Frankfurt’s exhibition and fair grounds will be dominated by books in all their facets until this coming Sunday. In the evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron opened the world’s largest showcase and meeting point for publishers, authors, cultural mediators and the creative industries from around the globe.
More than 7,000 exhibitors from about 100 countries are showing more than 400,000 books: bound books and e-books, videos, educational software and much, much more.
Since 1976 Frankfurt’s Book Fair has invited a country or region to act as guest of honour every year. This year, the guest of honour is France, which turns the spotlight on the French language. As well as the latest books, the focus is also on authors who write in French although they come from far-flung parts of the world.
Close cultural dialogue
In her speech Angela Merkel pointed to the long tradition of cultural dialogue between Germany and France. "How much poorer would Germany have been throughout history without the influence of and the inputs from French culture? And what would French intellectual life be without the thought-provoking ideas from Germany?" The two countries, she said, are connected by an often controversial but always enriching debate.
Literary impetus is important
"These two great cultural nations in Europe appreciate the value of the written word, of books, as one of our cultural assets," continued the Chancellor. Books expand our horizons and help us to understand cultures, including our own culture, to see what we have in common and to gain a feeling for the differences. "We need the intellectual and creative impetus offered by literature in every aspect of our life. This impetus opens our view of the world, fosters our curiosity, and spurs us on to try new and unaccustomed paths."
The challenges of digitalisation
The Chancellor also touched on the onward march of digitalisation – a "technical revolution" comparable to the invention of the printing press. Digitalisation will radically change the world and open up entirely new possibilities. "We will have to keep fighting to identify our roots, our cultural identity, so that we can find our way in our apparently endlessly networked world," warned Angela Merkel.
That is why it is important to ensure that people do not let themselves merely be driven by globalisation and digitalisation. We must re-structure the world, steer it, and shape it – and literature can help us do so. The insights and the sentiments of every author can help make globalisation more human, and to make Europe stronger. "That is the impetus I would like to see emerging from this fair," said the Chancellor at the close of her speech.
Monika Grütters awards Franz Hessel Prize
At the Book Fair, Monika Grütters, Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media presented the Franz Hessel Prize along with her French counterpart Françoise Nyssen. The prize is designed to make literature known across national borders. It is awarded to one German and one French author, most of whose works have not yet been translated.
German Book Prize for Robert Menasse
It is not only the fairgrounds on the River Main that are given over to the world of literature. Traditionally, a number of literature prizes are awarded during the Book Fair. The German Book Prize, awarded to the author of the year’s best German-language novel, was the first to be awarded, the evening before the fair opened.
The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels awarded the Prize to the Austrian author Robert Menasse for his novel "Die Hauptstadt". The highlight and final award ceremony will be the presentation of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade on Sunday in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church). This year it will be presented to the Canadian author, essayist and poet Margaret Atwood.