Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga–  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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Flensburg Files Accepting Stories of Christmas’ Past

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While Christmas is over five months away, it is the season that creeps up faster than any of the other holiday seasons of the year. It is also one that is laden with stories of presents, families, friends and lots of surprises.

Christmas also means learning about the history of how it was celebrated and this year’s Christmas  Market Tour Series will focus on just that- History.

During my Christmas market tour in Saxony last year, some recurrent themes came up that sparked my interest. In particular in the former East Germany, this included having Christmas be celebrated with little or no mentioning of Jesus Christ. In addition, we should include Räuchermänner (Smoked incense men) that were a rare commodity in the former Communist state but popular in the western half of Germany and beyond, traditional celebrations with parades honoring the miners, and lastly, the Christmas tree lit with candles.  Yet despite the parades along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Freiberg, a gallery of vintage incense men in a church in Glauchau, church services celebrating Christ’s birth in Erfurt, Lauscha glassware being sold in Leipzig and Chemnitz, and the like, we really don’t have an inside glimpse of how Christmas was celebrated in the former East Germany.

Specifically:

  • What foods were served at Christmas time?
  • What gifts were customary?
  • What were the customary traditions? As well as celebrations?
  • What did the Christmas markets look like before 1989, if they even existed at all?
  • How was Christ honored in church, especially in places where there were big pockets of Christians (who were also spied on by the secret service agency Stasi, by the way)?
  • What was the role of the government involving Christmas; especially during the days of Erich Honecker?
  • And some personal stories of Christmas in East Germany?

In connection with the continuation of the Christmas market tour in Saxony and parts of Thuringia this holiday season, the Flensburg Files is collecting stories, photos, postcards and the like, in connection with this theme of Christmas in East Germany from 1945 to the German Reunification in 1990, which will be posted in both the wordpress as well as the areavoices versions of the Flensburg Files. A book project on this subject, to be written in German and English is being considered, should there be sufficient information and stories,  some of which will be included there as well.

Between now and 20 December, 2017, you can send the requested items to Jason Smith, using this address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. 

The stories can be submitted in German if it is your working language. It will be translated by the author into English before being posted. The focus of the Christmas stories, etc. should include not only the aforementioned states, but also in East Germany, as a whole- namely Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the states that had consisted of the German Democratic Republic, which existed from 1949 until its folding into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October, 1990.

Christmas time brings great times, memories, family, friends and stories to share. Over the past few years, I’ve heard of some stories and customs of Christmas past during my tour in the eastern part, which has spawned some curiosity in terms of how the holidays were being celebrated in comparison with other countries, including my own in the US. Oral history and artifacts are two key components to putting the pieces of the history puzzle together. While some more stories based on my tour will continue for this year and perhaps beyond, the microphone, ink and leaf, lights and stage is yours. If you have some stories to share, good or bad, we would love to hear about them. After all, digging for some facts is like digging for some gold and silver: You may never know what you come across that is worth sharing to others, especially when it comes to stories involving Chirstmas.

And so, as the miners in Saxony would say for good luck: Glück Auf! 🙂

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Genre of the Week: Jesus Freak by DC Talk

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This special genre of the week is in connection with the Files’ series on Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses. The Jesus Freak series belongs to this series because of its aspects. This is part 1.

 

A while back, while looking for some information about Martin Luther for one of the articles, I happened to run across this phrase that was a complete eye-opener- Jesus Freak.

Before we look at the theme much further, let’s have a look at the theme for a minute:

 

What is a Jesus Freak? 

 

If a person is considered a Jesus Freak, what are his/her characteristics in terms of the following:

His/her behavior

His/her apparel

His/her use of the Lord Jesus Christ (especially in the context)?

When looking at this Wile E. Coyote parody produced by Family Guy, the first question that comes to mind is what makes a person a Jesus Freak?

 

But can a 45-minute lecture on the Lord make him a Jesus Freak?

Can we make a distinction between a Jesus Freak and a avid church-goer?  The answer to that question is definitely yes, regardless of what faith you are in. The question is how can a person go from being either an atheist or an indifferent Christian to a Jesus Freak?  Speaking from experience, especially from my days in college in the US, many people, who are just common people at first, experience an epiphany one night and then become true Christians, reading the Bible and teaching others about Christ. Journalist Lee Stroebel in the 1970s did an investigative report on the existence of Jesus, found his epiphany, and has since then been a pastor. The book “The Case for Christ” talks about his experience of becoming a Christian.  Others are either raised in a Christian household or were born Christian but found their love for Jesus Christ and his teachings that they embrace Him unconditionally.

