Nina George, Writer, Honorary President of the European Writers' Council
© Helmut Henkensiefken
We woke up in the morning and knew that on this day, too, nothing was certain. Also on this day we would wear masks, also on this day someone we knew would die, and it was as if we were wandering in an endless dream where time is frozen and our hearts beat too fast.
Mental time travel. The 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse, which was not one and yet one, a legendary one, virtual indeed, but as always full of determination: now more than ever. "All together now" is the motto. The book fair that defies the forced pause imposed on the world.
How quietly the fairgrounds lie there, in the year of the plague, the festival hall the cockpit of a spaceship in dry dock. Empty corridors, empty halls, "my" living room uninhabited. I have never been able to stroll down a corridor in peace since 1999, the year of my trade fair initiation, but started conversations every ten metres, never finishing them, hugs, "Do you like prosecco?" - the vibration within that comes from sharing the same air with people who have the same passion for a cause. Sharing air is now potentially lethal. I feel a deep pain in a place I didn't know existed. My own lonely footsteps are far too loud.
© N. George
„ARD broadcasts, the Festhalle is a circled-off survival camp, and glows blue and silent“: This is how Nina George saw the Frankfurt Book Fair 2020.
The rigorous scrutiny at the entrance, for the handful of events that are broadcast to the world via TV station. Taking a temperature on the forehead. Diagnosis of the pulse. Meticulous questioning of our state of health ("If you are tired: Extreme tiredness is completely normal right now," says the paramedic). The meeting with Michel Friedman and Alexander Skipis on 16 October 2020, we sit at the heads of tables and call out encouragement to each other over a distance of two metres through masks. Our conversation on the desolate conditions, the threatening dictatorships in Hong Kong, Joshua Wong is connected. ARD broadcasts, the festival hall is a circled-off survival camp, glowing blue and silent. Distance rules are manifested with gaffer tape on the floor, there is security to make sure we don't get too close to each other.
In the evening, my husband Jens and I are alone at the Hessischer Hof. Really alone, with exactly two female employees who do the reception, the bar and the room cleaning. Because this golden centre, where people negotiated, drank, gossiped and celebrated being alive and well in Jimmy's Bar, is about to close. In a fit of morbid hysteria, we buy bath towels with the logo on them – and pens too. The receptionist, when we ask how she is, says: „We feel like the band on the Titanic. We will play until the end. That's our pride.“ We are lurching, all of us, the whole industry, and we are looking with half, glued eyes at the uncertain caesura that will change everything. What will it be like: without fairs, licensing deals, togetherness, looking at each other, embracing each other? Will it stay like this? And then?
"And then, today. Suddenly 2020 was just one of 75 book fairs. But that was the one that reminded us what the fair is to us deep in that tender place inside; and maybe that's why the 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse was the most necessary of all."