This summer, a culmination of the right time, place and people aligned allowing for the creation of The Lesen Lounge — a tiny, open-air zine reading and making lounge — to roll into Berlin parks. The idea behind the project is quite simple but, perhaps because it’s not a commercial project, it has required a lot of explaining. Simply put, it is a zine collection on a bike trailer displayed for passers-by to peruse. No money is exchanged and no membership is required. If so inspired, visitors can make a zine on the spot. If someone wants to own a copy of one of the zines they come across at the lounge, they can scroll through the online catalogue and get in touch with makers and distros directly.
One of my goals with The Lesen Lounge is to reflect the international nature of the city it rolls through. Currently most of the zines are in English — even some of the German-made works represented are in English — but I would like to see the collection evolve into a multilingual one. I have been really lucky, while traveling in far-off, foreign lands, to collect a number of zines and befriend makers and writers eager to expose their work to Europeans. The majority of the zines that make up the library are from my personal collection and the remainder are donations from makers, artists and zine-hoarding friends.
Since the start of The Lesen Lounge, people from different countries and cultures (both residents and tourists), have offered to send their zines to be included in the collection. In fact, the majority of people who came to The Lesen Lounge seem to be creators of zines, which is encouraging. I had the impression that zine culture waslargely unknown in Europe, particularly in Germany, but theresponse I have received suggests otherwise.
Almost every project I have been involved in — particularly those in the handmade realm — combines elements of making and sharing. Encouraging participation is important to me and I want others to experience not just the
end result, but also the creation. It is difficult to sustain such projects in a commercial and consumer-free environment, but part of my intention with The Lesen Lounge was to offer something free, open, and readily available to anyone and everyone.
I was fortunate to receive a small neighbourhood grant from the Kreuzberg district of Berlin that went towards construction of the Lounge itself as well as zine-making supplies. This allowed The Lesen Lounge to become a truly open and free experiment in sharing zines from around the world. That, combined with the idea that everyone has something to share — whether it’s true, false, or an illustration of something in between — makes me want to get everyone in the neighbourhood making zines and books. I’ll concede that both the shyness of strangers and my regrettably terrible German makes this the most challenging aspect of the project. Hopefully
this will change with time, as people get used to seeing me in the park or riding through their neighbourhood with my trailer and grow less wary of checking out The Lounge.
The project itself is an evolution of The Wunderkabinet — a rotating exhibition project of handmade curios and multiples. The last rotation of The Wunderkabinet was called The Reading Raum and featured zines, handmade
multiples by tiny presses, and other paper objects. It was open over the summer of 2011 and revealed the zine world to many people who had no idea it existed. More than anything, though, it drew zinesters out of the woodwork and exposed me to the multiple layers of zine culture happening in Berlin and throughout Europe. The response to The Reading Raum encouraged me to continue the project in some way, but my own lifestyle as
a touring musician made it difficult to maintain a stationary, permanent space of any kind. Making the project compact and truly mobile made perfect sense. I would like the collection to grow and change from week to week, while remaining multilingual and open and accessible to anyone.
I like that the collection represents a real cross-section of zine culture. Right now, it holds everything from music fanzines to cut-and-paste, photo-copied editions to hand-stitched and silk-screened artworks. When I consider this project, I realize that my new home informs a lot of my work and I probably couldn’t have done this anywhere else but this city.
Leah is the proprietor of the Lesen Lounge, the Coldsnap Bindery, a co-founder of City of Craft and one half of the band Nadja. You can find The Lesen Lounge catalogue at this website.