I’ll See You in Frankfurt: On Missing the Biggest Bookish Gathering in the World

A Choral Ode to the Before Times

Many of your favorite writers are published all over the world. They are published all over the world because of people who license the rights to their books to international publishers. “License” is a boring word, so is “foreign rights,” “subsidiary rights” or “acquisitions” but “people” is quite lovely, if you let it roll through your mouth a few times (populus! pop!).

The publishing world consists of myriad book lovers and many of us meet at international book fairs each year to pitch or acquire titles—we work hard but we’re also human, so we play and connect in countless different ways just by being in the same place at the same time. This year all the books fairs were canceled, with only their digital shells available to us.

As a way of processing what we’ve lost for the moment, I asked my international colleagues (other rights people, agents, and publishers) to share what they miss the most about one of the biggest international publishing events of them all, the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here are their answers.

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I miss the neighboring agent’s pointy Louboutin’s across the aisle from my table.
I miss my weird rituals to get over jetlag on the weekend before the fair and them come, Monday always putting on red lipstick at 5pm.
I miss admiring other women’s wonderful taste in shoes.
I miss meeting the publishers who buy those amazing books nobody else wanted to buy.
I miss the gossip, how much we envy and have crushes on each another.
I miss how little we needed to know or explain about ourselves in order to become friends.

I miss lying in bed in the evening with my legs up the wall while preparing my meetings for the next day.
I miss that Friday feeling, as if it’s the last day of school before the summer.
I miss the thrill of walking to a restaurant I’ve never been, to sit down with people I’ve never seen and end up having a blast.

I miss the rare serendipitous encounters and moments when the true magic of a bookfair manifests itself among the shrill noise, buzz, pretentiousness and hype.

I miss boarding that 7 am flight, too sleepy to stand up to queue.
I miss running into friends in the ladies’ room (the only moment when small talk is an actual pleasure).
I miss that ladies’ room at the Hof!
I miss just that crisp late afternoon air when you leave through the street entrance.
I miss the antique & used books stalls, seriously.
I miss crossing the older bridge over the Main gets me every time.
I miss the costumes. What everyone wears. I could spend the whole time just people watching.
I miss one particular feminist chocolate shop & café.
There’s a smell to those halls on the first day, I kid you not, it makes my heart tap dance.

I miss the palm tree wallpaper in the long hallway at Hessischer Hof.
I miss hugs and kisses.
I miss taking a deep breath before entering Frankfurter Hof on Monday before the fair.
I miss the publisher who once gave me a homemade ceramic plate in the Rights Centre. It was pink, with an inscription that said: “It’s only a fucking book.” We both know it isn’t true.
I miss crumbled “Recent Acquisitions” lists.
I miss my friends and meeting future friends.

I miss the Messeturm disappearing in the distance as the train pulls out of the station.

I miss people asking me “When did you arrive?”

I miss what they passed for air in the halls.
I miss the half-hourly jogs from hall eight to hall three and back, stocking up on real oxygen.
I miss saying sorry I’m running late but…
I miss the jaded American foreign rights lady calling the place F@@kfurt.
I miss having to fight to keep my eyes open during a rights presentation.
I miss the late summer feeling and the blood-red sunsets at six p.m., clearly indicating that fall is coming.
I miss the drink in the crowded bar with a friend who makes you forget that your time on earth is limited.
I miss the beautiful art museum shaped like a cake you could steal away to for a change of tapestry.
I miss the apple wine and the hangover it induced.
I miss the “non-smokers” bumming cigarettes off of me.
I miss the self-important Monday buzz outside the Frankfurter Hof.
I miss the many hugs.
I miss marveling at how many small presses the world harbors, miss seeing their rickety stands and their representatives’ gleaming eyes when you stop by.
I miss running into someone I haven’t seen in a year and falling in love instantly, until the next encounter of that sort.
I miss the incomparable thrill of hunting for a book and hoping against all odds that it will be mine.
I miss the man with the hammer.
What I miss most is the all-pervading feeling of a yearly family reunion. A very international family at that, and one that stands firmly against hate, prejudice, nationalism and other “achievements” of the so-called right revolution.

