It's been many years since my mother and my uncle M. have gone to the Leipzig Book Fair. It takes place in spring at the same time as a Comic Con, is a bit of a festive time in the booksellers' calendar, generally has a theme that is often a country, and draws attention from major German TV broadcasters (ARD, ZDF/3Sat, ARTE). These broadcasters and the Book Fair organizers host podium discussions and other events.
This year's guest country at the Book Fair is Austria.
Back here in Berlin, I've undertaken a journalistic project about the Austrian theme. I still need to finalize it, but it meant cycling around Schöneberg and Kreuzberg on Thursday and yesterday to mini-interview librarians and booksellers about their favourite Austrian books. I even pinged the Austrian embassy in Berlin (which replied, via their cultural forum), and a German Literature professor at the Freie Uni (who hasn't replied). To be honest, it's now mentally associated with so much effort that I can barely stand to talk about it any more!
Thematically, however, I felt that the invasion of Ukraine might be the secondary emphasis at least in the literary events. This is the first Leipzig Book Fair that's taken place in person, instead of virtually, since the invasion happened, which may help explain it.
Major prizes have also been handed out to a handful of lucky authors. I'm currently reading one of the prizewinning authors' works: Unser Deutschland Märchen by Dinçer Güçyeter. It is an accessibly written, topically tough book (is it semi-autobiographical fiction?) about multiple generations of a Turkish family, of which a daughter was sent to Germany in an arranged marriage. The plot goes further, but that's as far as I've gotten.
Anyway, this morning I set off to the train station. The family had eaten breakfast; and Ge. had kindly looked up and written down an itinerary for me. At the station I was able to buy tickets to and from Leipzig from a friendly Deutsche Bahn employee who had a pleasant Berliner accent, and who also seemed to gulp a bit at the cost of using the ICE rather than the slower Regionalbahn. She was all set to provide me with a Deutschlandticket [49€ monthly ticket that allows you to travel through all of Germany with the Regionalbahn]; but I was low on cash and my debit card had hit the weekly limit, so I decided not to combine errands.
It was meditative travel weather: overcast sky, a few faint drops of rain but nothing insistent, a clammy-looking mist in the middle distance, and a nice classic impressionistic colour scheme in pastels of faded-red roofs, pale green birches, yellow rapeseed blossoms either 'escaped' and growing wild beside the tracks or filling fields with apparent sunshine, faded earth colours of the building walls, frail dark branches (sometimes colonized by globes of mistletoe) in the trees that don't have all their leaves yet, and speckled white and very light pink fruit tree blossoms.
I liked it very much, and so eventually did a trio of children who were being quietly obedient and finally running riot beside me. It was a somewhat packed train, and as I hadn't reserved a seat I found an aisle where it was easier to be out of the way.
At Bitterfelde I had to change into the S-Bahn, and then we rolled more slowly through the periphery of Leipzig until we finally reached Leipzig-Messe station. We were a bright stream of people, unlike the shades-of-black winter clothing colour palette that I'm used to from Berlin's city streets, because Leipzig's Comic Con is also a favourite opportunity for cosplayers. And while there are two short tram lines leading to and from the convention centre, I joined those who were walking.
It was an intimidating throng that gathered at the doors when we had passed the shallow waters of the large reflecting pool that extends from the glass entrance hall. But we were processed surprisingly quickly, and I was able to buy an entrance ticket (I hadn't pre-booked) with minimal effort. The ticket seller almost whispered to me that I'd have an easier time getting in to the hall if I took the route to the left, so I gladly followed his advice.
A ZDF-3Sat stage was just hosting a discussion where an author explained the background to his novel about Pompei. I listened in briefly, but then wanted to get to the exhibition halls. What amused me was the raised podium that celebrated the winners of the Leipzig Book Fair prizes: there were three or more coffee tables that had the prize-winning books chained to them, and chairs around, so that you could sit down and read them but not run away with them.
It was going to be under 1.25 hours that I could roam around, before I'd catch the train back to Berlin hopefully in time to do amateur journalism at a protest against unsustainable fashion consumerism. So I sketched out a quick mental plan, and headed to Hall 5 in the back and decided to work my way forward while keeping a sense of time, like Cinderella before midnight. I didn't have my smartphone along, having left it merrily charging (out of sight and out of mind) in my room, by accident; and there were no clocks in the convention centre.
