In Berlin, two book lovers from London are encouraging reading in an altogether more intimate atmosphere.
It reads like something from the opening scene of a cheesy film. A girl makes a mad dash out of the house, races down an inconvenient number of stairs, grabs her bike at the bottom and pedals off into the traffic. As she jumps red lights and dodges oncoming cyclists, she keeps one eye out for the time, which is - yet again - of the essence. It is 9:20 a.m. and she is already five minutes late. She is a lousy time-keeper.
Cursing her flaw, she reaches the intersection at Eberswalderstrasse. It's 9:22. How long can she keep a blind date waiting? Might someone else come and snatch it up? She keeps going, weaving her way through pedestrians, prams and road workers, until at precisely 9:26, she turns into Kollwitzstrasse. Eleven minutes late. Her heart is beating in time with her efforts, and she's not quite there yet.
She parks outside one of the numerous entrances to the Wasserturmplatz. She knows this square and had welcomed the suggestion to make it the scene of her mysterious rendezvous. But it's been a while and her urban geography, it seems, is as poor as her punctuality. In her recollection, the statue of the lion where she is to meet her date was somewhere else. She hurries among the trees and along the sandy paths - watched by mother who is not watching her kids - in search of the one she hopes will still be waiting.
Date in sight
Her heart gives a little rise as she catches sight of the feline cast stretched out in the late summer sun. But where is her date? From where she is standing, she can see nothing but the big cat and her cubs. She hurries closer, circling the lion as it might circle her were it not frozen in its bronze slumber, and there beneath its hind leg she sees what she has come for.
It is bound in blue ribbon and wrapping paper printed with the words: "Who are you? I'm your blind book date. Come on handsome/beautiful. Pick me up!"
So I did.
"Open me!" read the attached tag. I did that too. And what I found inside was Arthur Schnitzler's "Dream Story." Not so cheesy after all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The blind-date-a-book project, which goes by the name Bookflaneur, is the brainchild of Piotr Drozd and Nadia Gorchakova, a socially- and community-minded couple who arrived in Berlin from London earlier this year. They have full-time jobs, but spend a few of their evening hours plotting how to get as many books as possible off their dusty shelves and back into the hands of readers.
Each weekend, they take 10 or so books from their growing donations-based stock and hide them around Berlin. Whenever possible they match the content to the places they hide the books, and they always wrap them in their very own Bookflaneur-style dust jackets so as to prevent any judging of covers. Although the project has only been up and running for the past month or so, it has already attracted attention and, most importantly, literary followers.
A special relationship with books
Nadia believes that in searching the city to find a book people regard them differently. But ultimately this project is about more than changing the way people see what they read, or indeed read what they see; it is about the creation of a community. Some fans have already approached the duo to ask whether they can hide novels in the name of Bookflaneur in other parts of Germany.
That is exactly what Piotr wants to see happen. "We just email them the covers to print out and they can do it themselves." Ideally, he and Nadia would like their blind-date-a-book idea grow from a Berlin-based novelty to an international community of people who want to share the written word and re-love pre-loved literary works.
And how better to ignite those first flames of passion than with a bind date.
On that note, in case you are wondering how my own blind date went... We had coffee in a little place not far from where we met. He held forth - particularly on the exploits of a certain Fridolin - and although I enjoyed his surreal tales of old, I'm not sure he and I are the stuff of a long-term monogamous relationship.
But as chance would have it, on my way home, I passed the tree library - a trunk with hollowed out shelves upon and from which anyone can deposit and borrow books - and noticed its stocks looking a little depleted. So I figure when I have finished with my blind date, I will take him there.
Dressed in his dapper suit, I'm sure it won't be long before some book-loving Berlin flaneur picks him up. Quite literally.