I miss hiding from publishers waiting for an answer on an offer from me when I bump into them in the Rights Centre.
I miss Adolf Hitler’s double, aka the waiter of my favorite restaurant in Frankfurt.
I miss shouting at the bar tender at the Frankfurter Hof explaining that what I want is actually a plain Martini Bianco with ice and not a cocktail.
On the last day of the fair I miss running from a table to another in the Rights Centre just to say goodbye and hug all my favorite people before I go to the airport.
Long story short: I desperately miss all my foreign colleagues.

I miss the grumpy lady at the Rights Café serving me freshly squeezed orange juice.
I miss crashing a publisher’s reception at the Frankfurter Hof.
I miss being so bone tired on the Friday that I want to cry but also so happy that I want to cry and hug everyone goodbye.
I miss the grüne soße you get with your schnitzel.
I miss the amazing jewelry the female Italian publishers always wear.
I miss the four (sometimes five!) kisses from the Dutch publishers.
I miss complimenting my Russian publishing friend on her sparkling earrings and her saying: “Thank you. They’re made of beetles.”
I miss people asking me “When did you arrive?”

I miss that weird feeling on the first day going into the fair on those long moving sidewalks to Hall 6, and thinking, here I go again… both excited and a little baffled that it never seems to change.

I miss saying “Mit Kase, bitte.”

I miss the urine-yellow skyscraper lights in the fog.

I miss walking out the fair on the last day as the sun sets and you see the hammering man for the last time.

I miss the fantastic socks the British male publishers always wear and I miss when the Asian publishers start to bow and you never know when they are going to stop.

I miss the smell of sausages and cigarettes as soon as you step off the plane.

I cry toward the end of fairs and over whatever movies I watch on the way home—doesn’t matter which ones.

I miss saying “Eine Quittung, bitte.”

I miss arriving to my hotel room at the beginning of the week, jetlagged but jumping into the shower to get to the Hessischer Hof for the first meeting, with the whole the dizzying, exhausting, exhilarating week ahead of me.

I miss the mad wallpaper-marble-clash in the Hessischer Hof corridors and the ballroom, and the stepping-up-the-red-carpet to enter, and finding my next appointment in there, only to take them across the busy road to perch on a park bench on the traffic island next to the clochards for a meeting.

I miss surviving, during 3 days, thanks to the Ritter-Sport-Marzipan bars I carry in my bag through the fair. Not very healthy… but at least it is something and it gives me energy. I only eat Ritter-Sport-Marzipan bars at the Frankfurt Book Fair. For me, one does not exist without the other!

I miss the cheese pretzels.
I miss the lively dinners with publishers and agents from around the world.
I miss sitting outside having a Frankfurter and a beer and talking to an unknown fellow publisher.

I miss the combined feeling of dread and excitement on the Sunday night.
I miss waking up feeling and smelling like I’ve smoked 2 packs of cigarettes (when I’ve actually had 0).
I miss the German taxi drivers grumbling over having to take a credit card.
I miss the Monday-Tuesday mad dash from one meeting at the Frankfurter Hof, to another at the Hessischer Hof (RIP!)—always way too ambitious that I’ll be able to make it all work.
I miss that feeling of being under artificial lighting for too long and having a 2 hour out-of-body experience while speaking non-stop.
I miss that nightly feeling of FOMO even though I’ve already committed to 3 events.
I miss that feeling of intense connection with people I see only 1-2x a year but seem to get me better than anyone.

I miss random talks with bookish strangers in the women‘s bathroom of The Frankfurter Hof.
I miss how Frankfurt comes to blossom once a year, and every single restaurant is packed with groups of friends sharing dinner and laughs together—the city shines at night.
I miss the sweet old doorman at Hessischer Hof who always greeted us with the friendliest smile that felt like the true start of the week. The hotel is now closed for good.

I miss the sweet feeling of freedom at the end of the working day when the meetings are over but you still have dinner and drinks with friends to look forward to!

I miss the books and seeing people in the first instance—we the subagents now get mostly everything as PDFs and I’m an old fashioned lover of books and printed materials, and seeing and talking to people is a nice change instead of constant emailing.
I miss the fish and chips which are so tasty at FBF, evenings in Leib und Seele, ritual annual visit to Zeil street, cute jewelry stand near the pavilion 6 and the Dom, which I, having been to Frankfurt every year since 2010, never had a chance to explore!