Hall 5 was an excellent choice, as it turned out to be where the independent publishing houses were displaying their books. I knew a few of them by name, like Kröner or Unions Verlag, but others I didn't. The booths for self-publishing and books-on-demand were also popular.
Afterward I landed in Hall 4, where the stalwarts of the German publishing industry like Reclam, S. Fischer, and Kiepenheuer had far more sprawling booths. There were also stands for different countries: Poland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovenia — and organizations like an Israeli-German one or the Italian Cultural Institute of Berlin (whose flyer for events I nicked tout de suite).
As I'm unemployed and I only had 20€ at hand after paying for the Book Fair ticket, I felt unable to dip into the books, or talk to people at the stands without raising expectations that I was bound to disappoint.
But I made one exception: I spotted the stand for my favourite music score publisher. I was so delighted that I fan-girled to the lady who, dressed as elegantly as a trans-Atlantic airline attendant, was personning the stand. She heaped 'freebies' (paper tote bag, pencil, postcard, free sample booklet of easy songs for piano) on me when I mentioned that I had tons of the publisher's books at home.
Despite my budget, I also bought a Rachmaninoff Prelude in d minor, which cost 6€ and therefore did not break the bank. I'd felt guilty for playing that prelude from a photocopy for years, so I had the nice unexpected feeling of crossing off an item on my 'bucket list.'
But it felt as if time was of the essence after that. So I passed fairly swiftly through Hall 2, which had another stage that was for the broadcaster ARD this time, and other things that I've forgotten, and passed through the turnstiles and exited the glass entrance hall again.
It was 12:38 p.m. on the display screens at the tram stations, so I was back at the train station in time. The trains were also far less empty on the way back to Bitterfelde, and thence to Berlin.
I came back to Berlin too late for the event, mostly because I needed to fetch my smartphone from the family apartment if I wanted to photograph the event anyway; and because protest events rarely last as long as announced. But I still had a nice quick cycle to Alexanderplatz, and then back home, amongst hordes of tourists; and now I'm exhausted ... but pleasantly exhausted.
(Aside from the Austrian books project I mentioned above, I've been adding daily 1 hour cycling time for university Tuesdays to Fridays, Greek homework, 1 hour weekly volunteer work at the clothes donation sorting place, a journalistic project on sustainable clothing shops in Berlin that is as intense as the Austrian books project, a trip to Kreuzberg/Neukölln yesterday for a cycling protest that a former colleague believes deserves greater publicity, and other things I'm forgetting now.
I also find it hard to get over the shy sides of my character when these things require human interaction.
So I want to create more breathing space again for me to just observe things and let the news come to me; and I am desperate to cover live events that don't require reams of research and where anonymous observation is generally informative enough. A few booksellers expected me to already know lots of Austrian authors when I mini-interviewed them, for example, so I've had metaphorical beads of sweat on my forehead quite often.
But I also need to do far more 'dry dock journalism.' The lack of certain basics will become ever more apparent the more I do things in the field — and I am hoping that being willing to do tons of legwork and seeing things in real life rather than aggregating online content will be a 'unique selling point.'
For example, I ran into a lawyer who specializes in media at a protest where I self-introduced as a freelance journalist - I've been too lazy to look up the formal definition, and I think I'm too used to reading about e.g. a North American media culture where citizen journalism might be more accepted than it is here.
The lawyer's friendly but slightly stern advice made me very much want to dot my 'i's and cross my 't's from now on, so I won't have a cartoon 'Eep!' thought bubble metaphorically pop up again. I started watching videos on YouTube about German media law [by a law professor who cringe-worthily referred to himself in the third person, but I figure that hearing that is a sacrifice that must be made] — e.g. the guidelines about whom I can and can't photograph, when.
I also want to ask if he has a website or reading recommendations if I bump into him again, to be honest.
That said, I'm undermining all of these good intentions of taking more time to relax, informing myself before dashing into the field, etc., by revolving thoughts around my head of trying to cover the May Day protests on Monday — which would be at least mildly stressful.)
Anyway, I'm glad I went to the Leipziger Buchmesse especially because Mama had told me for years I could tag along with her, and I like the idea of carrying on a family tradition— I've just never had the time and money to consider it seriously before!