Frankfurt Book Fair: 5 Reasons To Go

If Disney’s Belle lived in our time, she would probably visit the world’s biggest book fair held in Frankfurt, Germany. One of the most iconic book-loving heroines in animated history would definitely be a chick who kept up with developments in the industry, and therefore I’m sure she would expand her reading experience horizons beyond the local bookshop or library.

A few facts and figures for you and for Belle. The 2017 event took place from October 11 to October 15 at the Frankfurt Trade Fair complex, housing several thousand exhibitors of wide-reaching sectors that all still find their way back to the book publishing industry. Both professionals and private visitors such as Belle and myself are invited to attend, with the weekend reserved for us bookworms.

But why should we go, besides the fact that there is a strong possibility of multiplying the amount of feels experienced simply when looking at a book?

Here’s my pick of 5 reasons the Frankfurt Book Fair deserves your bookworm time.

  1. A trip (hopefully) won’t blow your budget. OK, so this is more probable for those travelling in Germany, but still, practical and financial pros are on the list. The Deutsche Bahn offers round trip discounts for those getting to the fair by train. Just make sure to buy your fair ticket in advance, as you are required to have it on you when your train ticket is checked. Speaking of the fair ticket, private visitors pay a currently doable price of 19 euros. The event website is extremely informative in terms of travel routes and finding accommodation. Provided you don’t live too far away from Frankfurt, you might not even have to stay overnight. I did a day trip and caught up on sleep during the four hours there and back on the train. Belle might be able to find a sensible route from France as well.
  2. The event is very well-organized (of course it is, it takes place in Germany, the country where people make a plan to be spontan). The venue is enormous, but numerous strategically placed signs with arrows and readable directions in German and English ensure easy navigation. Not to mention you get a map upon arrival and there is helpful staff everywhere. Phew.
  3. Bookworms will immediately feel at home. Even those of us who are more introverted than others. A crowd provides anonymity and the venue is so spacious that it’s possible to get through without hold-ups. Do your research in advance on which sections you want to visit. For me this was the children’s and young adult area. Who says today’s youth doesn’t read? I saw a line stretching the whole length of the cavernous space I had lost myself in. It’s entirely possible to spend several hours excitedly browsing one booth after another, listening to presentations and maybe even getting a book signed. And of course, everywhere you look, there are books. Rows upon rows of them, shining like their own spotlights on shelves, and you just can’t get enough.
  4. There is something for everyone to see. While in most cases the finished product of all the many-layered work that goes on in the publishing industry is a printed book, the fair also has sections devoted to publishers, literary agents, illustrators, international publishing houses, media and technology professionals, to name but a few.
  5. If you dream about writing your own book, no matter which stage you are at, this fair is for you. You can count on an extensive self-publishing area with an active program spanning all the relevant topics and questions that pop up in connection with this relatively new, but quickly expanding sector of the publishing industry. I was surprised at how many companies already exist in Germany alone, and there are probably even more than the bigger players I saw at the fair.

Sensory overload? Yeah, me too. Cafes and sitting areas follow each other every few minutes of walking, but if they are all full, take heart. There is usually a stretch of carpet behind the booths along one wall, where many of us eventually find our way to sit down and revel in the excitement surrounding us.

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How to Do Düsseldorf in One Weekend

Düsseldorf routinely pops up in various lists and rankings of European cities to visit, and with good reason. It’s convenient to reach both from Europe and elsewhere, not so large that you feel overwhelmed at choosing what to see and do during a weekend getaway, but by no means lacking in cultural delights and delicious food experiences. Read on!

Key Facts

One of the top ten most populous cities in Germany and the capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The famous Rhine river runs through the city also famous for its carnival celebrations in early spring, which pairs suitably with the fact that several established Altbier brands (such as Füchschen, Uerige and Schlüssel) typical to Düsseldorf and the region around it proudly distinguish the city further. Düsseldorf is also home to a large Japanese community. Last but not least, football fans the world over will definitely have something to say about Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Get There

By train – Deutsche Bahn offers many options and it’s a pleasant ride, especially for us northerners any time we venture further down from the peak of the country (pun points for me, as lovely Hamburg is as flat (plattes Land) a city as can be). There’s some nice green scenery to admire on the way and even several hours pass quickly. Düsseldorf Cental Station is busy, but well-planned, and the Presse + Buch shop is definitely worth a visit if you’re also departing by train. One thing to keep in mind during the summer in particular is that you will most likely encounter numerous groups of tipsy or near-intoxicated young men arriving for stag dos/ bachelor party weekends. Most of them are friendly and happy, but still best viewed from a distance.