 

The Jesus Freak movement started in the 1960s in Germany, and one of the catalysts behind the movement is Martin Dreyer, who has written several books about the movement, one of which is in connected with Martin Luther and his Treatises. Yet other authors have claimed that the movement started way back in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively- namely during the time of Martin Luther; one claimed that even one of the disciples of Christ (John) was considered the first Jesus freak. If that argument was the case, then the question is did the Jesus freak movement occur before or after Martin Luther’s 95 Theses?  If it occurred at or after the time of Martin Luther, then how?

 

To start this off, I would like to introduce you to this Genre special, whose title bears the topic we are going to talk about. Produced by DC Talk, an American rap/rock group in 1995, the videos and lyrics behind the song depicts the typical characteristics of a Jesus Freak from their perspective. The song was part of the album bearing the same name, which won the 1997 Grammys for Best Gospel Album. Watch the video, then take a look at the aforementioned questions at the beginning, and decide for yourself the following:

 

  1. What really constitutes a Jesus Freak and can it be differentiated from terms, such as Bible Thumper, Church-goer, etc.?

 

  1. How can a person really become a Jesus Freak and why?

 

Good luck and looking forward to your thoughts on that. Feel free to comment here or via e-mail. We will touch up on this subject again very soon.

 

Jesus Freak by DC Talk.

 

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The Right of Choice

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The author’s take on universal marriage after the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Same-sex Marriage

Marriage: a unity between two people who share the same values and ideas, who respect each other and their shortcomings, who love and care for each other, who want to take a lifelong voyage together until death does them part. Up until Friday, marriage was supposed to be a union between a man and a woman. Since the Supreme Court’s decision, now the right to marry has been extended to between two women or two men. Every state in America now has to honor the right to administer the marriages regardless of whether the couple is hetero or homo.

This historic decision has split the country in half, between those who prefer to keep the tradition of a man and a woman being married and those who favor more freedom to marry someone they like, regardless of sex. While I consider myself hetero and prefer the traditional way, I do fully understand the feelings of others who are different than they are and are welcoming this decision with open arms. If we look back 100 years, one would see a marriage as being a process of tying the knot between a preacher’s daughter and an owner of a local merchantile. In other words, they were on a local level; it would be rare for a Minnesotan to marry someone from New York, or a Mississippian marrying a Washingtonian. And even more so an American marrying someone from Europe. Yet as the years roll on, so do we see an increase of Americans marrying foreigners, whites marrying blacks or hispanics, and Christians marrying Muslims. So why not see people of the same sex marry each other? They are the same as us heterosexuals. They love some good company, have to deal with the same issues as we do, regarding taxes, raising families, dealing with college expenses, and the like, and are as normal as we are.

Homosexuality was considered a crime a century ago, and attempts to convert people to become heterosexuals only garnered partial success. In fact, some success stories ended in tragedies as the patients took their own lives, as was seen with the hanging of Kirk Murphy in 2011. Yet attempts are still being made to force the ideals on homosexuals that it is a sin to by gay. While the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, some states, like Texas and Alabama are disobeying Washington’s orders and are denying marriage licenses to these people. Churches are still not allowing them to marry or be part of the congregation, and many people are taking to the newspapers and electronic media shouting down the decisions. My question to these people is this: Would you do this if you knew someone from a Catholic faith marrying a Muslim- a heterosexual couple for that matter? Or what about an Iranian marrying an American? A Native American marrying an Aborigine?  How would you define a marriage, BEYOND the concept of a man marrying a woman? Think about it.

From my perspective, I would like to comment something a friend of mine mentioned recently in a discussion on this topic, which hits the spot: institution of marriage is a union between two consenting adults who love and care for each other and want to legally bind themselves together as they journey through life. The choice of who to love, marry and start a journey together for as long as they live. It should be regardless of what religious, cultural and sexual preferences should be. Couples change many times in order to the right fit. Some choose to wait until they find the right one. Others find love in high school, lose it for 20+ years, then regain it. Then there are others who find each other and after 30+ years, still have a healthy marriage with loving children. But the bottom line is, as long as the couple is happy, they should have the right to marry and live a long and prosperous life. It should not have to be based on a long religious tradition which still exists but has to make room for other couples who may be different, but share the same values as we do. And with this, a comment to finish my soapbox comment, something I wish and hope others will have that same opinion, regardless of background and preference:

 

While I prefer to be different from the rest, I respect those whose views and feelings differ from mine, as long as they respect the opinions and decisions I have made that I’m living with. Through this understanding we can have a peaceful co-existance where we can talk about these issues and share our ideas.

 

It’s time to put down the differences and share, instead of slamming the door on certain people because they’re different. It’s long since due.

 

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