Only Germany could have produced a monster like the Stabi. (Before I begin, let me clarify as a prologue that I dearly love Berlin. But this library is a monster. I have just left, and, two bowls of soup and a large amount of water later, and the promise of a huge pot of potatoes currently cooking, I might survive my hour in the Stabi).
To begin with, the first time I tried to enter the Stabi, it took me three times. To even enter its hallowed walls, you need a lot of proof that you exist. Blood samples, preferably, but in case you forgot your needle of choice, they will accept your passport and proof of police registration. (Yes, for a library card. To read books, even just to walk inside and take a seat).
Then, after you have passed that harrowed test, you must pass the second test: putting all of your belongings in a little plastic see-through bag. Laptops must be taken out of their bags. Water is not allowed. (I failed this test the first time because I tried to enter with my normal bag; I failed the second time because I came back with the see-through bag, but I had my laptop in its bag). They are really particular about the bags. (And I cannot believe that no one has ironically put a picture of one of these bags on the internet!) REVISED: In my desperate search to find a freaking Stabi bag (where are they??), I discovered that every year between 100,000 to 120,000 of these stupid plastic bags are used, costing the library system between 12,000 to 16,000 Euros (article written in 2008). Let me suggest letting the academic children play with books with their water bottles at a safe distance is not going to cost 16,000 Euros of damage (per year).
Then, before you can go through the magic turnstyle (as if you are entering another planet, which, by the way, YOU ARE), you need to receive a slip of paper that clarifies what exactly you have in your bag–in case the see through bag wasn’t self-explanatory and transparent enough. The people sitting at the magic turnstyle give you one of three stamps: 1) PC for personal computer 2) private book if you are bringing in your own books (but no stamp if you bring in, say, a planner or an electronic reader; the Stabi is not that differentiated, as it’s anal but antiquated) 3) Stabi/library book. You have to hang on to this piece of paper and return it to these souls as you leave. Imagine the number of trees that have suffered because of this ridiculous system.
[Pause: there are eight pages of house rules, if you can handle it]
Moreover, there is, as I have already suggested, no food or drink allowed–not even water. You must lock all of your belongings in the lockers outside in the foyer. Am I the only one who thinks this is an academic health hazard? So each time if you want to step out to make a phone call or, god forbid, hydrate, you have to return this stupid slip of paper and get a new one. (Despite the fact that Germany has one of the most sophisticated recycling systems on the planet, they have this moronic library system of individual stamped pieces of paper for each entry into the library).
What I find comical is that you are able to take books out of the library. Oh, trust me, when I am enjoying these books at home, they are surrounded by water, tea, and yummy little cookies. I expressed my outrage to a German friend that not even water was allowed in the Stabi, and he seemed to think this was totally normal. Of course, was his response. It’s so the books won’t get all fatty. It’s too protect them. Yes, the books need protection. They need to be kept safe. Until everyone takes them home on their bikes in the rain and then exposes them to elements like tea. Like I am doing now…Danger!
Much like only England could have produced Lord Henry’s uncle in The Picture of Dorian Gray, only Germany could have produced this system. I usually last about an hour, and then I leave, gasping for breath, dehydrated, and on the verge of Körperverletzung (bodily injury). You see lots of people in the bathroom–I kid you not–shoveling water into their mouths using their hands like pigs at the trough. I don’t blame them. But somehow it’s just never quite enough water for me.
It’s my goal to somehow smuggle water into the Stabi and drink it into the bathroom. I think this could be possible with a little mini flask snuck into my pencil case. Not a huge goal, but, trust me, were you to spend 20 seconds in this place, you would feel like this pencil-case-hydration-smuggle-act was starting a riot of independence.
It’s too bad, as the Stabi could otherwise be a lovely place to work. There are interesting plants and windows, as well as some generally lovely and soothing scalloped curves and lights and the library has, per capita, I think, some of the most attractive people in Berlin gathered under one roof. The amount of interesting glasses and hair do’s is staggering. Some people develop “Stabi crushes” based on people they see there repeatedly. I have a great interest in cultivating a Stabi crush, but unfortunately, that means I would need to spend time there…whereas my apartment allows me to do things like lounge on the sofa and, more importantly, drink water. I think I’ll cultivate a crush on my mint plant. Please note, dear attractive and interesting Stabi people, if you would like to cultivate a crush on me, you can find me…anywhere but in the Stabi. Probably reading somewhere, drinking water, eating, and gazing adoringly at my mint plant.