Balance of the Frankfurt Book Fair: Finally, encounters again

Status: 10/24/2021 8:23 a.m.

Wider aisles, 3G and masks: The Frankfurt Book Fair was able to take place with visitors again this year. A cancellation in advance sparked a debate about the presence of right-wing publishers.

The 73rd Frankfurt Book Fair comes to an end today – and it was a fair under special conditions: 3G and masks, wider aisles and more spacious stands. Nevertheless, there was great joy and relief that it could take place at all. And from Friday noon onwards, visitors were also allowed to come.

“Finally” – that was a word that you could hear over and over again in the first few days. Finally more encounters, finally the book fair again. While the exhibition halls were still quite empty on Wednesday and Thursday – some even said they were eerily empty – the picture changed early on Friday afternoon when the first visitors flocked to the exhibition grounds.

The new design met with mixed feedback: some were satisfied with the wide aisles and were happy about the less crowding, others missed individual publishers and the “right” feeling at the fair. Signing sessions were not allowed to take place at the stands, but this year there were open signing boxes in the courtyard of the fair. The 25,000 tickets for the public were only completely sold out on Saturday – on the other days even more people could have visited the book fair.

Right-wing publishers debate

On Monday, when the book fair hadn’t even opened, the first cancellation came. The black author and activist Jasmina Kuhnke boycotted her appearance because she felt threatened by three right-wing publishers. A decision that was also hotly debated among authors. While book prize winner Antje Ravik Strubel can understand Kuhnke’s decision, she also said that authors should use their “public moment” and seek discourse.

Other authors expressed their solidarity with Kuhnke and also canceled their appearances in Frankfurt, including Annabelle Mandeneg and inclusion activist Raul Krauthausen. Among other things, they criticized the book fair for allowing right-wing publishers to stand at all. The book fair justified itself with the freedom of expression and freedom of publication. And it is also clear for the fair “that publishers who move within the framework of the legal system can exhibit at the book fair, even if we do not share their views”.

Guest country Canada with goosebumps moment

Clearly visible at the Frankfurt Book Fair: the host country Canada – with a very poetic pavilion and an exciting program that was as colorful as the motto “Singular Plurality” promised. At the opening, the Canadian Governor General provided deep insights into the history of her country. Mary May Simon has indigenous roots and spoke about her traditional childhood. But she also did not ignore the bad story of the “residential schools”, in which indigenous children were tortured and many even died. Goosebumps – she received a standing ovation for her speech.

Otherwise the fair was strongly influenced by women. In the “Sheheroes” series, prominent female authors discussed on the big stage. There comedian Carolin Kebekus also presented her feminist book “There can only be one”. In it, she sheds light on the injustices that women still have to struggle with, such as a much smaller proportion of speeches in film and television productions – very well-founded and very entertaining.

And the two big prizes – the German Book Prize and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade – go to women this year. Tsitsi Dangarembga, author, filmmaker and human rights activist receives the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. The 62-year-old from Zimbabwe doesn’t see herself as an activist, but as a committed citizen. An impressive woman who is still waiting for a trial in her home country because she took part in a peaceful demonstration last year.

Around 300 authors also came to the Frankfurt Book Fair, including many celebrities – such as pop singer Roland Kaiser, actress Ulrike Folkerts and doctor Dietrich Grönemeyer.

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