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The bookseller: Frithjof Klepp

In a city already crowded with bookstores, Frithjof Klepp is determined to make Ocelot live up to its “not just another bookstore” sobriquet.

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Photo by Michael Andrysiak

Whether expat or native, German or English, e-publisher or champion of paper, this series of six Berliners represents the many facets of publishing. Each at the forefront of their field, they all contribute to make the Berlin literature scene what it is – forward-thinking, versatile… and above all, exciting!

In a city already crowded with bookstores, Frithjof Klepp is determined to make Ocelot stand out.

Frithjof Klepp, the 38-year-old owner of Ocelot, spends seven days out of seven in his shop. When he is not negotiating with sellers or developing new marketing strategies to increase the reach of Ocelot’s e-store, he is eagerly taking sales shifts himself. After four years working for an online bookstore, Klepp values the personal contact with people.

“There is no way we can compete with Amazon, but it’s super important that we’re local. It is great for readers to be able to go somewhere and interact with each other. We’re giving them that possibility.” Even better – over cake and coffee.

That’s the first thing that makes Ocelot live up to its “not just another bookstore” sobriquet. It might not seem that revolutionary for some expats, yet the idea of having a hot drink or a sweet bite while flipping through a book in-store is still a novelty in Berlin. Second, the quality of the Mitte store itself: custom-designed with comfy sofas and proper lighting for unhurried reading.

According to Klepp, however, the most important difference is the way the store selects books. “We’re trying to give more room to smaller, independent publishers like Gestalten, Matthes & Seitz or REPRODUKT, or bigger more intellectual publishers, like Suhrkampf. We don’t just have the top sellers, but rather harder-to-find books.” There’s also a small, respectable English section and they offer free shipping for online orders.

Ocelot’s careful selection of history, political science and philosophy books, as well as graphic novels, reflects Klepp’s own passions as a reader. Born into a family of lawyers and teachers, he moved from Brühl near Cologne to Berlin in 1992, and later studied German literature, politics and sociology at Humboldt.

Yet Klepp’s interest in the book trade – possibly inherited from an 18th-century ancestor who owned a publishing house and bookstore in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) – proved so irresistible that he soon left university to pursue his passion in a more hands-on way. After an apprenticeship at Kiepert, Berlin’s then-largest book store, he continued to select books and work in marketing at Kohlibri, then at Zweitausendeins.

When it came time to start his own project, nothing – not even a woman – could hold him back. “I’ve never managed a long-term relationship before. So now it’s definitely the wrong timing for it. I just have no minute to spare!” he says, admitting that he does squeeze in time for his favourite TV dramas, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Homeland.

What stands behind Ocelot is Klepp’s years of experience and a defined understanding of what he wants to achieve. Now, as he himself puts it, “the priority challenge is to make it all profitable”.

Recent favourite book: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Favourite Berlin literary place: Literarisches Colloquim Berlin (LCB) in Wannsee. “It is the perfect venue to meet people in-the-know. And great summer parties!”

Originally published in issue #122, December 2013.