By plane – Düsseldorf international Airport is a popular transportation hub and very nice to walk around. Airlines flying to and from include Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Eurowings. It’s well-connected to the city center, as well as the Düsseldorf Central Station, and the journey by S-Bahn train doesn’t take long.

Stay

Düsseldorf is an internationally popular city with a busy event program year round, as well as a thriving business center. There is no shortage of hotels to choose from based on budget and preferences. Another option is, of course, Airbnb, which was my experience this time and which I thoroughly enjoyed. One example of a good area to stay in, especially if you want to walk a lot to points of interest, is the Friedrichstadt district. Tip: check the trade fair calendar before planning your trip. Messe Düsseldorf is one of the largest exhibition venues in Germany, and accommodation may predictably get snapped up fast around and during events.

Walk

To Düsseldorf’s Rheinturm TV tower and explore the surrounding park, watching fellow weekenders doing yoga on the lawn.

To the arresting and Instagram-worthy Neuer Zollhof in the Düsseldorf harbor, with buildings designed by Frank O. Gehry.

To the green, sprawling and lovely Volksgarten park, and run between these clocks in an installation by Klaus Rinke. Alice in Wonderland/ White Rabbit vibes? Yeah, me too. On a weekend morning it’s an oasis of tranquility with many beautiful trees, bridges, shaded corners…and birds of all kinds! Generally a regular sight all over Düsseldorf. Step carefully.

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Visit

Of the many museums Düsseldorf has to offer, I visited the NRW Forum, well-known for its exhibitions of modern art. A particular point of excitement which is still relevant as I type this was a virtual reality exhibition with several stations titled Unreal, which had me finding my footing again after an immersive half hour in my massive headset. On the way out I walked through the Myth Tour de France exhibition, which was unexpectedly graphic and made me aware of my naive ignorance around the event. The exhibition was, of course, timed around this year’s start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf at the end of June- beginning of July.

Eat

Time to sit down for a bite! Walking back from the harbor in the general direction of the city center around noon, in good weather you can take your pic of lovely places with tables set outside overlooking the river, and thankfully reasonably priced menus. Again, in the summertime the aforementioned groups of dudes celebrating their groom buddy are omnipresent, so take care to sit at a distance in order to be able to chat and relax amid the beer-fueled table pounding in the background.

I happened on a street lined with Japanese shops and restaurants by accident and it immediately made me nostalgic for Tokyo. In the evening my weary, but happy feet carried me to Hyuga in Klosterstraße, where I indulged in some delicious sushi.

You might hear from some that Düsseldorf is considered stuck-up. Don’t believe it and see for yourself.

Oslo Reloaded, Day 2, Opera

The Oslo Opera House was definitely a major higlight during last year’s trip for me. What would it be like, we wondered, to see a performance there? One year later we find ourselves with tickets to see a ballet based on Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, one of Norway’s most famous playrights, but more on that later.

There is never a bad time to visit the Oslo Opera House, really. The building seems to transform along with the time of day and the changing light. Each view of and from it is exciting and unique. With the traditional notion of walls, gravity and height on the mind, it is somewhat surreal to find yourself not only going in, but walking on the Opera House before you even realize it. The change of levels is so gradual, even gentle, that the view of the Oslo Fjord from the rooftop catches you by surprise.

Space and peace are the main impressions emanating from the Operahuset, as well as a sense of welcoming. It snowed in the morning. I look down at my pointed black ankle boots and my friend’s smart black pumps, and suggest we take the steps stretching out in front of us. There’s an expanse of of the building leading upwards, basically just a walkway, but that’s for another day and in other shoes.

People are walking everywhere, some are sitting down and reading or just gazing out over the city. Blues, whites, marble and glass ripple, blend together and reflect each other in the rays of the slowly setting sun. I am enchanted.

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To me, Henrik Ibsen was previously known for his plays A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt. My friend had read Ghosts before the trip and summarized it for me. Subsequently, we were both asking the same question: how can this complicated material with many-layered family drama and tragedy stretching over two generations be translated to modern ballet dancing? While admiring the spacious interior of the Operahuset’s foyer, which is just as intriguing as the outside, we got a program. In the introduction director Marit Moum Aune immediately answers that taking Ibsen’s text as a basis for a dance performance is indeed a complicated feat (“terrible idea”), but as those involved were, we too are now intrigued.

