The world's largest bookfair is coming up soon in Frankfurt and will be celebrating Georgian language and literature. An apt time then to write about our visit a few years ago, now that I'm living in Georgia. If you're planning on going to the festival, or thinking about planning to go, then this very short guide is for you. Or if you're just thinking about visiting Frankfurt, scroll down a bit for the best things you can do there.
Huge hall after huge hall, packed with thousands upon thousands of people, shoulder to shoulder, a mess of bodies pushing and squeezing, trying to find something for sale, something for some sort of satisfying satiation. Some people in costume, playing out pittances of their favorite characters. Some people in suits. Others in sweats. Some seemingly on their way to fancy soirees, others like they’re off to work out. Such a conglomeration one might normally find in a mall in the US on Black Friday, but I found this in Frankfurt at the annual buchmesse, a gigantic hub for publishers, distributers, agents, and with a small touch of afterthought, writers. There were about three halls for German books, two for English language literature, two more for international works, one for children, one for education, one for religion. Pretty much any category you can imagine had its own massive trade hall. It’s hands down the largest affair of bound paper you can ever consider existing.
the central courtyard surrounded by conference buildings
It's also quite appropriate that the world’s largest book fair would be held in a city known for being the birthplace of Goethe, the father of German literature, who spent his early years there until carting off to Weimar when he was brought into the nobility by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, thus forever becoming “von” Goethe for-von-eva.We went there for two days. Friday and Saturday. We didn’t quite know what to expect, so we went thinking it would be purely an exploratory mission, a kind of literary reconnaissance on the field of publishing. And to that extent, it was a success. We understand now a bit more the workings of the publishing industry, and some things to keep in mind so that next year can be more successful. So here is some information we gathered.
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The Buchmesse, unlike Gaul, is divided into two parts, trade days and visitor days. The trade day entries are more expensive. This year it was 45 euros to get in. They’re meant for those in the trade: publishers, distributors, writers, agents, and so on. Each booth throughout the numerous halls contains three or four chairs and tables—the bigger publishing companies might have twenty or thirty. Interviews are going on at those tables. Publishers, agents, or whomever, are holding meetings there, discussing contracts of any sort. To get those meetings, a person should make appointments some three to six months ahead of time.
there's no small amount of people
This is especially important for any budding writer to know: one must have their interviews with agents and publishers scheduled far in advance. Of course, we didn’t know the first thing about finding an agent even. I even had it in the back of my head that pitching would be possible, but the festival is so massive that this would be pure chaos. If you want to make unsolicited pitches, it’s better to attend the small festivals. My wife boldly asked a host from a publishing house, “We’re new at this, how do we get an interview with an agent?”
The above information was revealed.
“And how do we find those agents to get appointments with them?”
The answer? The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook was apparently the best source. This is especially true in the European front. The Writers’ Market for the American side of the big old pond.
It’s not really possible to set up an interview while you’re there. Everyone is already too busy with their own affairs and goings-on that maybe the greatest literary genius of their time could be walking around a bit lost and nobody would even know it.
The visitor days are held on the weekend. I’m not precisely sure what they’re for except cheaper entry. It seemed it was mostly for those who couldn’t afford the 45-euro ticket and still wanted to wander around those halls of thinly sliced wood. It’s entirely too packed and crammed to get anything done, and at least on Saturday, nothing was for sale. If you want to buy the latest books about to go on the market, perhaps the newest in the upcoming 40 something of Grey series, then go on Sunday, by all means necessary. Saturday only exists for presentation, and for dozens of girls to run around in Harley Quinn costumes.
We spent some time at the Georgia booth, naturally. Most of the books on display were in Georgian language. Some were translated into English. I found one I was considering buying, but then discovered, “Sorry, the English language books aren’t for sale. Just the Georgian ones.” I hope they weren’t expecting large sales.
What to do at the Frankfurt Buchmesse?
If you're a writer coming in blind, then forget about meeting an agent or anything like that. As I said, mostly the agents are meeting with writer's whom they have already communicated with months or years previous. The best tactic then, is to bring some flyers, bookmarks, or some sort of marketing material.
lots of sessions to sit in on... but mostly in German
With your material ready, stand near the doors and hand it out to as many people as possible. I noticed quite a few people doing this tactic, and after sitting around drinking coffee, sneaking bookmarks into other people's for-sale books, and so on, I determined that this was probably the best approach. Everyone there is wanting to find new books, and if you've got a flyer or bookmark nice enough, they are potentially willing to plop down a few dollars on your ebook. So ready yourself for that.
How to get to the Buchmesse?
Though the Frankfurt downtown is full of miniature skyscrapers that seem big from far away but shrink as you get closer, like some sort of Ant Man trick, the convention center itself is gigantic. And with only one clear entry point, and lots of exits that seem to be pretty random throughout the city.
that tower, the Festhalle Turm, marks the entrance
The entry point for us common folk is near the Festhalle U-bahn station and tram stop, which are both only a short walk from the main train station and the old town (Innenstadt). There's a "big" tower there, and you'll enter into that and find the ticket checkpoint. Then you get to go down a hall that feels like it's about a kilometer long, that's where most people are handing out flyers. Finally you'll get to the array of what seems to be twenty massive halls. Hopefully you grabbed a map on the way in.
