A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lehnert & Landrock Considering Leaving Cairo?

This one's for the Old Cairo Hands: a German Deutsche Welle article (but in English at the link) about the owner of Lehnert & Landrock, the German bookstore in Cairo that has been a fixture on Sharif Street for the better part of a century, who's considering having to close the store.

Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock were pioneering photographers of the Middle East and North Africa, Lehnert doing the photography and Landrock handling the business side. First starting a photography business in Tunisia, they moved it to Cairo in 1924, after losing the Tunisian business in 1914 when Lehnert, an Austrian, and Landrock, a German, were suddenly enemy aliens. Later Lehnert returned to Tunisia but the business continued under the two names in Cairo, where Landrock opened the bookshop on Sharif Street in 1936, (A history here, at the shop's website.) The shop is today run by Edouard Lambelet, a Swiss step-grandson of Landrock, but the Deutsche Welle story linked above indicates that he is considering shutting down the institution, at least in part due to the instability in Egypt and the collapse of tourism.

Lehnert & Landrock was always one of the best-stocked European bookshops, heavy on German but with French and English represented as well; and it both exhibited and sold prints and postcards from the founders' photography. The photography founded the enterprise that came to include the bookstore.

I suppose, as a historian, I should note that while many of these photographs are of architectural or historical themes, many others, especially the early postcards from North Africa by Lehnert, tended to be of attractive peasant girls photographed topless, so that for example Wikimedia Commons actually has a category of "Orientalist Nude Photographs by Lehnert & Landrock"  (link is Not Safe for Work, of course, or for Cairo of today either).  In true Orientalist style, the nudity was justified for exoticism and ethnographic reasons (also sometimes called the "National Geographic" rule, as a route around the censors in a less liberal age: nudity is acceptable if the setting is exotic and the women are nonwhite). This no doubt enhanced the photographer's fame and sold a lot of postcards, whether those are genuine peasant girls or not. (I suspect paid models, though it's said they mostly come from the Ouled Nail Berbers of Tunisia, who some say included dancers and prostitutes.) These postcards apparently once had a great popularity in Europe between the wars. (Ethnography  always sells.) Those familiar with the bookstore's staid German-Swiss incarnation today may or may not be aware of this aspect of the photographic income that built the establishment.

None of this is mentioned in the Deutsche Welle article, for some reason.

Though I presume such postcards are no longer available openly in Cairo, Lehnert & Landrock's loss would nevertheless mark the end of a great old bookshop. In more modern times its reputation was built on books, and it became a Cairo landmark. I hope it survives.


Chris Eccel said...

Being an ibnu min abna'i ma ba'da al-blay-boy (Playboy), I found Lehnert & Landrock useful also for photos of old Cairo. I hope it survives. But then, in a land where even the library of Alexandria could not survive forever, I guess all book ventures eventually pass away. I am sure that Muhammad Sadiq, the old book dealer, is now dead, but hope one of his sons has managed to carry on in that business. Hey Mike, remember joking about the Shady Bookstore (Shady being a proper name, meaning singer in Arabic)?

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Not only the Shady Bookstore (great for WWII era Penguin paperbacks), but there was a Shady Car Dealership along the Corniche.