We take our seats in the auditorium we viewed a year ago from above during our tour of the Operahuset and in a few minutes lights go out as the ballet begins. The set is at first glance minimalistic, but reflective of the dark shadows in the character’s pasts, both literally and metaphorically. As the mother soon to be surprised by the return or her grown-up son dances across the stage, we are pulled deeper and deeper in to this eerily calm and increasingly tense atmosphere. A screen shows a family of three slowly making their way forward, as if in a dream, the Fjord behind them and the unurried noise of waves coming in time with their steps. Is it a dream? Someone’s memory? Or indeed, ghosts? We don’t quite know, and the possibility of interpretation, the freedom of it is exhilirating. Fast-paced dance sequences involving the whole dance ensemble on stage seamlessly interchange with the slower ones, as agonies, past and present all collide, so that it becomes occasionally difficult to undersand who is who, but at the end you are left breathless, just like the rest of the audience. The immersion is so complete, it takes a while to come back to the real world.

 

 

Oslo Reloaded, Day 2, Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

I add the various smoked salmon to the eggs and bacon (mais oui) on my plate, and then my eyes fall on the waffle iron standing on the counter opposite. You can make your own waffles here? And put Nutella on them? Or raspberry jam? Oh, wait, you’re supposed to spray the inside of the waffle iron with this can, which as it turns out, is not whipped cream? Act casual, just act casual.

The breakfast buffet at the Scandic Grensen hotel has won me over. Or maybe that already happened when I saw the salmon. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Good food is not to be taken for granted, and neither is good breakfast! I’m feeling ridiculously happy that we will get to come here one more time before leaving, and I know without a doubt that I will stuff my face.

“There are two types of people: those who want to know when is breakfast in the hotel, and those who want to know until when is breakfast in the hotel.”

We board a tram at Oslo S and venture out a little outside of the city, but not too much, and get out to a view of the slightly hilly Ekebergparken sculpture park. The air is fresh and invigorating and I’m itching for a panoramic view of Oslo, which I get soon enough. It’s exciting to recognize familiar areas from above.

A few minutes later I get a shot of the Oslo Fjord, then I just stare for a while. It’s very peaceful up here and I like the understated beauty of bare trees waiting for spring. Nature will take its course and everything will soon wake up.

Ekebergparken is also a national heritage site, and scattered throughout the park are indeed sculptures, each arresting and thought-provoking in its own way. Ever so often a work of art will catch your eye and pull you out of your reverie brought on by trees, moss-covered stones and thoughts of Norwegian trolls. It’s an interesting state of perpetual contrast. Another sculpture by Sean Henry, Woman (Being Looked At), stands in the passageway of the Folketeatret, where we saw Ylvis last year. The exhibit in Ekebergparken, Walking Woman, inspires our purposeful stride. Concave Face by Hilde Maehlum captivates me with its unusual beauty.

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Anatomy of an Angel by Damien Hirst leads to a monologue from me on the representation of angels in Supernatural (“Cas!”). Then I quickly forget my thread as a troop of children on ponies locked by adults in the front, middle and back passes us, with the kid in the middle astride a particularly fat pony. Its belly is almost level with its hooves and I’m delighted. A sign nearby points in the direction of a riding school on the territory, and sure enough, in a few minutes we discover it. The place is filled with happy family activity, sheep are bleating and there’s a small cabin labeled Kaniners, which attracts my attention because bunnies are Kaninchen auf Deutsch.

Art comes in all shapes and forms. After identifying that the disembodied voice half-hissing in a British accent, “Shed the body…shed the body…redemption” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets vibes, anyone?) was actually coming from the base of a lamppost, we decided it was time to head down to the Barcode district. Getting there on foot from Ekebergparken is entirely possible, just follow the tram tracks and then keep walking towards those fascinating buildings (mind the construction site on the way). We make sure not to look towards the opera house so as to keep the element of surprise alive for the evening’s activities.

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Oslo Reloaded, Day 1

I must admit, gazing out at the Oslo Fjord, with bright sunshine illuminating the fabulous waterfront views from the Aker Brygge neighborhood, is not a bad way to start a Friday morning.