Well, we all know what shit-hot band we miss! (Half on signature)

I miss being in some hall and seeing a meeting between some publishers I had never heard of, but still thinking we’re all part of the same thing even if I don’t know who the fuck you are.

I miss the stories of first-timers’ adventures in the red-light district.

I miss standing in line for the bathroom and admiring other people’s impeccable stocking/tights (why does mine always rip at book fairs?)
I miss eating German chocolate all day.
I miss seeing some of my best friends in the world.
I miss FAZ’s list of the best-looking guys in publishing (I’ve been mourning it for years).

I miss my appointments with Scandinavian editors and agents at 10am where the question “Do you want vodka or water” isn’t meant to be funny but routine. And the water comes in the most beautiful bottles you have ever seen.

I miss complaining over the price of water at the Frankfurter Hof.
I miss the intimate nightly conversations with dear friends I only see once a year.
I miss the feeling of uncharted opportunities that always strike me as the long workday is over and the dusk lowers its forgiving light over the sparsely located skyscrapers.

I miss getting lost on my way between meetings and agents being relieved that I’m ten minutes late so they could have a small break.

I miss the elderly bartenders at the Frankfurter Hof who remember the names of their patrons every year.
I miss the stories of first-timers’ adventures in the red-light district.
I miss giving someone precise directions from the rights center to the ATM by the gift shop (somehow the only one I’ve found on fair grounds?)
I miss dressing to impress the Germans and Norwegians.
I miss pausing in the middle of a sentence to quickly embrace a friend you haven’t seen in a year, and your meeting understanding completely.
I miss the Brits leading us into debauchery.
I miss being too tipsy to quite remember where you ate the year before, then being thrilled to arrive at your favorite place for a dinner.

I miss arriving on Sunday morning and being greeted by the Frankfurter Hof staff and having that first dinner in Oscars, the beginning of a week filled with warm encounters with friends and clients from all over.

I miss having innumerable cups of bad coffee from the rights center; it’s horrid, but it helps me through my day like the best of magic potions. And I love sharing that same inexplicable passion for bad coffee with a dear colleague from Sydney.

I miss the colossal Club Sandwich with a side of fries and a generous dose of ketchup with which we inaugurated our first day of meetings at the Hessischer Hof… I would have doubled-up on the order if I knew then that 2019 would be our last…

I miss laughing until I cry when, over dinner, we share the oddest meetings we’ve all had. The best, by far, is the one where a colleague was so exhausted by the end of his first Frankfurt that he fell asleep while pitching a book!

I miss a huge balloon of Asterix in the middle of the center square at Messe Frankfurt, which I used to contemplate and admire after each day of talks, drinks and gossip.

I miss sharing news about personal life with friends I see once a year.
I miss pouring tequila and beer to my friends at the Mexican cocktail party.
I miss dancing till 4 am before a 9 am meeting.

I miss the Tuesday night (Hachette) Cocktail party in the Hessischer Hof, the first occasion to reunite with so many of our friends, the room, complete with spinning round tables filled with canapes is overly crowded, packed, steaming hot and most of all full of promise to the days, meetings and conversations to come.

I miss buying the FAZ with its massive Literary Supplement and feeling like an insider.
I miss stocking up on a year’s worth of cremes and shampoos and the other kind of facemasks in the DM.
I miss sneaking in a museum visit with a friend on the Sunday before.
I miss the awkward breakfast run-ins with clients (not a morning person).
I miss seeing a friend everywhere I turn.

I miss drinking coke and eating pretzels for a week, downloading a few episodes of Gilmore Girls for comfort at night and then ending up not watching them because there‘s enough comfort in quick hugs in the halls, trying to make eye contact with a friend at another table in the AC, laugh about this one publishers who‘s mansplaining the world to his super talented female editor and asking for the cute cat-book to be sent to my non-fiction colleague, who‘d never publish a cat-book in the first place.

I miss awkwardly running into people I know professionally at the urinal.
I miss people standing on the left side of the escalator, and thus blocking a clear path up or down, as if they aren’t late for their next meeting like the rest of us.
I miss Czech editors offering shots of vodka at 10am meetings.
I miss seeing people’s eyes light up when I offer them M&Ms at my table (and then quickly panicking that they may be allergic to peanuts as they pop them in their mouths).

