Intro: Minimalism and books

I have recently reduced my own book collection to three wine boxes. Two relocations and a world trip have made me kind of a minimalist. But suddenly I had nothing to read anymore.

That was a good moment for me to check out sources of free books in Berlin. Read here which ways I found and how easy it is.

Public book shelves in public spaces

“Bücherwald” in Prenzlauer Berg

Public book shelves are standing at street corners and look like phone booths, tree trunks and or just like book shelves. They enrich the public life of the Kiezes as a swapping but also as a meeting place.

You can find a list of public book shelves in Berlin on Wikipedia or on

Public book shelves in cafés or bars

Café Bilderbuch Schöneberg

A while ago it was something special to have a public book shelf in a café. Now it seems to be the standard – at least in trendy cafés and bars.

My opinion: There are many public book shelves in public spaces and cafés, but you need a little bit of luck to find good books there. Don’t expect too much or check them regularly.

Give-away shop

Schenkladen Systemfehler, Friedrichshain

give-away shop (German: Umsonstladen or Schenkladen) is a shop where people can bring and take stuff for free. Often donations, volunteering and public sponsoring help to maintain the shops. There are a few ones in Berlin like Leila (Mitte), Systemfehler (Friedrichshain) and Trial & Error (Neukölln). Also check out for video profiles of some of these organisations.

An alternative are “Givesboxes” or “Freeboxes”. Those are boxes or shelves which are publicly accessible.

Book swapping events

Book swapping at a Sustainability Drinks event

From time to time book swapping events take place. GreenBuzz organised a Sustainability Drinks event during the Global Sharing Week 2017. Besides talks from experts of the local sharing scene there was a big book swapping table where people could swap books.

The Berliner Büchertisch offered 150 books for the table and got back what was left. Their Facebook page is one resource to get informed about swapping events. Another source is the event search of Goodreads.

Public library

Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek, Hallesches Tor, Kreuzberg

Public libraries have existed for several hundred years. They are the dinosaurs of the Sharing Economy.

The offer in Berlin is very good. There is the big American Memorial Library (Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek) which is the Central Library of Berlin (ZLB), but there are also many small Kiez libraries. Check out the website of the Association of Public Libraries in Berlin (VÖBB).

They charge a yearly membership fee of 10 euros. But then every book, CD or movie is free. The offer is huge and for me this is the best book source.

Internet sharing platforms

Book sharing via Fairleihen

A lot of sharing platforms popped up during the last years. The principle is easy: Users either offer something or ask for something. On some platforms these activities are free (Fairleihen, Shelfless), others are more commercial (Frents). There are also platforms with the focus on books like Bookcrossing.

You can get to know each other over the web, but in the end you have to meet to share the books. Thus, book sharing is also a social opportnity. And if you meet in a nice café it can even be delicious.

Friends, family and colleagues

Book sharing with Hanna from vostel

The internet is cool, but you should never forget your best sharing and lending resource: Your friends, your family, your colleagues at work, sports, associations etc. In short, the people you know best.

I asked my brother to give me a book I might like and I really liked what he chose. And I saw a book on the shelf of a friend and just asked to borrow it. It’s so easy, so don’t be shy!

My “harvest”

I checked out all the mentioned ways and was able to get 10 books:

  • 2 x public bookshelf
  • 1 x give-away shop
  • 1 x book swapping event
  • 2 x public library
  • 2 x Fairleihen
  • 1 x brother
  • 1 x friend

I’m very happy and have enough to read for several weeks!


We already wrote about books and e-books and how you can read sustainably: Bookworm Saving the Planet

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