Frankfurt: Nights at the circus

<p>Some things do change. Last Friday (5th October) the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper printed a colour photo (of two Korean leaders) on its front page for the first time, while on the first day of the month the city joined the internationally fast-growing Smoking Ban Club. Its effect has been an epidemic of heating lamps provided for the habitual or casual smoker who opts to stand outside to sample the chill Hesse night air, and an apparent thinning of the rush-hour crush of the bar of the Frankfurter Hof. This particular rush-hour runs from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.</p>
<p>The 59th Fair chose Catalan culture for its annual guest of honour. Gaudi's extraordinary Barcelona architecture has its local challengers. Visitors arriving at the Fair are greeted by the oddly huge Hammering Man sculpture alongside the postmodern cylindrical Messe Tower that resembles a pencil and is known as . . . er . . . the Pencil (Bleistift). Beside it is the drum-shaped Maritim Hotel and opposite are the vertical pencil boxes of the Marriott. Nearby is Europe's tallest office building, the Commerzbank Tower. I passed a building site whose huge cavity suggests that the pesky giant meteorite has arrived in this city 21 years too early.</p>
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<p>All around the place are posters of alarmingly old-fashioned red-nosed clowns announcing that the Circus Roncalli is coming to town. But the circus is already here, because animals seem to be this year's black. The huge success of <em>Marly and Me</em> may have something to do with it. Patrick Walsh came to the Fair with a huge deal with HarperCollins for <em>We Bought a Zoo</em> by Benjamin Mee, a narrative that combines a fight to save a zoo with the death of the author's wife from cancer. Then Margit Kitterle of Droemer pre-empted German rights for <em>Rounding with Oscar</em>, David Dosa's story of a cat (Oscar) that seems able to detect the imminent death of elderly residents of a nursing centre. <em>Golfing for Cats</em> , which used to be the paradigm title for a surefire bestseller, can now be altered to <em>Cats on Wheels</em>.</p>
<p>Weidenfeld's current No 1 bestseller <em>On the Edge</em> by Top Gear's Richard Hammond (please note: this is a commercial) will soon be joined by Little Brown's Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman's second motorcycle odyssey and Harper Collins' celebratory (we hope) F1 memoir by Lewis Hamilton. One of the front-running celebrity memoirs was undoubtedly rock legend Keith Richards', sold by Ed Victor earlier in the year in the English-speaking world to Hachette and now for translation at the Fair. The other was Sir Roger Moore's <em>My Word is My Bond</em>, agented by Lesley Pollinger who was talking to interested parties of a minimum &pound;1m world rights deal.</p>
<p>Before I left the gated community of the Fair last night, l looked at the stalls selling merchandise beyond the needs of most tourists. One was vending old musical instruments including a Vietnamese nose-flute, and the stallholder provoked a question which I never expected to be posed: &quot;Rick, isn't it about time you whipped out your percussive frog?&quot; There is no answer to that except to say three cheers for Doris Lessing and her Nobel Prize for Literature.</p>