Travelogue XV: Frankfurter Buchmesse


14. Oktober, 2014 When I was working on my application for the DAAD, I was asked to write about why I wanted to study in Germany, specifically, as opposed to continuing on in America. I had already written about my love of classical German literature, and the wonderfully traditional program at my university that gave me a firm grounding in everything that fell between Goethe’s Werther in the 1770s and Thomas Mann’s death in 1955. Beyond that date, however, German literature was for me largely an unknown territory, and that unnerved me. I wrote:

In the end, there is always something discomfiting about my study of old art–a feeling that, by taking it all so seriously, I am disconnecting myself from the issues of today. With this in mind, while in Germany I would like to examine the heritage of Germany’s early creators in the context of the 21st century. How do these figures continue to be a part of cultural and political dialogues, and how are current thinkers building on their legacy? In Germany, the answers to these questions are grounded in reality, and will give me a concrete starting-place to extend my knowledge of German literature and art up to the present day.


I spent all day Saturday at the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Book Festival), and found there just the sort of starting-place I had been looking for–a place to learn and network and make connections to the who’s-who in 21st century German art.

Like so many events in Germany, the festival has a tradition that stretches back half a millennium, to Johannes Gutenberg’s first printing-press in Mainz. Since its official re-opening in 1949, the Buchmesse serves not only as a meeting-place for publishers, authors, and readers, but also as a platform for political figures, artists, directors, translators, academic and cultural exchange students, news agents, and media moguls from all over the world. Organizers pick a country to formally “host” every year–Finnland this year, Brazil last year–and center the festival around the literature of that land, with hundreds of political and cultural events open to the public.

I looked at books and picked up magazines, listened to live programs from Arte and ARD, tried not to freak out too much. My reading list grew exponentially. It was all so utterly different from my journeys of the last few months–this had nothing to do with cobblestone streets and Baroque architecture, with old literature and history and music. Everything was as cutting-edge as it gets, thoroughly modern–an entirely different atmosphere, and therefore exceptionally exciting.

Below, just some of the materials I picked up on current literature. Not just in Germany, but in Switzerland, Austria, etc….


More pictures. The hall devoted to international literature was spectacular. We had the feeling of being on Embassy Row in Berlin or Washington DC–it was clear that these publishers were here to represent much more than literature. Many booths were quite beautiful, with flags and local artwork and displays that reflected the architecture of their particular country. After walking through such a room, one realizes how very little one knows of the world.

Below, the booth for Asian literature, and Russian books across the corridor.



Mass public. Frankfurt alone has 10x the population of the state I grew up in. I have never seen such crowds in my life. And all for the sake of books!


It wasn’t just high culture, either–here is the German pop-band Glasperlenspiel, giving an impromptu concert after marketing their recently published book of knitting patterns (?!). So. Many. Fangirls.


Also, the one huge building was more or less a Comic-Con, complete with thousands of cosplayers and geekery of all types. My siblings would have loved it. I had my picture taken with some storm-troopers, because that’s just what you do sometimes. 🙂 Below that, more cosplayers eating German wurst.



For me, the highlight of the day was a prescreening of Martina Gedeck’s new film Das Ende der Geduld (The End of Patience), sponsored by ARD, and then an interview with the actress herself! I am rather a huge fan–her films Die Wand and The Lives of Others are at the top of my list. Das Ende der Geduld was also exceptional, and intensely relevant–brutal, political, problematic, asking the sorts of questions that need to be asked today in Germany as well as in America.


There she is!!


So that was the Frankfurter Buchmesse. On the train back to Mainz, we were so exhausted we could hardly talk. It was a good day.