Hildegund Laaff (80) is probably the oldest still active bookseller of the city. Literature has shaped her life, as well as the war and moving to Cologne. Her story in her words:
“October 1st of 1957 was my first day of work in Cologne. I was 20 years old and had just earned my bookseller-qualification. I used to work at Bücherstube am Dom then (annotation: this store called “bookstore next to the cathedral” doesn’t exist anymore). Since 24 years I work at Lengfeld’sche Buchhandlung.
I am in charge of the assortment. Which means, I choose from the catalogues of the publishers. It is important to me not only to sell new publications, but also classics. Literature, that is essential to our culture.
Marcel Proust and Fernando Pessoa for example will always be in stock. I love the descriptions of Marcel Proust and Fernando Pessoas thoughts are dazzling. The full “Don Quijote” by Miguel de Cervantes and “Jahrestage” by Uwe Johnson were read at the bookstore. Both in a series of readings, that went on for years.
Work is my hobby and I only recommend books, I have read myself. Each evening I read for about two hours or three. What I read depends on my mood. Sometimes I prefer something thrilling to calm me down. The next day I choose a poem, letters or essays. Short texts that make you think for a long time.
I love language. Language that you can drop yourself into. I am a slow reader, because I read every single word. I am not good at skimming; I cannot do that. What I like about literature? It opens up new worlds to me. I am fascinated by that ever since my childhood. My grandmother read “Winnie-the-Pooh” to me. After that I went on reading adventure stories such as “Robinson Crusoe”, from the personal library of my uncle. My family had to move often during World War II, hence we did not own a lot of books. After the war, when I was 13, I began working as an assistance in a bookstore in Ludwigshafen (annotation: a city in Southern Germany). That is 67 years ago.
During my apprenticeship I visited the bookseller-school in Cologne-Rodenkirchen for six weeks. I decided to return to Cologne, because the atmosphere is good and the people are rather casual. When you are in a café, chances are, you end up chatting with a stranger. Even if it is superficial, it can be most interesting and lively.
I work in the middle of the city and I enjoy the beautiful environment. The plaza surrounding Minoritenkirche gives you some space. It is not so narrow here and rather quiet. However, the amount of trash in the streets annoys me sometimes.
How long I want to keep working? As long as I can walk and think.”