I.In the extended morning shadow of the union building, a small shop crouches in a cobbled alley that actually doesn’t exist any more. A rectangular sign in orange protrudes from the facade, screwed to the door arch made of light clinker bricks. It reads in black letters: Gutenberg Book Guild. The shop in Giessen city center is accessed via three narrow basalt steps, flanked by two shop windows. Owner Dagmar Tenten usually greets with a smile just to the left behind the counter. Collie-Greyhound mixed breed Tameo looks curiously at the guest. A look around reveals that other shops make a retro look with an artificially applied patina – this one is vintage.
Tenten makes no secret of the advanced age of the interior. “There used to be a jewelry shop here, the operators already had the shelves,” she reports. Her parents took over the shelves. That was in 1970. Anyone looking behind the counter sees a tablet. Dagmar Tenten also owns a smartphone. Otherwise, none of the modern devices that have long been common in bookstores can be found. But the owner maintains a French second-hand bookshop. After all, she loves languages, as she says, and lived in France for ten years.
“You can no longer live on book guild things only”
Above all, however, works by the book guild dominate the display. And that’s something special. Because in most partner bookstores of the cooperative based in Frankfurt, Büchergilde products only make up a small part of the range. “You can no longer live on book guild things,” says Tenten. 375 members in Giessen and the surrounding area essentially make up their customer base, as it is called in the headquarters on Braubachstrasse in Frankfurt. And: There is therefore only one Verdi bookstore in Berlin that exclusively offers book guild products, apart from trade union literature, which is to be had there. In between, in Tenten’s small empire, there is still jewelry made of wood and metal – “secondhand and disinfected”, as she emphasizes. The piece costs five euros. A small shelf is reserved for books by regional authors.
The shop is seen by customers as much more than a place where there are books and other beautiful things. Dagmar Tenten even exaggerates: Her shop is “least of all a bookstore” – rather, it was and is still a place of encounter in the past. Customers and neighbors have become friends. Your parents built the business. Back then, in 1954 and a year before the daughter’s birth, the book guild was still part of the union portfolio. It was not until 1998 that the trade union holding BGAG separated from this subsidiary, which was once founded for the literary education of workers and their families. As a result, the connection to trade union circles gradually became looser.
The Tentens gradually built up a kind of contact exchange in their “book distribution center”. In the eighties, her shop also became the focal point of the local peace movement. For so many members and so many friends, the shop became a meeting place to have a chat at one of the bistro tables. But it was not a one-way street: “When my mother died, I had people to talk to,” says Dagmar Tenten.
“Bring good books into your house”
Initially, her parents set up the book guild agency in their own apartment. The “shop” consisted of two shelves with curtains in front of them. “One is in the basement, the other in the garage. And I also have a curtain, ”says Dagmar Tenten. She is preserving and developing her parents’ legacy, which is evidenced by a number of framed newspaper articles and photos in the store. She has organized readings with regional authors, small concerts, vernissages and roundtables. There were already many dates for 2020. Then came the corona pandemic.
As a result, as with other booksellers, sales fell. Whereby Tenten managed. The former teacher informed her customers via answering machine when she could be reached in the store. In order to accommodate older members of the book guild in particular, it offers delivery by bike courier.
A side effect of the pandemic: the role of the store as an information exchange, as a space for chatting and as a place where anyone who likes to play can pick up the guitar that is waiting – “this whole culture is gone,” says Tenten, but is confident: ” That builds up again. ”Then the owner reserves the right display window again for information about her own events. Meanwhile, the motto is: look through books, wait for the pandemic to progress and plan. “You have to admire the fact that she has been persevering for so long in the good cause of getting good books out there,” says someone who has known her for a long time. This in turn is strongly reminiscent of a decade-old motto of the book guild: “Bring good books into your house”.
The quoted informant also attests to Tenten’s self-sacrificing work away from the large streams of buyers. Now she is not getting rich in her shop and is at an age when others are thinking about retirement. How is she doing with retirement? She doesn’t have to think about it for a second and says with a fine smile: “My mother was still here when she was 84.”