Relatively disappointed after visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair two years ago, I was recommended to try Leipzig Book Fair/Buchmesse. My big problem at Frankfurt was that I was ready to buy as many books as possible but found out that such trade is not the main aim of the gathering, but the facilitation of contacts between publishers and editions houses from all over the world. Leipziger Messe instead, my advisers said, is the place where you can see the latest titles, buy them at a good price and enjoy interesting discussions and meetings with authors. As the market is very much focused on Germany I needed some time to be sure that my German is well enough to understand the discussions. Last but not least, I also needed time to go, an achievement that was not possible till this year.
I arrived in Leipzig, a city I visited often in the last months part of my travel writing projects, on a very sunny day. Compared to other occasions, the book spirit was everywhere in town, not only in the bookstores and main bars and libraries or at the university, announcing literary events but also on the street. Switzerland, the guest of honour at the fair, brought to the fair a wise mix of tourism, literary and cultural branding aimed to take the best opportunities of visibilities for the country in Germany.
After a little bit of wandering in the city, part of my travel writing projects, I took a tram to the North of the city, direction: Fair Trade/Messe. The tram, arriving every 10 minutes, instead of the usual 20 minutes, was packed with book lovers, and the European Babel tower of languages was the indication that I am on the right way.
Close to the fair location, a mass of people going to the Messe, from all ages, backgrounds and interests. If got lost, there was always a chance to find someone speaking your language helping you for directions. It was the first of the four days of fair, and many schools and even kindergarten from the city and neighbouring areas, including Berlin, organized special day-trips. Seeing so many young people curious about books gave me a good feeling.
For me, the entrance was delayed for another 15 minutes, not only because I wanted to spend some time taking pictures of the revolutionary metal-and-glass building, but also because I needed to register as a journalist to an office situated quite far away from the main entrance. Compared to other registration processes, this one was the easiest and in less than 5 minutes I was holding my accreditation pass.
Let's say that my first direct encounter with Leipziger Messe was rather exotic.It reminded me of the surprise I had at Frankfurt, where I was not having enough of looking at the colourful costumes of the Manga lovers. My year in Japan was still fresh in the memory and didn't know what is going on with me. Since then, I learned that manga comics are extremely popular in Germany, with dedicated fans all over the country. Due to the fact that at the previous Book Fair, almost 27% of the events had a connection with this culture, the organizers of the fair decided to set up a special Manga Convention whose first edition I was honoured to cover as a blogger.
Besides the colourful costumes and creative outfits, featuring favourite manga heroes, the 20,000 sqm. of the area dedicated to Manga was set for four full days of events, presentations, workshops and discussions.
Book presentations about fashion and manga life style were under way, attended by a curious and informed audience. For the Cosplay - costume play - two photo booths were installed for keeping the memory of the event.
For the more classical guests, as me, there were also classical kimonos, with beautiful and classical patterns.Plus, a culinary corner. Many participants were ready for the next professional challenges, and when they were not answering questions about their works, they were making sketches for their next books.
Apparently, it seemed that every part of the Asian culture was brought to Leipzig, including the traditional game of Go, that is getting popularity in Germany. Some time ago, I attended some demonstrative presentations at the Chinese Institute in Berlin, being told that there is an increased interest for this old strategy game in the country.
As my time in Leipzig and at the Fair was quite limited, I left the Manga Convention, ready to see the real world of books in the German language. After Frankfurt, Leipzig is the second largest book fair in Germany and the most important spring event for the publishing industry.
This year agenda of the Leipzig Reads/Leipzig Liest festival included over 2,800 events in more than 365 locations all over the city. The main themes featured were literature, children and adolescent literature, book art, education and knowledge, speaking arenas for authors. Another interesting and relatively of interest politically speaking was tranzyt, focused on Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, with meetings, discussions, photo exhibition and meetings between authors and publishing houses.
Goethe Institut Network plays an important role in promoting the German culture abroad, especially through translations. In the last year, more than 250 German authors were translated in more than 38 languages. The translation processes goes also in the other way, with the latest editions of famous authors in France, US but also Russia, Central and Eastern Europe or Chine being published in translation the day their works are launched in the original language.
This goes equally with the children literature. Was extremely pleasant to watch the little children listening to book lectures in the playground spaces especially created for the little book lovers.
Germans are usually reluctant when it comes to embracing new technologies, but this doesn't include the audio-books, where there is an interesting high demand for audio versions. My local library has a very rich updated section where I can find the best titles not always available on print. At the Leipzig fair, there was a huge booth with the latest productions.
During the fair, many edition houses launched special prices for their books or handbooks or audio language guides. For instance, I was able to purchase as a present a French language audio course for 5 Euro, instead of 20. Many edition houses, including some audio books, offered free issues too.
The Antiquarian Book Fair was integrated into the Leipzig fair in 1995. At the time, it was considered the first such event, shortly introduced on the program of other book fairs from around the world.
Illustrations are an important part of the book publishing industry, and some of the authors were having their own booths and events in Leipzig.
In Germany, some design schools are preparing book designers and illustrators, thus, schools from the East part of the country were introducing their concepts.
Old printing industries were also presented, with demonstrative tests offering information to the new generation about how the books used to be produced in the old times. Due to its trade history, Leipzig always had its own special place in the European geography of early book production.
In parallel with the Manga Convention, the curious German public of the comics was offered a delightful introduction to the world of comics. The specialized edition houses presented their latest works, many of them made by local graphic novels authors. One of the most important editorial event was the launch of Comic Atlas Finnland, by the small Berlin edition house Reprodukt, on the occasion of the events promoting Finland as the guest of honour at Frankfurt Book Fair this year. An independent fair was held at the end of the week in Leipzig, gathering most important authors and self-published personalities of the comics world.
The Nordic countries participated with a common booth, but also with separate representative offices of the cultural institutes. A lecture in Icelandic, with German translation was under way during my visit. One of the most active participants was Finland, whose institute in Berlin covering besides Germany also Switzerland and Austria are promoting the branding program Finnland.Cool. For the fair, there were over 30 events hold in more than 10 locations either at the fair or in the city. Due to the diversity of the public, the branding program is covering a variety of activities in different locations: dance, design, book readings for diverse age categories, including YA and children books, fashion, media. At least in the case of Berlin, many of the guests are expat Fins living in Germany or in the capital city. "The program is trying to answer the needs of the region", outlined Marion Holtkamp, the press and PR relations representative of the Finish Institute in Berlin, during an earlier discussion.
The Asian countries and institutes tried to bring more than books and authors, creating home cultural environment, as in the case of Korea, which has a strong support base among the German public.
Switzerland brought his best publishers and booksellers for increasing the visibility of the German speaking literature in Germany. As usual, the country always introduce itself with an unitary message, also covering tourism and natural diversity.
Another important moment of the fair was the designation of the winners of the fair, for three categories: literature - the Bosnia-born Sasa Stanisic, whose book How the Soldier repaired the gramophone I strongly recommend; Helmut Lethem, for essay; and Robin Detje for translation.
Time goes fast when you have books around. And I needed to say good-bye. The monumental rose in the front of the exhibition hall, created by Iza Genzhen in 1997, is a reminder of the fragility and ephemerality of life. Back in the city, everything looked different. People with luggage and maps, looking for bookstore locations were everywhere on Nikolaistrasse. Sign that books can change not only people, but also the inner life of cities.