It’s just gone 9 AM and we’ve been up for 6 hours. As a result, the pleasant anticipation of a full day ahead is even stronger than usual, while I nibble on my cinnamon roll from Narvesen to tide me over until our afternoon check-in at the hotel where we’ve just left our bags. They had a locker room downstairs involving some card scanning and (at first) complicated twists, plus memorizing of locker numbers. This proved to be a theme during the whole trip. Oh, the cinnamon roll was accompanied by my beverage of choice – hot chocolate, all for the sweet price of 25 NOK (roughly 3 euros). Especially during a weekend getaway, Narvesen or Seven-Eleven is an easy solution for snacks – both shop chains are to be found almost everywhere in the city and are friendly to your budget.

Just as last year, the brilliant sunshine makes for some active instagramming and we don’t want to go inside anywhere.

Walking around Oslo is easy – checking out all the previous trip’s discoveries in and around Aker Brygge with the breeze from the Oslo Fjord blowing in your face sweeps away any remaining drowsiness and we enthusiastically fan out through the streets around us. There’s the National Theater and the Royal Palace – no frost on the ground this year. Our feet seem to know where to go before we think about it. One lady asks us if it’s allowed to take a picture of the guards by the palace, and we feel like locals. We get our 24-hour Oslo Passes from the Oslo Visitor Centre at the Oslo S central station. After last year’s searching for it, everything goes quickly and the button that opens the door is still the same.

Next we find ourselves in the National Gallery, for what is a visit to Oslo without art, and what is art in Oslo without a bit of, you guessed it, Edvard Munch. Plans of the museum layout are available and each room is conveniently numbered at its beginning – I love me a system. So no FOMO and you see everything. The scope of the collection surprises me, from antique busts and heads to Russian icons, to impressionism, and of course plenty of Norwegian art. I dutifully stop in front of the version of Munch’s Scream on display here. In fact, there is a whole room filled only with Munch’s works. After a while I drift to the next artists and forget myself as I stop in front of View of Dresden by Moonlight by Johan Christian Dahl, one of Norway’s most famous landscape painters. The enchanting panorama, emanating both serenity and mystery, fills my vision. For a few minutes the memory of where I am recedes as I stare at this earlier view of a city in the country I now call home. Harald Sohlberg is another new discovery, and at the end of our visit I succesfully locate a postcard with Street in Røros and its eye-catching play of lines and colors in the museum shop. Always check out a museum shop in Oslo – you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.

It’s Friday night and we’re going out with the rest of them – DDR is performing in the Oslo Spectrum arena and it’s huge. I can’t stop looking behind me at the rows and rows ascending. They fill quickly, as does the standing area. We make our way right to the barrier in front of the stage and security hands out earplugs. DDR is a Norwegian comedy band performing local songs in exaggerrated German, as well as some actual German hits. I laugh myself hoarse to Nena’s 99 Luftballons and am taken back to an 80s dance night during a dedicated rendition of Falco’s Amadeus.

The blend of German in our Oslo trip is working out very well, but it hits its peak as what we’ve been waiting for all evening finally happens. We loose our minds and I my limb coordination as no other than Ylvis takes the stage. “Alles gut?!” Bård Ylvisåker bellows. Alles is more than gut as Ylvis, both dressed in military attire, launch in to a highly energetic, brand new performance of a German version of The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).

Post ear-plug cheering is still ringing in my ears as I hit the hay.

 

Tokyo: Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market, Hama-Rikyu Gardens and Roppongi Hills

I touched my Pasnet metro pass to the scanner and the small doors in front of me opened. We were inside a Tokyo subway for the very first time in our lives.

The by now familiar Mark City shopping passageway was a standard entry point to board the orange Ginza line to go to the station of the same name. Rivers of commuters flowed ahead and parallel to us, never mixing, as we had become used to, and we were just going somewhere like everybody else.

Every single sign reading information you might need to progress during your adventure is translated in to English, and that just made me want to hug all of Japan. Directions for going up or down the stairs to avoid chaos are easy to spot, and clear signs asking to be considerate of other passengers, not to mention forbidding begging, playing music, passing out flyers etc. adorn walls. I can’t spot any litter anywhere and wherever we proceed doesn’t feel clogged or, indeed, much like it’s underground.

