• Books
  • Sophie Raphaeline: Farewell to a literary legend


Sophie Raphaeline: Farewell to a literary legend

We look back at the life of a Kreuzberg bookstore legend, who died on May 6.

Sophie Raphaeline. Photo: facebook.com/anothercountry

The proprietor of the English language bookstore Another Country, Sophie Raphaeline, sometimes known as Sophia, has sadly passed away after a years-long struggle with ill health. Her Kreuzberg bookshop, Berlin’s oldest English language bookshop, has been around since the late 1990s, when Sophie, then living as a man, arrived in Berlin. She had a personal collection of some 13,000 books – including a remarkable assortment of science-fiction literature – to do something with and decided to set up an English-language bookshop.

But the truth is, Another Country wasn’t just a second-hand bookshop – in fact, in many ways, it wasn’t a shop at all, but a lending library and community centre. Many books in the shop were not on sale, but only available to be loaned out as part of a lending library scheme – something which often confused first-time visitors to the store.

Another Country wasn’t a business as such, rather a community hub for all kinds of expat writers, artists, eccentrics, the lost and the lonely. 

Writers were welcome to come by and write in the bookshop’s only slightly musty cellar. She often let homeless friends or even friends of friends sleep in the bookshop if they had nowhere else to go. One thing’s for certain: Another Country wasn’t a business as such, rather a community hub for all kinds of expat writers, artists, eccentrics, the lost and the lonely. 

Probably even more important than the books you could borrow or buy were the events Sophie hosted, especially the notorious Friday night dinners. For just €5 you could eat the most delicious food – sometimes even roast dinners! – with the most random group of people. These nights could be quite raucous, although sometimes they were fairly civilised. People ate, drank, argued, played a round of ‘Speed Scrabble’ and then drank some more. They were certainly never boring.

Sophie Raphaeline was fiercely intelligent, incredibly well-read – yet not snobby at all. She was almost incapable of acting snobbishly. Trans-friendly, queer-friendly, woke, inclusive – but not in a judgy or soulless way. She disapproved of parents reading Harry Potter to their kids primarily because the writing was so atrocious, and donated any money made on JK Rowling’s novels to trans charities.

Sophie Raphaeline’s Kreuzkölln bookshop, Another Country. Photo: Nathan Wright

Sophie’s transition story is a somewhat unusual one, as she never struggled with her gender identity until quite late in life. In fact, she didn’t even believe that she had been born the wrong gender. Sophie’s ill health, she felt, played a crucial part in her new gender identity. One day, in 2008, after undergoing treatment for liver cirrhosis, she suddenly noticed she was seeing and sensing, experiencing the world in a completely different way – in a new, more female way. It was a sudden change, but complete, and total. She started transitioning a few weeks later. For her, now, women were her sisters, the people she wanted to talk to and hang out with, the people she belonged with. And she found she no longer related to men or wanted to be part of male culture.

She disapproved of parents reading Harry Potter to their kids primarily because the writing was so atrocious.

Sophie was the life and soul of Another Country. It was impossible to pop in for a browse without standing and chatting with her for at least an hour. Knowledgeable, witty, sarcastic and warm, there was nothing Sophie couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about. In a previous Exberliner article, Sophie explained that the reason she set up the bookshop was to give people who can’t speak German a kind of refuge: “That’s the way I was looking at it – as a place where people can come and speak in English, whether they’ve got great German or can’t speak it at all. It was, and still is, an oasis of sorts.”

But her ill health, namely her liver, plagued her during her last years. On June 6, 2021, she announced her semi-retirement in the Another Country Facebook group: “I had always thought that one of the great things about running a bookshop was that you never needed to retire, just carry on until whenever. Unfortunately ‘whenever’ does come around at some point of time. Basically my liver is deteriorating. In the last year I’ve had tumours treated which, although apparently clear at the moment, will almost certainly return. Stats give me another year or two.”

On May 6, 2022, Sophie Raphaeline died in hospital, peacefully, without pain and with her friends by her side. At an impromptu wake held the day after her death, many visitors came to pay their respects – old friends, neighbours, customers. Sophie Raphaeline was as eccentric as her messy but cosy bookshop, and Berlin is a colder place without her. We are honoured to have known her.