Just outside one of Louisville’s most beloved Highlands restaurants stands a smaller version of itself no bigger than a dollhouse.
Through one set of green columns and a black front door, you can enjoy breakfast at Gralehaus.
Through the other? Nestled between stacks of German novels, comics, dictionaries and textbooks you might find a cookbook in written German to make a köstlich (delicious) meal of your own.
For nearly two years, the Louisville German Little Free Library at 1001 Baxter Ave. has operated quietly outside of the cafe. Little Free Libraries have become popular in the past decade or so as a place where people can take books for themselves and share others for people to read.
The first thing I noticed inside the library on Tuesday when I met with library steward, Bridget Klein, was a stack of Christmas CDs with traditional German carols. Then Klein reached for “Worterbuch der Technik,” which appeared to be a German to Spanish dictionary. There were a few Sue Grafton mysteries published in German as well as physics and chemistry textbooks. If I could read German, I’d have my pick from several different genres.
There are more than 150,000 libraries in 110 countries, according to littlefreelibrary.org. This one in the Highlands, however, has a unique mission of sharing books specifically written in the German language or that educate people about German culture and Germanic countries.
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Klein started this cultural gem in November 2020 with a collection of German books from a friend who was moving. She used a Facebook page to spread the word, and suddenly, the donations began piling up.
There’s no way to tell for sure who is taking the books from the library. Klein told me candidly that she often wishes she had a camera attached to the box so she could watch people peruse the two small shelves worth of books.
Textbooks in German and books on how to speak German disappear fast, she said. German children’s books rarely stay on the shelves long, and cookbooks, magazines, sheet music, and even comics usually only last a few days.
This isn’t a surprise. Louisville’s German history is well recognized and celebrated in our community. Ahead of our chat, Klein sent me a report published in Business Insider in 2017 that says at the time, German was the most commonly spoken language in Kentucky homes other than Spanish or English.  
Germantown and Schnitzelburg are named for the immigrants who moved there in the mid-19th century, and even today, Louisville maintains a sister city relationship with Mainz, Germany. The German American Club of Louisville, too, is a vibrant community that welcomes everyone regardless of heritage every few weeks for beer gardens complete with authentic German food and dancing.
Klein has German blood running through both sides of her family, and she had spent nearly six years living in Germany in her 20s. During her career as an educator, she taught English to German speakers overseas, and when she returned home, she taught German in Louisville’s private schools. Over the years, she’s both participated in and run interest groups for people who speak the German language. She also operates a home baking business, Bridget’s Bakehaus, that offer springerle and lebkuchenherz, which are traditional German sweets.
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Even though she doesn’t keep a catalog, she can measure the library’s success by how often she needs to restock it. Sometimes she replenishes the entire collection in a week.
I wondered how she has tracked down so many books in German, but she says it hasn’t been difficult at all.
When she hosted the grand opening, three different people showed up with boxes of German books for her to use in the library. Louisville Free Public Library sold her several boxes of German books for just $20 during its annual book sale and the German American Club of Louisville gave her nine boxes of books, too. Complete strangers from at least five different states have found her on social media and donated to her cause. Sometimes people she knows from local German-speaking groups add to the library from their personal collections, too.
In the past two years, donations have been so plentiful that at times books have taken over her living room. At one point, she loaded her car with books simply because she didn’t have anywhere else to store them.
The library was relatively full when we opened it on Tuesday. I counted more than 50 items on its shelf, and as I did, my eyes caught a book titled “Ein Akt Der Libre” on the shelf.
I smiled. I was sure that was a phrase my own grandmother used to say, so I asked Klein what it meant.
“An act of love,” she told me.
I laughed. That couldn’t be right. Based on when I’d heard it in my family, I always thought it was a swear word. We chatted about it for a minute, and then later that afternoon, she sent me an email that explained my confusion.
The saying I was likely thinking of was “Ach, du lieber,” she wrote me.
Those words, she explained, literally mean “Oh, you dear” and in full can be followed by a number of curse-like expressions, such as “Ach, du lieber Gott!” (Oh, dear God!).
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And while that clarification also made me laugh, what I actually took away from her email was what she told me at the end of it.
The little library, her baking business, and really everything she’s done to educate Louisville about the German culture is about building connections.
“Stories like this, where you learn something about your past and we make a connection through the German language or culture, that is what I love,” she wrote to me. “When people tell me how their grandmother made springerle and maybe they still have the rolling pin or molds, that is what I love. Some people give a shudder of delight of distant childhood memories when they taste an anise-flavored springerle and some people even tear up. It’s such a special connection to their past.”
Features columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, Southern Indiana and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and occasionally, a little weird. If you’ve got something in your family, your town or even your closet that fits that description — she wants to hear from you. Say hello at mmenderski@courier-journal.com or 502-582-4053.

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