“Thanks to literature, we never stop getting to know each other”
Frankfurt am Main/Warsaw, 23 May 2017 – With the slogan “Words move. Siła słów”, the Federal Republic of Germany participated as Guest of Honour at the 8th Warsaw Book Fair from 18 to 21 May 2017. There were 25 events over the course of five days, and some 2,000 visitors listened to conversations between German and Polish writers, journalists, and experts. Many discussions focused on the question of the integration of Europe and shared European values.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the German stand. In his speech, he said: “Our shared goal is a Europe in which free individuals can reach political consensus by using their faculty of reason. To enable this, art, and thereby also literature, must be protected from political interference. Art and literature are, after all, surprisingly strong when it comes to resisting any attempts at appropriation.” The Federal President stressed that it is thanks to literature that we get to know each other – and never stop getting to know each other.
Twelve authors from Germany accepted the invitation from the Frankfurter Buchmesse and Goethe-Institut and presented their books in Warsaw, including the Nobel laureate Herta Müller, Jakob Hein, Charlotte Link, Ulrike Draesner, Wolfgang Bauer and Yuri Andrukhovych. At numerous events, emotional and controversial debates developed between the panel participants and the audience. “It became clear that Germans and Poles are equally concerned about current topics such as how to deal with the question of refugees in Europe or the restriction of freedom of expression”, says Bärbel Becker, Director of International Projects at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
With an eye to the current situation in Poland, Nobel laureate Herta Müller stated: “I find it highly questionable when people are overfed with nationalistic thinking and terms such as so-called patriotism or heroism. When I read about how many institutions are affected by these things and that people are constantly being replaced, it reminds me a lot of an ideology that is used for marching on through.”
Sixty-six German institutions and publishers took advantage of the occasion to build up their contacts with Polish publishing houses. “In terms of the audience, the Warsaw Book Fair is a very young fair and the Polish publishing landscape is very dynamic. In the five years that we’ve been participating in this book fair, we, as a publisher of special-interest topics, have continued to discover new publishers”, says Anita Keane, who is a rights and licensing manager at Delius Klasing Verlag.
Britta Jürgs, a publisher and chair of the Kurt Wolff Foundation, states: “It was an exciting book fair and an very good opportunity for independent booksellers and publishers to talk about differences and commonalities.”
The professional programme examined the book markets of both countries. At a CEO panel, Bernhard Fetsch, Managing Director of the publishing group Droemer Knaur, described the main features of the German book market: “There was a great deal of interest in the topic of fixed book pricing, which has not been introduced in Poland. The topic oscillates between economic interest and a cultural-political line of argument. Our Polish colleagues were very interested in how we deal with markets that aren’t made up of bookstores connected to the publishers as companies.”
Dr Andrzej Kaluza of the German Poland Institute (DPI) said: “We saw Germany’s participation as Guest of Honour this year as an occasion to give visibility to the German Poland Institute’s commitment to the literature and culture of Poland. In addition, we wanted to introduce people to our project ‘Mobile Poland’, which has been running in German schools since 2015, transmitting basic knowledge of Polish language, literature and history to pupils of all ages and in all types of schools on one day.” At the Warsaw Book Fair, the DPI received the Prize for the Propagation and Promotion of Polish Literature from Fundacja Kultury Polskiej, the Polish Cultural Foundation.
“The opportunity to be Guest of Honour in Warsaw was like a 360-degree gift: Discussing literature with European friends and seeing that the friendship between Germany and Poland is already more than strong enough to easily overcome smaller bumps on the road – that’s far more than anyone could wish for”, says the Berlin-based writer Jakob Hein.
Germany’s participation as Guest of Honour in Warsaw was organised jointly by the Frankfurter Buchmesse, Goethe-Institut Warsaw and Auswärtiges Amt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Foreign Office of Germany).
With 800 exhibitors from 32 countries, 1,500 events, some 1,000 participating authors and 75,000 visitors, the Warsaw Book Fair is the biggest Polish book fair.