Walking along Curvystrasse, a side street in the fast gentrifying district of Kreuzberg, you could easily miss Papiertiger. Thick vines almost completely cover the archive’s front and there’s little signage, save for a painted yellow 2-by-4 sign hidden in the brush. A passerby might feel intimated by the mysterious and somewhat distinguished facade, with its windows hinting at wooden interiors and people poring over stacks of tomes inside. I’ve heard tell of a historical zine collection inside, with some pickings dating back to before the Berlin Wall. Otherwise though, I might have walked right on by, unsure of what the space could hold.
The answer, it turns out, is tons of paper. Over its 26-year history documenting social movements in Germany and beyond, Papiertiger has crammed its interiors with 2,300 binders of pamphlets, newspaper clippings and leaflets. There are 9,000 books, 3,500 German newspapers dating back to the 1960s and a poster archive numbering in the thousands. Everything is organized by topic, such as the peace or women’s movement, and also by country or region. All this is maintained by two volunteers who, understandably, fall behind in meticulously organizing all this ephemera. Boxes exploding with paper sit in front of the ceiling-high shelves, waiting patiently to be filed.
Upon first entering, there’s the front reading room, which looks not unlike the special collections room of a library. From there two doorways branch off into more doorways of more rooms with more shelves stacked with more binders and more books. There is no cataloging system per se, but one volunteer has two decades of worth of cataloging experience and all these shelves are organized somewhere in his head. When I ask after the historical zines, he gestures first to the turning metal racks by the front door that hold more contemporary zines. Then, he disappears down one of the hallways and returns with a file folder stuffed to the gills. Here she be: the mother lode. Political zines dating back to ‘60s and ‘70s all photocopied into black-and-white perfection, with images of waving flags, decaying skeletons and angry crowds remaking the social order. My German is shoddy at best, but phrases like “Wehrt euch!” leap from the page telling me these zines deal with resisting oppression of all kinds. My favourite, possibly because I can understand it, is titled “”Wie macht man ein Strassenfest?” (“How to hold a block party?”). The library no longer lends out these historical artifacts any more, but visitors to Berlin who are in the know can stop in and take a peek.