The Harbinger Online

Safe From Larvae and Rust: Bookstore in Salzburg


“…what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art”. – Vladimir Nabokov, 1964

Well, I guess it’s been a while since I did one of these, but I’ve been busy. Specifically, I took an amazing week-long trip with the Choraliers to Germany and Austria. It was, without a doubt, the best week of my life, filled with music, centuries-old churches, stone-paved streets, castles and the best bratwursts.

If you ask anyone who went on the trip what their favorite part was, you’re probably going to hear Salzburg, Austria as the answer. I could write pages and pages about that city but for the sake of this blog, I’m going to focus on a bookstore that I visited. While I was always on the lookout for bookstores on the trip, I only had the chance to visit one because of time constraints. But I’m very glad I did.

Buchhandlung Höllrigl is located on Sigmund-Haffner Alley in the historical part of Salzburg. It is the oldest existing bookstore in Salzburg, dating back to the 1500s. The cozy two-floor space has long replaced its religious tomes with modern, German bestsellers as time went on. I had a bag in one hand and a smoked ham sandwich in the other. That’s my excuse for forgetting to take pictures of the store. So here’s one from Google Images:

On one wall, a shelf was filled with small booklets with plain yellow paperback covers. Upon a closer look, names such as Goethe and Shakespeare jumped out at me from the rows of narrow spines. The shelf was labeled “Reclam”. I didn’t know what that means but a closer look at the spines (Ovid, Rilke…) assured me that the books were works of classic literature. Some were original German works, while others were translated into German.

I was delighted. What works by German authors have I read in English?  All I could think of was Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry cycle, Sonnets to Orpheus. I found it immediately. It came in a neat, slim volume and contained Duino Elegies as well. I flipped through it and wondered how much of it I’d be able to understand if I completed the Duolingo German lessons.

Then I looked for Kafka, one of the essential German writers. Nabokov ranked his Metamorphosis as the second greatest work of literature of the 20th century. So I plucked it off the shelf and made a mental note to actually read it in English some time.

My eyes then fell upon the sexy bunch of Shakespeare in a corner. Shakespeare in German – I had to get at least one. All his best works: Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra… The Germans sure aren’t slacking on their Shakespeare. I chose Hamlet in the end, which I think is quintessentially Shakespeare.

The only Nabokov novel I found, though, was a thin red booklet printed in Russian. The German translation of the title said Drei Erzählungen, which means Three Stories. I don’t know which three stories yet because everything else is in Russian — which is probably the language Nabokov wrote the stories in — so if anyone could help out that’d be much appreciated!

The four books together cost exactly fifteen Euros, which is about $17. When I got back from the trip, I looked up what “Reclam” is. It’s a German publishing house that prints unabridged classic works of literature on their “little yellow books”, which are hand-sized and have plain yellow paperback covers. They’re very popular in Germany for their cheap price and accessibility. I might not ever learn enough German to be able to read the ones that I bought cover to cover, but they’re still valuable and meaningful souvenirs from an absolutely amazing journey.

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