Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga-  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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Bergen, Minnesota

Welcome to Bergen

After a brief hiatus due to non-column related commitments, we are now back on track to start you on the tour of the German-named villages in Minnesota. We’ll start off with the first town on the list, which is more of a village than a town, but in any case it is worth a visit if one wants to take a small one mile detour off US Hwy. 71 going from Jackson north to Windom in southern Minnesota. Bergen is one of the smallest villages in Jackson County, yet it does have a unique history that is worth noting to the tourist. The village was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1895 and became the center of dairy commerce in its own locality with the opening of the cremery in 1897. This meant that farmers in the northern and eastern part of the county could bring in their milk for processing and sale.  While it was in business for only 40 some years, the village became popular with the Bergen General Store, which started the same time as the cremery. It provided food and clothing to nearby farmers, and it later included a gas station and a post office. It was and still is to this day the only store in the village with a store-front window. It is still in business today as it now sells antiques and collectible items, something that would entice someone to turn off the main highway and stop in for a few minutes. After that, one can go across the county road going through the village heading north into Bergen Bar and Grill, a small tavern and restaurant that is a popular place for the 30+ inhabitants and nearby farmers to this day. While I have not been in there because it was closed at the time of my visit on a cold but blue December afternoon, one could imagine a nice meal with a glass of Grain Belt beer while sitting outside, talking to some friends, watching the cars pass by and having a nice view of the village and its small but noticeable stream meandering its way past the village to the south, Elm Creek. That is- when it is in the summer time.

The Bergen Store: Photo taken in Dec. 2010

About a couple kilometers to the west of Bergen is the Bethany Lutheran Church, which can be seen from the highway looking west. While the brick building has existed since the late 1920s, the congregation was one of three in the locality that had existed since 1867, but eventually consolidated into one by 1920. The church still serves the village of Bergen and all points to the east to this day and provides one with a picturesque view of the landscape; especially along Elm Creek. Bergen is one of those forgotten villages that is tucked away in the valley where no one can see it. This is partly due to the fact that the main highway, US 71 was rerouted more than 60 years ago and what serves the village now are two county roads. However, follow the signs and head a couple kilometers down hill and you’ll see a village that is still intact and anchored with businesses one may never hear about unless you are told about it by some locals or you figure it out for yourself. In either case, this Norwegian town is one place that is worth a stop, even if it’s for a few minutes’ rest.

Bethany Lutheran Church: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

This leads to the first of many Richard Halliburton Geography Guessing Quizzes. A couple weeks ago, I posted a true and false question which stated: There is only one other Bergen in the world and that is the one in Norway.

The neighborhood of Bergen: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

If you answered false, you are right. There are 13 countries in the world where Bergen exists, apart from the most popular of them in Norway, which is the second largest city behind Oslo, with a population of 260,000 inhabitants. One can find a Bergen in Poland, Czech Republic, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and Canada, just to name some of the countries mentioned here. Interesting enough, one can find as many as 16 towns in Germany carrying the name Bergen. This includes five in Bavaria, two in Saxony and Lower Saxony respectively, and one near Frankfurt on the Main  in Hesse. The last one was the scene of the battle of Bergen, which took place between the French under Marshall de Contades and the Allies (British and the Kingdoms of Prussia and Brunswick) under Herzog Ferdinand on 13 April, 1759. Unfortunately, the Allies lost the war to the French but there would be many more battles to come as it was part of the 7-Year War between the French and the Allies. Bergen later merged with Enkheim and is now part of the city of Frankfurt with its main feature worth seeing being the Marktstrasse- with its typical old-fashion buildings- and the city hall. The Nazi Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died shortly before the British liberated the camp in 1945, was located near Bergen in the district of Celle in Lower Saxony. The largest of the 16 towns known in Germany is the one on the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg Pommerania. With the population of 23,000 inhabitants, it is one of the oldest in the state, dating as far back as 1232 when the Slavic tribes settled in the town on the island. After being conquered by the Danes, the Swedes, and the Prussians, Bergen became part of the German empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I when it unified in 1871, and despite being part of the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War, it is now part of Germany since 1990, together with the rest of the former East Germany. Much of its architecture dating back to 1200s exist today and it is one of the major stops enroute between Binz and Stralsund; especially thanks to the Stresalsund Bridge, which opened in 2004 to relieve the traffic congestion along the dam, located nearby.

Elm Creek south of Bergen: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

Bergen is one of the most popular used names for a town in the world. However, these towns vary in their history and population and they are worth visiting when you get a chance. While there is a theory that stated that Bergen is associated with the Norwegian or even Scandinavian culture and their influence, based on the historic background and in the case of Germany and the Benelux Region (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), the geographical location to their northern neighbors, more research is needed to confirm that the Scandinavians had their influence on the region, even though some of that is proven already; especially with the one in Minnesota.

RICHARD HALLIBURTON GUESSING QUIZ ON THE NEXT VILLAGE TO VISIT ON THE TOUR: NEW TRIER

Question 2. Which country sought to conquer the city of Trier (in Germany) many times and eventually suceeded? Please include the year it happened!

a. Poland

b. France

c. Denmark

d. Spain

e. None of the above