Berlin: Leuchtturm notebooks, Lamy and Kaweco pens at KaDeWe
Some months ago I discovered Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks on the recommendation of my colleague Bill Palmer. I wrote about the new experience at the time and, since then, I have been using their notebooks in a variety of sizes.
Notebooks have always been close to my heart and for the past few years my notebook of choice was the Moleskine. However, since I took a greater interest in recovering my declining writing skills and the use of fountain pens (brought on by constant keyboard use), I found problems with Moleskine allowing ink-through to the back of the paper.
Obviously the amount of ink leaching to the back of the page depends on the pen and the ink flow. Immediately, on buying my first Leuchtturm 1917 notebook, I noticed a significant improvement. The paper appears to be slightly thicker than that in the typical Moleskine book; but the main reason, I suspect, is the surface finish. Leuchtturm books have a finer texture and a smoother coating and this somehow helps prevent osmosis. Leuchtturm — it is German for Lighthouse — calls this “inkproof paper” and I am not about to argue.
Leuchtturm pages are by no means immune to ink osmosis, however. One or two of my fountain pens do have a very heavy ink flow — in most cases good flow improves the writing experience — and, generally, the broader the nib the more the ink laydown. But it can have drawbacks in a notebook.
Overall, though, my experience of Leuchtturm is very positive. None of my inexpensive Lamy pens, nor the new Kaweco cheapo; the Pelikan Souverän, the Parker Duofold medium italic, none exhibit ink leaching.
While this impermeability is an important part of writing comfort, there is an even greater benefit in the No.31033721 121-page A5 notebook I have been using. The pages sit flat and provide a perfectly stable and level writing experience. This is possibly because the leaves are bound in small sheaves of 24 pages, thus permitting the double-page spread to sit flat. The smaller No.311346 A6 pocket notebook, which contains 60 pages, is bound in one bundle which means that, in common with most notebooks, it does not sit flat and the pages have to be held down as you write. These are both soft-cover books which I tend to prefer to the heavier hard-cover versions.
Most writers have a preference for left- or right-hand pages, although this tendency is usually subconscious. I have always preferred the right-hand page and, in the past, have often left the other side blank (especially if there is ink-though from the front). Because the No.31033721 sits so flat I find my objection to the left-hand page largely assuaged. I am perfectly happy writing on both left and right.
On balance, then, I prefer the 120-page book with its semi-stiff cover, silk bookmark ribbon and elastic securing band. This is undoubtedly the best notebook I have ever used. As with all Leuchtturm books it provides page numbers and a printed date box at the top of each page. It is a joy to write on.
This A5 book, which is 10mm thick, comes with a set of labels for indexing, including spine labels for archive purposes and a pocket inside the back cover for holding receipts or other small papers. At the front there are three pages devoted to a do-it-yourself contents list which, in conjunction with the numbered pages, is capable of creating a complete system. Most Leuchtturm notebooks come in blank, dotted, chequered or lined versions so you can choose the style that best suits you.
Since I am back in Berlin at the moment I have taken the opportunity to spend some time in the fifth-floor stationery department at the outstanding KaDeWe department store (Kaufhaus des Westens — Department Store in the West) on the Wittenbergplatz, just across the square from our office. This is one of the finest departments of its kind you could wish to find, with endless displays of every type of writing instrument and notebook. It contrasts starkly with the disappointing pen department at London's Selfridges. This used to be one of my favourite stops. But it has now shrivelled to a mere shadow of its former self. KaDeWe shows how it should be done and, along the way, demonstrates faith in the continuing demand for writing implements and stationery.
Pens and things
I spent some time trying to find a nicer looking (that is, more expensive) Lamy fountain pen but concluded that the cheapest £15 Safari is king of its game. It writes perfectly, no matter what nib you choose, and the italic nibs are sublime. The chunky grip is just what I like and I am sure I wouldn't warm to the slimmer profile of the more expensive pens, many with gold nibs replacing the simple but effective "school" steel nibs of the Safari range.
Click on images to enlarge
The rather obscure German manufacturer Kaweco is also a firm favourite of mine and, in some respects, bests Lamy in writing excellence no matter what nib is chosen. The Kaweco Sport Classic is a compact little pen with a long protective cap which, when reversed, turns the short pen into a full-size writing instrument. The small overall size is ideal for travel. And, guess what, Kaweco also has a little home at KaDeWe.
I couldn’t resist a rather beautiful traditional fountain pen, the Kaweco Dia. At €77.50 it looks as though it costs twice or three times as much and, as expected (I didn't even bother to test it in the store) writes like a dream. Really good value. And to top it off I grabbed a Kaweco Sport calligraphy set with no fewer than four nib units in various widths of italic. That set me back only €50 which is another bargain.
Taken together, a cheap Lamy Safari or Kaweco and a Leuchtturm notebook is as near perfection and you can get.