Frankfurt Book Fair Literature Most Fair

“This is what we share” is the motto of this year’s book fair: The Guests of Honour Flanders and the Netherlands share not only a language, but also the North Sea (Photo: Thierry Renauld, with kind permission of Fondation Folon)
“This is what we share” is the motto of this year’s book fair: The Guests of Honour Flanders and the Netherlands share not only a language, but also the North Sea | Photo: Thierry Renauld,(with kind permission of Fondation Folon)

Royal visitors and divine literature: this year, the Frankfurt Book Fair reaches lofty heights. The Goethe-Institut is there once again, as well, and dares change the one or other perspective in a variety of panel discussions.

In the beginning was the Word. Or from the beginning? And here we go. How should the bible be translated correctly? Martin Luther took on this huge task for the German bible, but even his version has been altered many times over the centuries. Now, it is time yet again as no less than 70 German philologists, exegetes and liturgical experts worked for six years to revise Luther’s translation. The result is fittingly being presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair to mark the upcoming Year of Luther.

Yet if the bible is “the book of books,” it is at the same time one book among thousands upon thousands that publishers have lugged to Frankfurt. Nearly 400 new publications are coming from the Netherlands and Flanders alone, this year’s Guests of Honour at the book fair. Seventy authors from the two countries will head to Frankfurt, as will three royal highnesses. Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde will open the Frankfurt Book Fair next Tuesday. Then professional visits and, on the final few days, the broader public will have opportunities to better get to know the literature of the two Guests of Honour.

“If we’re getting to know someone, we’ll do it properly,” was the motto of the mairisch Verlag from Hamburg this February. The publishing house relocated to Amsterdam for a month. Publisher Daniel Beskos and editor Daniël van der Meer will talk about their experiences and impressions there as well as about their favourite Dutch authors at one of many events to which the Goethe-Institut is inviting fair visitors in Hall 3.

Go, Came, Stayed is the title of another panel discussion by the Goethe-Institut. To what extent are today’s huge movements of displacement and migration to Europe really as extraordinary as they appear in view of acute organizational, social and political challenges? The participants will attempt to fit the modern migratory movements into the history of displacement and migration in Europe.

The refugee topic is also used by nationalist and xenophobic forces, which are on the rise in almost all of Europe. Populist movements and parties work with simplifications and play on fears of the future. This is true in Germany, but also Denmark, Poland and the United Kingdom, where scepticism towards the European Union resulted in the Brexit. Even culture is used to demarcate national boundaries rather than as an opportunity for dialogue or enrichment through the stimuli from different societal groups. For instance, in Germany the term “Leitkultur” – or “dominant culture” – is experiencing a renaissance among large parts of the population. In this situation, how can cultural institutions take action and point the way? Can, indeed, must art somehow counter these tendencies? These are the questions for the panel discussion Populism in Europe – On the Role of Art and Culture. Johannes Ebert, the secretary-general of the Goethe-Institut, will talk with the Slovak curator Lenka Kukurova, the Polish historian Ruth Leiserowitz and the Danish writer Carsten Jensen. Another panel will deal with the way Europe is seen from its neighbours’ perspectives, specifically those of North Africa and Lebanon.

Trolls and towers

Residency programmes remain one particularly popular form of international dialogue. The Munich-based author Lena Gorelik spent six weeks in Iceland this summer. She found neither any trolls nor goblins, but had many unexpected encounters and found new inspiration, which she will talk about in Frankfurt.

But the Goethe-Institut has also long been dealing with the future of Africa, or better yet with African futures and now at the book fair, as well. How do cultural professionals in Africa envision the future? Do they offer alternative visions to the widespread, but very extreme perspectives that predict either a downfall or booming investments for the continent? These questions are the main focus of the publication African Futures, for which artists, academics and culture creators present their views on the subject of the future. African Futures is also the name of the panel discussion that takes on this change in perspective.

Other topics include German crime fiction in the UK, artists in exile and women writers in Iraq. You can find the entire Goethe-Institut programme at the book fair here.

The Book Fair runs from 18 to 25 October. Approximately 7,000 exhibitors and 300,000 visitors are expected to the more than 500-year-old fair. Hundreds of authors including Cees Nooteboom and Wolf Biermann will present their own works. The Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest of its kind and an encouraging sign that the often-prophesied demise of books will have to wait a while longer. In Germany alone 76,547 new titles were issued last year. Stacked on top of one another, they would be seven times higher than the Eiffel Tower.