The first time you ever visit a place will forever remain etched in your mind, because of the different experiences, and more so if the place is another continent. It is very sad that my first time in Europe had to be in autumn, had to be on business, and had to be when I am this big (sic – Kenyanese), I mean age-wise. But all in all I feel lucky, I am lucky to have set foot in the biggest book fair in the whole wide world, The Frankfurt Book Fair.
I have to say that I was not disappointed in any sense as soon as I landed. The cold weather, the organized systems and the vast airports were all sort of expected. Did I mention that I remembered my motherland when I heard that we were flying over The Hague?
The first 3 days were composed of 3 seminars a day, cold food, good wine and great company, not necessarily in that order. This is where I mention that I was the youngest among 22 participants but I felt like I was among the oldest. Everyone was so full of life! This made all the seminars and group discussions very exciting.
Dare I not forget the African Union, made up of representatives from Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, APNET (African Publishers Network) and Kenya (but do I say). In one of our group discussions, we were tasked with coming up with a hypothetical book and develop a marketing strategy around it. Ours was among the most interesting presentation not only because of our creative marketing strategy, but because the idea itself was interesting. It was a children’s crime fiction book by John Kiriamiti!?
After the seminar days, we were ‘ready’ for the book fair itself, were we? The first day was a shocker. We alighted from the train at 9am at the Messe stop. We, and about 1000 other people from the same train. Going up the elevator, I felt like we were getting into a national celebration at Nyayo stadium. I just did not believe that all these people were squeezing in to go in and do some book related business. You have to understand where I was coming from, Kenya, where people would never stampede to a book event, soccer maybe 🙂
Inside the fair was another shocker for me. I have to admit that I have never seen so many books in my life. It made me wonder what has never been written about.
At this point I will try my best to help you understand how big the book fair is. The fair has 8 halls each hall as big as one floor of the KICC. Each hall apart from Hall 8 has 3 floors and there are fair shuttles that ferry people from one hall to another free of charge. In total, there were more than 7,000 exhibitors, 3,000 events and about 290,469 visitors (the second highest number of visitors in the history of the fair). The fair only opens to the public on Saturday and Sunday and this public by the way is from all over the world. It is suicidal to go through the halls on these two days.
This fair, I must say is very interesting in so many ways. One, is that everyone is basically a respected representative and so dialogue is eye to eye without consideration of your position in the company you come from. The other interesting thing, is that there are cocktails in the fair every evening and these are the best places to meet the people you would like to meet informally. The last, but most interesting aspect of the fair, is that they organize very interesting after parties outside the book fair (in the city) where you get to see the most interesting people dancing to rock and techno. I shall not mention any names.
The thing I enjoyed most, second to the fair that is, was the train. This train came after every 20 minutes and never got late, closed her doors when someone was just almost getting in, spoke in German and had some stops named this way when going in one direction and named another way when going in the other direction. That tells you some things about my experience: I got off the wrong stops sometimes, had to wait 20 minutes for the next one which left me standing there because some guy was too slow getting in, then when I finally got in, I missed a stop because the name of the stop I was to alight had changed with change of direction.
The best thing about this train I shall note as a Kenyan is that there was no one to check my ticket. I only heard that if you are found without one you will be charged 50€ but until then…
Once the book fair was over, I had to come back home of course. At the Frankfurt airport, the taxi dropped me at Terminal 1 because I had some errands there. What I did not know is how far terminal 2 was. So after my errands, and looking around, I decided since it was Check-in time I would now go to my terminal and so I followed the terminal 2 sign, 10 minutes later I was still following. Down the walkways, up the elevators to some place on the fourth floor only to find that I had to board a train. The long and short of this is that I used 20 minutes to reach to where I was supposed to be and I will never forget how tired I was. I just wanted to see myself at our small convenient JKIA, which I did 13hrs later.