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Tante Trude goes to Frankfurt

Tante Trude goes to Frankfurt

Every year the Frankfurt Book Fair is a big event in the world of new books and - as an antiquarian book fair is included - also in the world of old books. In October 2012 Frank Werner of Brockhaus / Antiquarium and his lovely Aunt Trude visited this year's Frankfurt fair: the former to buy lots of old books, the latter to admire lots of new books. They both tried hard. Did they succeed?

By Frank Werner

A few days before the Frankfurt Book Fair, and with it the Frankfurt Antiquarian Book Fair, was due to open, my phone rang:

“Good morning, dear boy”, Tante Trude trilled. “Are you up yet?”

I told her that it was half past nine on a working day and that, yes, I was up and actually working at my desk.

“Good, good”, she said, not listening at all. “Are you going to Frankfurt? I want to come along and see the books.”

I told her I was going to the Antiquarian Book Fair, and that she was welcome to come along and visit the famous Frankfurt Book Fair next door, but shouldn’t expect too much.

“I’m glad” she said, still not listening. “Because I’ve been told that the tickets are quite expensive.”

Indeed they are. To get in during the week costs a steepish € 44.--. Fortunately, kind colleagues had sent me a couple of free tickets. So I told my dear Tante Trude that she could come along. There were two rare books in the official Antiquarian Book Fair Catalogue that I wanted to buy, and I needed to be there on time, because there might be lots to draw in case I was not the only interested customer.

We arrived at the huge fair ground, and went in search of hall 6, where the antiquarian book fair was situated this year. They move it around a lot to keep the customers on their toes, I suppose. The hall had all the charm of a cold war border – tall grey walls with infrequent entrances, guarded by men who did not actually carry Kalashnikoffs, but looked as if they wished they did. Behind the walls, an incessant babble of voices. Frightening.

Well, the book fair hove in sight and it was at least carpeted in red, there were wooden shelves and they actually had old books on them. What a relief.

There were just over 40 exhibitors, not that many, and I thought I’d buy my two books, look around a bit, wait for my dear Tante and be off home in a couple of hours.

How wrong I was! Due to a mistake in the catalogue, several opening times were shown. This meant that between applying for a book from the catalogue and the drawing of lots, there was a hiatus of three hours. This meant, in effect, that instead of having an hour to make up their minds, prospective buyers of catalogued books had an ample three. Why bother with a catalogue at all, I ask. Anyway, after I’d looked at my two books, put my name on the list, I browsed the fair. Now, I like buying books and usually find something that I’ll take, even if I’ve never seen it before, this being what a rare book dealer is all about. At this fair, however, I didn’t find a thing! How frustrating! And there weren’t that many customers in the stands, so the chance that I overlooked something were pretty slim.

Well, when the three hours to the deadline had passed, I went along to the stand where my two books were waiting to be raffled off. There were several others there, all dealers exhibiting at the fair. The organiser had little lottery tickets, the highest number to win. I drew the number 2. It couldn’t be more obvious than that.

I went off to drink a cup of coffee which cost about half a month’s wages. After a further cup, Tante Trude came limping along, looking flustered and a little angry, something you do not often see in this placid lady.

“What a disappointment with the world of new books!” she said, plopping herself down on a chair.

I was going to tell her all about my own disappointment with the world of old books, but she rapidly went on:

“So many books! So many people! So many filmstars! So much noise! And they won’t even let you look at the books! I asked a girl if this book I was looking at was good, and she looked at me as if I was crazy! And some of the books don’t even have text in them! Just empty pages! Nobody seems to know anything! And they won’t even sell the books! All those snooty girls in short skirts and black stockings! And the men are even worse!”

She was running out of exclamation marks and breath.

I went and bought another coffee and a piece of cake. This cost about as much as a very good meal in a restaurant, with wine.

As she tucked into these, I told her about my day. She commiserated, and looked about with a practiced eye, having been to two rare books fairs before.

“Not very full, is it?” she remarked. “And it goes on until Sunday, you say? Five full days?”

I agreed that it was a long time, and you could probably go broke just by drinking coffee and eating cake.

“Let’s go home,” Tante Trude suggested. “I’ve seen the famous Frankfurt Book Fair, and it was an experience, but I don’t think I’ll come again.”

I agreed with her and we went off to find the car and go back to the real world where you can actually buy books - new and even old ones.

(Posted on Books and Other Animals. Presented here by permission of the author.)

Published since 24 Oct 2012