/Districts – over the Summer/Autumn of 2015 – and each writes about their neighbourhood in up to 5000 words. It is a great way to get behind the headlines, and as a collection, each piece acts as an alternative and innovative travel guide. These are personal observations of a city, still in flux, that can offer visitors a multi-cultural experience that is unique to the city.

You can subscribe for a small sum (less than the price of a chocolate bar) per stave, and download each piece via the website or the App, and it is a simple process. You can also add comments to the prose and join discussions, and it’s really easy to do… You can add photos too, but they have be added by the team at The Pigeonhole.

I started my ‘tour’ of Berlin as I was taking the commute into work, a good 20 minutes engrossed in another city. The first district up is Prenzlauer Berg, entitled “The Squirrel Principle“, by Lucy Renner Jones – an area I know quite well and therefore it was of huge interest to experience it through the eyes of a writer who has lived there. The piece acknowledges the change that this area has undergone, from pockmarked buildings in the run-down former Eastern Sector, to the current yummy mummy hangouts – babies and restaurants aplenty signify a whole new community. The squirrel as the writer says ” is the last native of Prenzlauer Berg and faces two options: adapt or leave”. Much the same is true of the old guard who have lived there for years but are having to make way for the new inhabitants who are gentrifying the area. With the burgeoning restaurant scene, she observes “there cannot be enough people to eat all the food produced in Prenzlauer Berg”. But Hackis’ bakery (or Bäckerei Konditorei Hacker to give it its full title) is one survivor selling beautifully baked goods (Splitterbrötchen are the hallmark bun) and it still has the nostalgic taste of East Germany (nevertheless pandering to the tourists by selling biscuits in the shape of the Fernsehturm of Alexanderplatz). Now they sell 600 or so bread rolls per day, but before the Wall came down it was more like 6000. Whatever the strengths of indigenous shops, they invariably fall prey to a new fashion; as the son of the rollerblind shop Castorf predicted of any new commercial premises: “da kommt bestimmt was Gastronomishet (some kind of gastronomy business is bound to take over).

And as for the orange vested tourists, pedalling through on the Berlin-on-Bike tours, weaving around like a very busy caterpillar several times a day, the author has little patience. Prenzlauer Berg has been reconstructed for the convenience of adults who have arrived with children in tow. 85% of the original population of Prenzlauer Berg has left the area since the Wall fell.

Stave II goes on to Friedrichshain in the capable hands of Eve Danger, this is a former Soviet-workers’ area, hosting an eclectic mix of inhabitants, a disparate but dynamic lot. From K17 and trendy Berghain, to Bones for Dogs which provides regionally sourced and wild meat as food for domestic pets. But as Eve comments: “the ratio of of children to dogs has steadily risen, a dead giveaway that it is time to make a getaway”. Much of the common theme in the Staves is about change and the loss of the original city.

On through the districts of Berlin, each Stave downloads automatically and waits patiently on your chosen device. It’s a delightful way to ‘travel’ and experience the city.

Check out more about Berlin here and listen to Valerie von Kittlitz reading a short extract from her essay Tiergarten: Bendler, Tinder, Grinder, Tender.

The next “Letter from” venture is happening later in the year, Pigeonhole is off to Greece. The range of pieces will be thematic rather than geographical – they plan to publish pieces on emigration/immigration, love and dating, making a living as a writer in Greece today, apartment culture in Athens, being a working mother in Greece – and more. Most of their writers are Greek, but will include international/ex-pat voices too. Pieces will be from rural mainland Greece and the islands as well as Athens, and some pieces will span the whole country in their reflections. Enjoy a refreshing and on point look at Greece, you can sign up here. 

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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