Last night I had the chance to go on a private guided tour of the Stadtbibliothek, the main city library in Stuttgart. I’ve already written about how much I love the Stuttgart Stadtbibliothek but after going on the tour, I discovered so many new features about the library and gained a much greater appreciation for what it has to offer.
The 90-minute guided English tour was organized by the Metropolitan Club of Stuttgart. The club, often called Met Club for short, organizes events all over the city, including restaurant dinners, festivals, plays, tours and much more. The last Met Club event I attended was a fantastic guided tour of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, so I was really looking forward to going on another guided tour.
S was unable to join me so I was flying solo for the evening. The tour began at 6:30pm and the meeting spot was inside the middle of the library at the small fountain. And by small fountain, I really do mean ‘small’ – the water spurts up about 10cm.
There were 25 people signed up for the tour with a waitlist of about 13 so I felt pretty lucky to be able to get a spot. Our guide Inka was one of the staff members at the Stadtbibliothek who normally runs the tour in German but conducted our tour in English. We learned that the library was completed in 2011 after 3 years of construction but was planned as far back as the 1990s. The library was designed by the Korean architect Eun Young Yi.
In the daytime, the outside of the library is grey and somewhat unremarkable, but at night, the library cube glows bright blue.
The Stadtbibliothek is the new intellectual and cultural centre of the city and welcomes people of all nations. This philosophy is symbolized by the large inscriptions on the outer walls — the word ‘library’ is translated into German, Korean, Arabic and English on the north, east, south and west walls of the building.
Yi calls the 14-metre-high empty central section of the library the ‘Heart’ which was designed to offset the flurry of activity inside the rest of the library. The fountain in the centre of the ‘Heart’ is meant to symbolize the fountain of knowledge.
After checking out the interactive touch screen library guide on the main floor (offered in both German and English), Inka showed us the ‘Library for Insomniacs’. This is a section at the back of the library that is open 24 hours a day and showcases books from a particular theme but in all different genres (ie. science fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, etc). The theme at the moment is ‘Zukunft‘ (ie. ‘future’). There are about 60 books and DVDs on display in 25 glass cubbies. You can use your library card to access a particular numbered cubby and the system will automatically detect which book you took out. You can keep the book for up to 4 weeks like any regular book at the library and return it as normal. A great feature for insomniacs who need a book to read at 3am!
We then headed up to the 1st floor, the music floor. All measure of books about music and CDs are available. My favourite part about the music floor was learning about the tiny glass-enclosed recording studio in the corner. Any member of the library can get the key from the front desk and use the thousands of Euros worth of recording equiment to compose their own music. Our guide told us that she often sees bands in there writing music. I was also surprised to discover that there is equipment to digitalize songs from old records (ie. LPs) into MP3 files! Inka told us that this feature is especially popular with older library patrons who have stacks of records they want to digitalize. What a great service!
The second floor is the children’s floor and it’s amazing how much thought went into designing it to appeal to children. There are colourful pillows and low tables, carpeted rooms to get cozy in with a book, and theme islands where kids can learn about different topics. Children’s books are also offered in multiple languages which speaks to the wide international demographic of Stuttgart.
We then carried on to the 5th-8th floors of the library which are probably the most photographed parts of the library. I think you can guess why…
The inner sections of the floors contain fiction (in up to 26 different languages) and the outer sections contain non-fiction. There are also desks, large tables and small study rooms that can be used for meetings and group projects. Inka told us that around exam time it can be hard to find a spot to read since all the study rooms, chairs and desks are taken. I guess some things are the same all over the world!
Something I never would have known without taking the tour is that there is actually a facade around the entire library with a wrap-around balcony. There are glass doors from the inner section of the library that you can open to access the balcony. It offers a fantastic view of the city, especially the Europaviertel (ie. European Quarter) where the Stadtbibliothek is located. The glass doors are usually closed by 6pm in the winter but are open later into the summer. There is also a rooftop terrace that you can access as well. Bring a camera!
On the top floor, the 8th floor, I learned that there is a café called Café LesBar. (How I missed that before, I have no idea). The café is run by the charity Caritas and is open Monday – Saturday from 10am – 6pm. They often hold events there in the evenings; in fact, they were holding an event of somekind while we were on our tour. It would be a good spot to grab a quick snack or coffee while at the library.
Right next to the café is one of my favourite features of the library – an art library! That’s right, you can actually borrow original photos, prints and paintings like you would a book! There is a large collection of available pieces in the Graphotheque that you can pull off the shelf to view or traditional slides that you can view through a lightbox. Inka told us that the staff take advantage of all the great artwork available and regularly rotate the artwork in their living rooms with the pieces in the Graphotheque. Businesses and offices also make use of the art at the library to keep their waiting rooms and lobbies looking fresh. There is an easy checkout system where you lay the artwork vertically into a slot and use your library card as you would when checking out a book. There are thin cardboard boxes available for you to protect your artwork during transport. You can check out this video (in German) to learn more about the Graphotheque.
It took a lot of willpower not to borrow a piece for myself at the end of the tour, but I thought it might be a little cumbersome to take with me on my 50 minute train and bus ride home in the dark. Next time, though, I will definitely take a look!
If you find yourself in the centre of Stuttgart, I highly recommend visiting the Stadtbibliothek. There are 500,000 some-odd media items to choose from and countless resources to use – PCs for personal use for an entire day, portable CD players to listen to the CDs in the library, music recording equipment, printers, scanners, stations for viewing the animations featured in the International Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film and so much more.
How to get there: The Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart is located at Mailänder Platz 1 in Stuttgart and is open from Monday to Saturday, 9am – 9pm. If using public transportation to get to the library, you can take the U-Bahn on lines U5, U6, U7, U12 or U15 to the Stadtbibliothek stop. It’s located one stop north of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
Have you visited a library in Germany? Which one is your favourite?