What to do in Frankfurt?
Though it's generally best to leave Frankfurt and go up the Rhine (tune in next week for that), Frankfurt is home to a few interesting things. It's the proud home of apfelwein, for one. Where most of Germany is enamored with beer, Frankfurt went its own way on this front. We first tried a taste of it at a café, just to consider it. It was something like an uncarbonated cider. When I say cider, I mean like the proper alcoholic drinks of Europe, not the hot apple tea of the United States.
Frankfurt at night
In Frankfurt, the apfelwein is also commonly served as “ebbelwoi” and the pubs brewing and serving it tend to be located in the beautiful and more picturesque neighborhood of Sachsenhausen, which still preserves many of its older half-timbered houses, served in brew houses called “apfelweinwirtschaft”. The drink also gives Frankfurt another New Yorker appeal, gaining it the name of “the Big Ebbel”.
waiting to be offered some apfelwein
We found the Kononesteppel restaurant to get the true tipple of ebbelwoi and to stock our stomachs up with some schnitzel. Kononesteppel was in the style of a classic German pub, with long tables filling the room, and stuffing in every person they could, even if it meant sharing a space with an elderly couple—as we did—or a group of partying bachelorettes. The ebbelwoi was cheap and seemingly endless, while the schnitzel also was priced around 10 euros—a real steal in Germany. It came served with the famous Frankfurt “grune sosse”, a slightly bitter green sauce containing as many herbs as Jägermeister and looks like something that's dripped out of my nose during one terrible winter. It tastes at least three times as delicious, albeit.
Old Town Frankfurt
Though there is local beer, it’s not abundant. We did make our way to naiv Bar, which is an attempt at an American style microbrew bar, complete with the faux industrial look so common in all the hip places in the hippest cities that maybe you haven’t heard of yet, and they even served their brews in American sized glasses charging American prices. Very cute. 6 dollars for a thimble. I drank something with “hops” in the name, like “Hopmeister”, but found it not really a master brew of hops, so then we headed on out in search for more of that apfelwein goodness.
The two main drinking areas at night seem to be around the Kaiserdom and in Sachsenhausen between the Affentorplatz and the river. Though Frankfurt is known for its conferences, outside of the at there aren't many tourists, so none of the city can really be called touristic by any means.
near the Affentorplatz
The Goethe House
Probably the most interesting thing to do in Frankfurt outside the conferences.
The Goethe House Museum exists, though not in the original condition. A bomb fell on it during the war, but they were able to salvage a surprising amount of furniture. Even more surprising is that the beds must have been the main pieces that were completely destroyed. The other furniture, armchairs, tables, and the like, were found and restored, and the house replicated to look as it was, and it all generally resembles what most upper-class families of the 1800s of Germany must have looked like.
Goethe didn’t live there long though. It was only during his childhood. As most things German, even literature comes with a name resembling a heaving force of nature, and Goethe was soon at the front of the movement called Storm and Stress, which related to the violent upheavals against the authoritarian monarchic regimes of Europe in a drive towards freedom and democracy, the American Revolution inspiring the continent to take up arms against their own slave masters.
selfie at the Goethe house
Just like in America, the rich folk are always trying to appropriate urban culture and it was the same in the Germany of the 1800s. Most of Germany—even the nobility—were inspired by these young Storm and Stress artists. In Bavaria, for instance, King Ludwig II was throwing flowers at Wagner’s feet. The same courtship endured with Goethe when Karl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, brought him to Weimar and slowly wheedled down his Romantic nature, eventually leading him to a noble investiture. It was at this point that Goethe went the way of Kanye West and Jay Z, going from street player to boring rich guy. His literature got soft and he shared the pansification that Schiller also went through.
The biggest hit though for the European Romantic was the rise of Napoleon and the spread of his empire, when every educated man then began to understand the fate of democracy. A radical democracy, exposed to the whims of a stupid and ignorant common folk, will devour itself and offer itself prey to an infernal regime, ready to renew the authority of a monarchy, though without the chains of tradition. The serpent can renew itself.
Where to stay in Frankfurt?
Frankfurt, much like the miniature towers, seems a lot bigger than it is. We were tempted to book close to the conference center, but we decided against it because the prices are outrageous. The next best option then is in Sachsenhausen, which is a super cozy little neighborhood just across the river, full of bars and cafes and possibly more interesting than the "old town". It would probably take about twenty minutes to walk to the Festhalle from there. We stayed a bit furhter out, at the Leonardo Royal Hotel Frankfurt, which isn't as prestigious as it sounds, but as the only highrise in the area has some truly immense views. That was about 10 minutes walk through a quiet neighborhood from Sachsenhausen.
view from the hotel
The Frankfurt Buchmesse happens every year in October, this year on the 10 to the 14th. They highlight a different country every year, and this year it will highlight Georgian literature. Ticket prices can range from 15 euro to thousands (if you're renting a booth, for instance), and tend to go on sale in the summer. Check out their sight and sign up for updates about tickets.