The prep for this virtual Frankfurt has been intense: oiling up the cogs on the Analytical Engine (if it was good enough for Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, it’ll be fine for streaming video); cooking up some of that pinnacle of Hessian cuisine, Handkäse mit Musik; pouring out a few Bembels of Apfelwein; and getting boxes of Super Dickmann’s in. I’m definitely not a Mini Dickmann’s man—you all know what I’m saying... oh no, the Mini versions are too sweet. Plus, in a nod to the important contribution my postponed Guest of Honour Canuck friends have given to world culture, I have Nickelback on constant rotation.
Mostly-online FBF is upon us, a.k.a. the Frankfurter Buchmesse “Special Edition”, which is an optimistic organisational branding that borders on the hubristic, like Napoleon calling Waterloo a “Special Victory”. Heck, why not go the whole hog and try to spin it as something digi-zeitgeisty? Frankfurt and Chill? (Sorry if that brings to mind, say, silver foxes Jürgen Boos and Frankfurt Conference star turn Jimmy “Six Thousand Shops” Daunt in a manly canoodle in front of the telly.)
I jest, for I think FBF has put together a spiffing online offering—it’s amazing how many A-listers will appear at FBF if they don’t actually have to go to Frankfurt. Although one has to go through the neverending Dantean circles of hell of the FBF website to get there. C’mon, Frankfurt, I just want to see how much Michael Tamblyn’s beard has grown over lockdown, don’t ask for the My Book Fair login on a third successive page.
A surprise of FBF 2020 is that the fair has turned to a side hustle: merch. A portion of the FBF site now looks like Etsy, with the enticing tagline: “For anyone who can’t get enough of Frankfurter Buchmesse, you can now bring that book fair feeling home.” What, hangovers and regret? The T-shirts, hoodies and obligatory facemasks are festooned with FBF 2020’s branding, hands in a heart shape. I don’t want to burst a new revenue stream, Buchmesse, but that looks suspiciously close to the trademarked goal celebration of golfer and sometime footballer Gareth Bale. You might want to lawyer up. But I do fancy one of those tees, if anyone wants to wing one my way. Better make it an XL—old Horace has put on a lockdown stone or two.
We all complain about Frankfurt. The food, the long hours, the queues. The food. Book Twitter has been awash with comments like Audible’s (and Bookseller Rising Star 2020) Victoria Haslam: “The things I am not missing about FBF: three hours sleep max, sore feet, handkäse mit musik...” To which I say, how can one not like a cheese with onion concoction that makes one flatulent? But for all that, we love it. FBF is the best fair going (Bologna excepted, of course). Hopefully, 2021 will be a better, safer year—a good start would be the super-spreader-in-chief out of the White House—and we’ll be back sipping cocktails at the Frankfurter Hof next October. Until then, I’ll raise an Apfelwein for you, and keep the Nickelback crankin’.