The scent of paper is in the air. Thousands of pounds of printed matter are on their way to Frankfurt, waiting in boxes, being gingerly unpacked at the trade fair hall where thousands of book makers, book writers, and book readers will converge in a fit of wordly ecstasy, cocktails will be served from the covers of first-edition Thomas Manns, and hotel prices will skyrocket beyond all reason.
What follows is a short and inadequate guide to both the season’s main event, as well as GegenBuchMasse (an anti-capitalist answer to the big bad book fair) and BuCon (the SFF nerd-specific book fair). Behold! The books, oh the books!
The Frankfurt Book Fair
When books begin to sprout from the lamp-posts like fungus in a Jeff VanderMeer novel, you know that book fair season is upon us. The Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest of its kind, and the oldest, having begun in 1370. (Seriously, 1370!) Everyone who has anything to do with books or printed paper will be there, prizes will be awarded (most notably the German Book Prize), and foreign rights will be bought and sold. It is a glorious time in Frankfurt for any book lover.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is all about presentation, spectacle, promotion, and celebration. There are thousands of events, readings, interviews, panels, and presentations. On Sunday you won’t want to miss the cosplay competition that fills the halls with colorful, eye-catching costumes (this is the best day to come with kids as Saturday can be prohibitively full). A day ticket for a private visitor costs 18 euros. (See further private ticket options here.) But my personal recommendation? Grab your camera and wander. Let your mouth hang open in wonder as you gape at shiny new covers, at strange visual promotions, and at famous authors you didn’t know were coming because the calendar of events is an enormous pain in the ass (more on that in a second).
Each year, a country is named as the book fair host, and as such will have a huge number of exhibits, events, and authors on site. An entire floor of an enormous hall is dedicated to this country’s exhibit, and the cookbook hall will heavily feature their cuisine. Click this sentence to see the glory of the 2014 fair in photos. And also this one.
Scheduling tips: The Book Fair event catalogue is enormous and overwhelming. The paper copy is a brick of phone-book-thin paper. The Book Fair app calendar search results don’t show the same results as the online search. The online events calendar allows searching but not browsing, and deletes your favorites list after 20 minutes. The online attending author’s list is over 3,000 (web) pages long and impossible to browse. Your best bet is a combination approach. Do a few keyword searches online. Write down the results on a piece of paper. Browse the paper copy (already available at the libraries and other book-ish locations) with a highlighter. Use the app to enter items into your phone’s calendar, and use the list and notes you made to find the events that the app isn’t showing you. You’ll still end up missing something awesome, but with almost 4,000 events crammed into one week, that’s going to happen no matter how well you learn to navigate the calendar.
What you need to know: The first three days of the fair are only open to professional book people. This means that if you are “involved professionally in the development, production, marketing or communication of print and electronic media or the arts” or are a librarian, an educator, an author, or a student, you can come to the fair during the week. Prices vary if you’re a student or are buying a fancy business-class ticket, but most professional visitors will pay 42 euros per day for entrance.
On Saturday and Sunday the rest of the book rabble are allowed into the gargantuan fair hall, but you won’t be buying any books. Not on Saturday anyway, as vendors at the fair are only allowed to sell books on Sunday. German publishers do a roaring trade Sundays, while the international publishers toss handfuls of books into the crowd as they flee their stands to catch the last flight home.
Gegen Buch Masse
If you read the description of the Frankfurt Book Fair and thought, *yawn* how stupidly mainstream, then Gegen Buch Masse’s event lineup is likely to be more your style. Gegen Buch Masse (Against Book Mass) is the counter-point to the big-name, big-money, big-publishing focus of the Frankfurt Book Fair. A more intimate, DIY event, it consists of a series of readings and discussions in autonomous and collective venues across the city. As the organizers explain on their website (translation mine): “Every year tons of freshly printed paper is presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair. We want to give left-leaning authors and publishers a forum for critical thought.” Here here.
I am embarrassed to admit that I have never attended a single Gegen Buch Masse event. Someday I will dammit, as the mission of this annual event is close to my heart, despite the program is disappointingly light on fiction.
Buchmess Convent (BuCon)
BuCon is the science fiction community’s answer to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Thanks to the big draw of the larger event, this science fiction convention often lands itself big-name German SFF authors, consistently draws over 500 visitors, and awards three of the genre’s biggest prizes: the Deutscher Phantastik Preis, the German Science Fiction Prize, and the Kurd Lasswitz Prize. It is one of the most popular conventions for German fantastic literature, and in 2015 BuCon celebrated its 30th anniversary.
2015 was my first year attending, and the jury is still out. I was disappointed to discover that no big-name publishers attended—though the abundance of small presses was a delight—and that the program contained a disproportionate number of readings to panels (I love panels, and tend to dislike readings). Still, it is a good place to meet your fellow SFF book nerds, and it is a hell of a lot more manageable an event.
Location: Bürgerhaus Sprendlingen, Fichtestraße 50, 63303 Dreieich-Sprendlingen
Public transportation: From Frankfurt take the S3/S4 to Dreieich-Buchschlag, then Bus 64 to Bürgerhaus
Information: BuCon Website
This post was adapted from a 2015-specific version I wrote back in the day. You can view the original here.