Ludwig Mayer Bookstore, Jerusalem
We walked into the bookstore bearing the name Ludwig Mayer on a still but sunny morning on a very quiet day in Jerusalem. Marcel, the third owner of this legendary bookstore explained to us that since it was Passover nothing would be open, and that he was having difficulty getting books delivered for his loyal customers.
This isn’t any bookstore, and Marcel isn’t any bookseller. In the weeks leading up to our meeting Marcel had promised to tell us the whole story of how Ludwig Mayer Bookstore came into being and continues to exist nearly 110 years later.
Ludwig Mayer was born in Germany in 1879 and after an apprenticeship as a bookseller he moved to Palestine in 1908 to open his eponymous bookstore. He was doing well, but when war broke out he decided to put all the books into storage and move back to Germany to fight for his country. By the time that was over he had lost his wife, but had a young son. He remarried, had another son and began selling books via mail order from Germany. When the Nazi party came into power in 1933 he was sickened and moved back to Jerusalem and reopened his bookstore. It has remained open ever since. His boys took over the bookstore after his death, and Marcel took it over after them in 1994.
Ludwig Mayer Bookstore in a Nutshell
What type of bookstore survives in this modern world of internet sales and Amazon? The answer could be found in one simple story Marcel told us on that sunny morning in April.
In the 1960’s there was a police officer who came into the store on a weekly basis to collect 4 or 5 German books. This was back when the store was also a lending library, and you could borrow books as well as purchase them. Ludwig’s wife handled the transactions and was curious who the books were for. The man would not give an answer. Every week this went on and the man would not answer. Finally after about two months of this she put her foot down and threatened to refuse any more books until she knew the recipient. The recipient turned out to be none less than the Nazi Adolph Eichmann. She didn't curtail the flow of books, but said: "I will choose what he will read."
Ludwig Mayer isn't a place where you will go to find the latest crime novel or best seller. This isn't an airport bookstore. While you can find some modern fiction, the bookstore has more of a focus on scholarly publications.
While we were chatting with Marcel, several customers popped in looking for this or that. One woman asked him if he had a specific book. Without looking at a computer Marcel stood up and wandered over to a pile of books near the front of the store. After a minute he came back with what she was looking for. While he did this a young man walked the racks with what appeared to be his father. I heard him whisper to himself, not quite under his breath "Now this is a real bookstore."
If you so happen to be in Jerusalem for any amount of time, you should certainly stop by Ludwig Mayer and say hello to Marcel and wander the racks of books. He always has a story ready for you.
If you can't make it into the store, drop him a line. He can no doubt track down any type of book for you. Just be prepared to wait a little longer for it if you are ordering over Passover.