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Martin Schult, Head of the Office of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

Martin Schult © Ullstein Verlag

Paulskirche 1950 © Frankfurter Buchmesse

Some photographs have gone down in history, either because they themselves have become a part of memory or because of the event they depict. One such photograph shows Frankfurt's Paulskirche church with a large banner above its entrance - "Frankfurter Buchmesse 1950".

The picture was taken by Ursula Assmus, who many also knew as UA. She had climbed onto the scaffolding attached to the Römer (still in ruins at the time) to photograph the Paulskirche (no longer in ruins at the time) from there.

UA was employed by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, which had moved its headquarters from Leipzig to Frankfurt after the Second World War. Here she started as a simple office worker, but when she retired in 1986, she had organised the Peace Prize for more than thirty years. As the "mother of all Peace Prize winners", she was even honoured with the Federal Cross of Merit.

Decades later, I took over the organisation of the Peace Prize. UA, who as a pensioner had built up and maintained the Peace Prize archive until 2001, found in me an enthusiastic listener to whom she could tell everything about the Prize, the laureates she looked after and the book fair. For example ...

... about the first book fairs, which took place in 1949 and 1950 in the Paulskirche, because the fairgrounds had not yet been rebuilt. At that time, UA's job was to send out discounted bus and train tickets as well as food vouchers to booksellers so that they could travel to Frankfurter Buchmesse from the different zones of Germany.

... about the first Peace Prize award ceremony in the Paulskirche in 1951. In the morning, the Börsenverein was still holding its general meeting there. Afterwards, the prize was to be awarded to Albert Schweitzer. But the members stayed and, together with the guests invited to the award ceremony, formed such a large audience as the Paulskirche was never to experience again.

... about the short-sighted Ernst Bloch, who could not decipher his notes in the Paulskirche in 1967 and thus had to improvise his Peace Prize speech. The day before, at the book fair, Bloch, who was often called a communist, took great pleasure in smoking a cigar with the then defence minister Gerhard Schröder (the CDU member, not the SPD member) - something the SPD member would certainly not have said no to.

... about Astrid Lindgren, who should not have given her Peace Prize speech in 1978 (the head of the Börsenverein did not think it was suitable) and thus almost stayed at home in Stockholm. UA was asked to mediate and was successful. Astrid Lindgren came and gave her speech. Two days before, she met hundreds of children at Frankfurter Buchmesse, which angered many a trade visitor, since they had come to do business and not to hear "Pippi! Pippi!" shouts everywhere.

These are just four of countless other stories from the early days of Frankfurter Buchmesse and the Peace Prize. Ursula "UA" Assmus, who died in 2017 at the age of 96, deserved not just one of the 75 chairs in this exhibition, but a whole dozen. And yet she was only one among the many people whirling and working in the background, without whom Frankfurter Buchmesse would never have existed in this form.