I miss waiting in the huge taxi line at the Hessischer Hof as I’m late for my 8 o’clock dinner while accidentally poking people with my umbrella and breathing in their cigarette smoke.

I’ve thought about it and thought about it, but the only conclusion I’ve gotten to is that I don’t miss anything about the Frankfurt Book Fair! Of course, I miss seeing my friends in publishing, and making new ones, chatting and drinking, I really miss it!—but the whole FF setting was a very uncomfortable setting for me. In my mind, those big halls and those fancy hotels are symbols of a whole industry taking itself too seriously while becoming more and more irrelevant (culturally, politically, economically). It was painful for me to have to see my friends there. I felt we were trapped in an increasingly absurd bubble. A part of me hopes that I’ll never have to “do” the Buchmesse again as I’ve been doing it for years, and someone comes up with a better idea for places/ways for agents and editors to meet. No pretentious hotels, no huge neon-lit halls, no overpriced restaurants—a place that can feel more like home, more like our regular bookish, nerdish life. With karaoke rooms of course. Wait though! I miss the Gulaschsuppe at Klosterhof.

I miss the impromptu dinners that become annual traditions and lifelong friendships.

I miss my meetings asking me how was the weather back home.
I miss realizing that it’s not that cold / it’s way chillier than I had anticipated.
I miss saying I was at the beach the previous weekend in every single meeting I have the first day of the fair.

I miss all the special friends I only see once a year, and how we all make that one time count; and I miss the new special people that I’m not being introduced to, and perhaps never will now.
I miss that feeling of being at a high school dance, but actually having fun sometimes (unlike in high school).

I miss the buzz of the Frankfurter Hoff patio on Monday.
I miss trying to score an invitation to the Canongate party.
I miss the wasabi peanuts.
I miss the taxi line outside of the Hess Hof.
I will always miss the Hell Hof.
I miss the impromptu dinners that become annual traditions and lifelong friendships.
I miss “the book of the fair”.

I will miss falling/sliding off armrests of chairs and couches at the Frankfurter Hof and Hessicher Hof as there’s never space to sit, or kneeling down next to someone for a quick chat as the legs fall asleep.
I will miss running up and down the aisles at the agents center between meetings, always late, someone always waiting somewhere, but making an effort to at least lock eyes with a favorite person left or right who’s stuck at their table.
I will miss the unfortunate stupid plastic straw the agents center latte comes with.
I will miss weird smoke-stinking beige German Mercedes Diesel taxis and getting into heated political debates with drivers.
I will miss chatting with people as they smoke outside while my coat is always too thin because it’s usually suddenly Fall for real once we get to Frankfurt.
I will miss crossing one of the Main bridges at night and on foot on the way to the hotel—Frankfurt skyline city lights.
GRÜNE SOSSE forever

I am very sad that I will never go to Jimmy’s Bar. Jimmy’s Bar was the smoking bar in the basement of the Hessischer Hof, and it’s where the older, grander generation of publishers drank. And from what I understand they drank a lot. All these very important personages in fine wool suits just getting trashed. I’m not afraid to go to parties alone, I love to go to restaurants alone, but I wouldn’t go in there alone. As a young solo person, I’d seem like a spy, and while of course I am a spy, it felt rude. Last year, though, I made a plan with two friends who are regulars to go this year together. I’m 38 now and I’m finally old enough. We’d toast my 15th Frankfurt Book Fair. But today we learned that what we’d always joked about, that Frankfurt bars and hotels couldn’t live without us, is sadly really true. RIP Jimmy’s Bar.

I miss the squirrels on the streets of Frankfurt at 3am.
I miss the unexpected gifts from Asian colleagues at the end of meetings.
I miss the spontaneity of the multi-lingual multi-national multi-level jokes at the end of a long day.
I miss meetings that go completely off script but that end up making your day, your fair.
I miss arriving at the Hof fresh on the first afternoon, sparkling eyes, giant smiles, excitement in the air.
I miss dancing with publishing friends to the same songs for 20 years, especially Psycho Killer by Talking Heads.

Szilvia Molnar
Szilvia Molnar
Szilvia Molnar’s short stories have been published in Triangle House Review, Two Serious Ladies, The Buenos Aires Review, and Neue Rundschau among others. She published a chapbook called Soft Split with Future Tense Books in 2016. @szilmolnar





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