Libraries are among my favourite places on the planet, and I’m lucky that one of Berlin’s best, the Luisenbad library, is in the northern suburb of Wedding, where I live. It’s reached by a dark path between a burger joint and a kebab shop, or by a walk along the Panke river. Both lead to a bright courtyard with an impressive neo-baroque building dating from 1888, the old tile lettering Kafe Küche still visible to the left of the entrance.
As the name – literally (Queen) Luise’s Bath – indicates, it was originally a public pool named after a Prussian queen; over the years it has been a restaurant, a coffee shop and a cinema. A protected building since 1978, it was extensively refurbished in 1995 by award-winning architects Rebecca Chestnutt and Robert Niess.
Today’s library is a friendly and bright space, with a large reading garden, a stucco-decorated “Cherub Hall” that dates from 1912 and is now used for readings and events, and a children’s library with books in 40 languages. The new design also pays tribute to the chequered history of the area: the side of the building opposite the new glass-and-concrete reading room was left as found, displaying layers of history in the form of tiles from the old pool and raw brick penetrated by bullet holes from 1945’s Battle of Berlin.