Two lines form at every platform section where people wait to enter through the train doors, with a space between them through which those exiting the train pass. We carefully follow suit and I discover I can touch the ceiling once we are inside. People on public transport generally don’t talk, listening to something with their headphones on, reading or dozing a little. A small screen above the door shows a tourism ad for Tokyo, with the main character, a girl clearly from the “West”, saying she was extremely excited about visiting, but also nervous, as she approaches a friendly metro staff member with a question. I’m enraptured. Especially since it turns out that the subway, as opposed to my earlier worries, is not confusing at all.

We get out at Ginza station and exit to our first rainy day in Tokyo. It’s drizzling steadily, but it’s still warm. We take a few steps amid the elegant high-rise buildings towering around us and stop by a beautiful stationery shop, since I can’t resist any place that might sell notebooks. There’s a strategically placed case outside, politely filled with clear plastic bags to put your wet umbrella in. I already feel like an elephant in a teashop and this small requirement increases my feeling of respect towards local manners. We browse shelves filled with pretty envelopes, exquisitely printed cards, bright boxes and very fancy pens.

Ginza is fashionable, but not intimidating, spacious, open, with some of the elegant charm of Daikanyama and the simultaneous atmosphere of being approachable that we’ve come to feel anywhere we went in Tokyo. A walk along its broad streets also conveniently leads to the Tsukiji fish market. When in Tokyo. Some contact with seafood has to be made.

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The Tsukiji fish market is the largest in the world. We wove our way through the outer market, stopping at multiple stalls that offered bits of smoked fish, meat and nuts we had never seen before for tasting. All sorts of seafood and products we couldn’t always identify lined our way, signs and labels in Japanese making it all the more exotic for my inexperienced eyes, of course. It was a maze of quintessentially local experiences and by noon we were ready to do the one thing we had to do: eat some sushi. There was no shortage of places to pick, and we settled on a cosy-looking restaurant where you could sit inside. Bright menus with pictures made the selection easier and in no time we were sipping green tea, miso soup and carefully nibbling on our deliciously fresh sushi. Was it different from eating sushi back home? Yes, it was, as it was prepared on site and from local products, not to mention the whole setting simply made you more aware of tastes and sensations. I’m still a total wimp when it comes to wasabi.

Sated in every sense of the word, we made our way on foot to the Hama-Rikyu Gardens – the family gardens of the Tokugawa Shogun. Passing several hands in terms of ownership, the gardens had to undergo restoration work after WWII, opening to the public again in 1946. A cultural heritage spot, its blend of traditional architecture from the Edo era, numerous graceful trees and skyscrapers in the background is fascinating. It’s quiet and we grow silent as well, drinking in the beauty around us.

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One of our busiest and fullest days in Tokyo was rounded off with a subway trip to Roppongi Hills, another talked about district, and a successful search for the Mori Tower. One elevator ride later we were looking down on Tokyo from the 52nd floor of the Skyview observation area. Fun game – get a flyer and with its help try to identify landmarks from above. We located Shibuya, and it was more than a little fantastic to walk there all the way from Roppongi once we were back down on land, after being so high up.

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Tokyo: Chilling in Daikanyama

After the shrill excitement of Harajuku we opted for a change of pace and walked to the Daikanyama district from Shibuya. It was a pleasant morning with a slight breeze and our map took us along quieter Tokyo streets, some of them residential, some clearly business-like, here a sleepy cat silently lounging on a porch, there a beautiful Japanese house, possibly a spa of some kind, promising miracles on its territory. Trees were still blooming with flowers and there weren’t as many high-rise buildings to see as in Shibuya. The tempo was decidedly more laid-back than what we had experienced the day before, and both our guidebooks described Daikanyama as wealthy, but at the same time low-key and charming.

We explored a big street stretching out in front of us, looked at shop windows and cafes, stepped in to side streets once again and reemerged, stopped for a sit-down in a courtyard where we promptly got bitten by very efficient mosquitos, found another puppy shop five times as expensive as the one we discovered in Shibuya and stumbled on a number of shop signs I would have gladly taken home with me. Well-dressed young mothers walked down the streets with their babies in strollers and despite it being a weekday I felt like it was another Saturday.

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From Daikanyama we walked to the Meguro river and along it, enjoying the continued tranquility, apartment buildings around us, stopping at more shop windows and exploring a cosy, winding street full of cafes and local flair. There were benches along the river that some people were smoking on, or quietly eating with their backs to the street (like we did later). The high-rise didn’t swallow the low-rise and everything just seemed to work together.

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