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A Messe of Books

g-Katzenkalender_2011I just returned from a few days at the biggest book fair on the planet. I got lost in the mass that is Frankfurt’s Buchmesse with its 300,000 visitors and 7500 stands belonging to publishers, printers and distributors from 111 countries. As examples: there was one publisher from Haiti, two from Albania, 16 from Iran, 188 from China, etc, etc. With 3,315 stands, Germany easily won out in the property wars. Strangely, many of these stands seemed to reflect the country’s unaccountable passion for books about cats. However I ended up being most charmed by the more forgotten back corners of the fair where, for example, Manga comic publishers nestled up with Christian fundamentalist pamphleteers.

I was one of around 10,000 journalists wandering endless kilometres to follow a story or interview an author. And like me, probably half of these journalists had a personal project to pitch. My favourite came from a guy who was pitching his book by going cubicle to cubicle in the press room. His dream project was called ‘Sulphur is your Friend’ which argued that this smelly element was in fact heroic because of all the worthy work it does within the wine industry. Another highlight of Buchmesse arrived around five or six each evening as the drinks and food began to flow. Rumours would quickly spread as to where the best freebies could be scored. Naturally, the French and Italian bookstands were the most highly regarded. Sadly I missed the big Dutch publishers’ event when they feed the 5000 with bottomless barrels of raw herring. Apparently the whole hall stinks up and there are always leftovers. Actually I guess in the book trade these fish would be called ’remainders’.

Because I did not book a room a year ahead, I had to stay in the spa and gambling town of Wiesbaden at the end of the S-Bahn. On the way to the hotel from the station, I asked the cab driver about what I should know about this town. After inquiring where I came from, he answered laughing: ‘I think we can compete with Amsterdam here. We have public clubs but we also have very many private clubs — if you know what I mean.’ I did. However I decided to seek my happy ending at my hotel with a shower. Unfortunately my hotel turned out to be the German version of Fawlty Towers. Luckily my Manuel spoke excellent English and we had a good laugh as the mishaps piled up. There was a leak over the bed (not exactly the shower I had imagined) so I was put into another room. As it turned out, that room did not come equipped with a functioning toilet, shower or lock. So in the end I mentioned the war and got away with it. They gave me a free night and a fancy room the next day. And since freebies and slapstick always put me in a good mood, I didn’t even mind later when a lit cigarette butt bounced off my head when I was unwinding with a beer on their patio. In fact it was like the cherry on top.

Actually I’d like to stress how much I love Germany. And my respect goes beyond just their rich culinary tradition in reconstituted meat products (for some thoughts on currywurst, click HERE and HERE). I might even consider moving there if Canadians end up getting stigmatised under the Dutch right wing government that is now being formed with the backing of the populist politician and amateur filmmaker Geert Wilders. I keep getting the feeling that Germany has done a much better job at dealing with its past. There are certainly a lot of books on the subject – it’s a topic right up there with cats.

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Posted in Uncategorized 6 years, 11 months ago at 8:35 am.

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