Word! The Language Column
Book Fair as a Bridge

Illustration: two speech bubbles above a book
A verb gives a name to an action | © Goethe-Institut e. V./Illustration: Tobias Schrank

Hauke Hückstädt considers the annual book fair in Leipzig the ultimate in accessibility. But the fair has been cancelled for this spring of 2022. In the following, our columnist sums up – in plain language – what’s so special and worth preserving about it.

By Hauke Hückstädt

It’s spring 2022 and we’re currently discussing the Leipzig Book Fair in Germany and the purposes book fairs in general should serve in future. With regard to Leipzig in particular, we’re arguing about a venue for connectivity, ease of access, diversity and tolerance.

A celebration of books – for one and all

The Leipzig Book Fair is extremely accessible. If you’re looking for an elitist vanity fair, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Leipzig is one of the world’s biggest showcases for books. It’s a magnet with so much appeal that the lit.Cologne was launched to run in parallel over in Cologne. To sum up in plain language what Leipzig has to offer:

The Leipzig Book Fair is already very old.
It’s been around for many years.
It was held before 1989.
And it continues to be held after 1989.
It’s a fair for books, publishers and media.
It’s a place for writers and readers to meet.
It’s a marketplace for the exchange of news and views, thoughts and ideas.
Anyone can go to the fair.
Many come by tram.
The tram is always full.
You hear a lot of people talking in the tram.
In that sense, the fair starts even before you walk in.
Every day at the fair is for specialists.
All the fairgoers are specialists.
They can all get to know books and writers there.
They all meet other booklovers there.
Books are letters written to our shared future.
This is what a book fair is all about.
This is why everyone goes to Leipzig.
But many people lately have said we’re not going.
Some said it costs a lot of money (more than we earn).
Some said it’s too risky (due to Covid).
Some said not enough exhibitors have signed up.
Some said writers can go to Leipzig after all (and promote their books).
Some said bookshops are open after all (so people can get infected there).
Some said we can’t afford sentimentality anymore.
(Sentimentality is being too emotional.)
Some had forgotten that all literature is made up of sentiment.
Some said we’ll go next year.
Then we’ll go with the whole kit and caboodle.
Everyone said something or other.
All together, we got our signals crossed.

Approachability at risk

What we’re seeing now is the shears opening wider and snipping away in the dark, so everyone loses something in the end: credibility, trust, public spirit. In Leipzig, everything was approachable. In Leipzig, everything was a shade warmer. In Leipzig, people would sit down and read at the sausage shop or the Gewandhaus concert hall. In Leipzig, big and small alike were closer together. In Leipzig, thousands of schoolchildren shuffled down the corridors. They looked tired. Maybe their heads were swimming. Maybe they’d glimpsed into the universe of written words for the very first time. They dragged stardust home, where in the evening they plundered their brand-new cotton bags full of stickers, publishers’ brochures, Random House lollipops, cards autographed by authors.

It must remain

Leipzig was spring. Leipzig was open, approachable and accessible to all: literary critic Iris Radisch on an escalator with a dozen pimply cosplayers. Leipzig was laid-back: the playfully experimental Oulipots vying to be heard over the bard from the medieval Saarland publishing house. In Leipzig, everything was a big hello and a brief shaking-off of social constraints, even in the queue for the eternally occupied lavatories. Leipzig was a bridge. Many people came. Many listened. No one was kept out. At its best moments, Leipzig was the model fair it was always meant to be. Leipzig is simple. And must remain so.