It all began in 1991, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when a newspaper published the picture of tens of thousands of books tossed onto an open-air dump in Leipzig, eastern Germany, because they were no longer wanted.
“With a few friends I got hold of a truck and we drove to the dump. We filled bags with books and brought them back, and then we did it over again,” said Weskott who lives near Göttingen, in central Germany.
“Literature has no place in a tip,” said Weskott as he showed off his trove of books stacked in a barn next to his Lutheran church.
Some 50,000 books, some in piles reaching up to the rafters, are crammed in the barn where parishioners and treasure-hunters are welcome to browse and shop after Sunday services. Token proceeds from the sales are given to a charity.
“It’s not by throwing culture away that people will rid themselves of their past”, said Weskott, 57, who grew up in West Germany where the memory of the burning of books by the Nazis in 1933 still strikes a chord.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany in 1989, about 100 million books were thrown out, publishing experts say.
Some came from the 8,000 public libraries, out of East Germany’s 12,000, which were forced to close because of lack of funds.
“No one wanted GDR (German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was known) books anymore,” said Siegfried Lokatis, a book specialist at the University of Leipzig.
Some books were political, but many were simply of poor quality, printed on cheap paper.
Weskott has already saved more than one million of them, including novels from East German authors such as Christa Wolf and Stefan Heym, foreign literature by writers approved of in communist Germany, but also school textbooks, medical books, cookbooks, DIY books and art books.
In addition to selling them, the “book reverend,” as he is known, has sent box loads to libraries abroad, as far away as Shanghai and Almaty.
Among the more unusual books he stocks are copies of children stories such as “King Edmund,” still in their original plastic wrapping.
“Edmund, that was in fact Erich,” says Weskott, referring to Erich Honecker, the former East German communist leader, and the critical book was banned by the regime.
When it was finally allowed to be published after the reunification of Germany, no one wanted to read it any more.
Meanwhile two old science books found in the reverend’s barn allowed one specialist from the renowned Max Planck Institute of Physics to put together a very special instrument to measure light intensity.
The books “allowed me to build a photometer made of steel and ceramic according to a process which has not been used in the West since the war,” said Hans Lauche, whose instrument was then sent off to Saturn aboard the Cassini space probe in 1997.