Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Notes and photos from Germany: children's books and other goodly things

A few photos and commentary from the Germany trip. Apologies about this being a mishmash of children’s publishing and sightseeing - too lazy to do separate posts. Will put up more notes when I get around to doing the official pieces.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Our first two days were in Frankfurt, which is full of these strange juxtapositions – walk about the town centre and you’ll find the scenery changing every 20 metres or so; parts of it are like something thought up by a hallucinogen-affected mind. Down the road from our hotel was this vista: a quaint, Legoland-style tower (the Eschenheimer Turm, it’s called) in the foreground, with an oversized modern glass building just behind it.

To my (no doubt untrained) eyes it was the Turm that seemed the newer, more artificial construction. The impression I got was that someone had decided to erect the little tower as an afterthought, as a contrast to the gleaming glass-and-concrete buildings. Later I was told that it really is the oldest construction in the area, dating back to the 15th century. I’m sure there’s been some refurbishing though; the thing definitely couldn’t have looked exactly like this 600 years ago. I mean, how old is Lego?

Our stay in Hamburg was brief but it was a much more picturesque place – lots of nice lakes and bridges. This is during a walk around the warehouse district, or the Speicherstadt.

Lots of, um, old warehouses, but all very good to look at. The weather was great too. And Hamburg is something of a pilgrimage spot for me because of the tennis Masters series of 2008. (If the Hamburg Masters hadn't been downgraded and replaced by the Madrid Masters this year, I would have been in the city just a couple of days after the final!)

The TV tower in Berlin...

...and a close-up of the graffiti on its sides (including “Berlin, Ich liebe dich!” or “Berlin, I love you”). East Berlin is full of colourful graffiti and building-length artwork.

The Alexanderplatz, where I took a long and most satisfying walk one fine evening.

The Brandenburger Tor, one of the city’s most famous sights and a popular congregating ground for hundreds of tourists. Also just a short walk away from an Indian restaurant called the Bolliwood.

Cafes on the waterfront. One of the buildings on the right is the theatre set up by Bertolt Brecht (who I'm told is better known in Calcutta than in Germany).

A German Shepherd with his human at one of the cafes.

I liked the fact that pets were allowed almost anywhere - into the local trains, in shops and restaurants - and that many of them weren't even wearing leashes while out on a walk. You see a collared dog coming out an alley and ambling about by himself for a bit, and just as you're wondering if they have strays in Germany you notice a human trailing behind as the dog looks back impatiently.

The German Cathedral and Concert Hall, near which much ginger ale was consumed.

At the “speed-dating” session we had with a few German publishers’ representatives in Berlin. On the right is the redoubtable Anita Roy (Young Zubaan). With her is Susanne Pfeiffer of Ravensburger AG.

Susanne holds up a Ravensburger picture book that uses flaps on every page.

Peel back the flap on the right page here and the exterior of the aircraft’s cockpit gives way to reveal the pilot and the first officer sitting inside, fiddling with knobs and levers and looking immensely cheerful, like they’re in Disneyland or something.

Renate Reichstein of Oetinger poses with the resourceful cat Findus who stars in Sven Nordquist’s Old Man and the Cat books.

An Oetinger book that comes with a DVD containing an animated version of the story.

Atlantis Verlag, an imprint of Orell Füssli, has a picture-book titled Mutig, Mutig (literal translation “Brave, Brave”, official English translation “The Test of Courage”) about various animals in the forest deciding to undergo suitable tests of courage to “prove” themselves.

When the sparrow’s turn comes he refuses to participate, saying he doesn’t need to prove anything, whereupon the other animals recognise that “saying no is a form of courage too”. Very nice little lesson, I thought – particularly apt for those of us whose lives are not governed by an urgent need to win MTV Roadies.

Love this picture of the frog, the sparrow and the rat patiently waiting as the slowcoach snail returns after performing his task.

Books for girls aged 12 plus.

The one on the right translates as “Love, Chaos and Summer Kisses”. These are relatively “clean”, I was told (“girls dream about boys but nothing really happens”), but there are a number of books for readers aged 12 and upwards that deal more explicitly with sexuality. Apparently it’s quite the norm for parents and teachers to get such books for their children because the kids are embarrassed to be seen buying them!

Before our ferry ride in Hamburg: Sayoni Basu, director-publishing, Scholastic India (and big sister to Samit the Duck) with our super-efficient tour guide Katrin Hoenemann.

At the Carlsen office, a company mascot holds a basket full of the little “Pixi” books that have acquired national-heritage status in Germany over the past few decades.

Quite a working environment, this: inside one of the Carlsen offices. These sightings caused much envy among the members of our group, most of whom spend their days in very drab offices. And yes, that's a Robbie Williams cutout in the far corner.

Inside the Tatzelwurm, a prize-winning children’s bookstore in Frankfurt. (Picture courtesy Arun Erik Wolf of the Frankfurt Book Fair office)

It’s a small space but very efficiently used. Lots of supplementary activities are conducted here to keep children interested in books, e.g. they occasionally have groups of youngsters coming in to loll about in sleeping bags and listen to audio books.

(Left to right) The children's-book illustrators Katrin Engelking, Peter Schössow, Isabel Kreitz and Ole Konnecke, whom we met at the Kinderbuchhaus (Children's Book House) in Hamburg.

We had an informal chat with these fine artists over tea. Peter also narrated the story of his marvelously detailed picture-book Baby Dronte, about a little dodo who gets himself adopted by a ship's frog-captain.

(For more on the illustrators and their work, see their websites: Peter, Isabel, Katrin)

Incidentally, one of the things we learnt is that there’s a cultural resistance in Germany (and other European countries) to the French style of illustration, which tends to be more distorted, surreal and not instantly pleasing to the eye (if you’ve seen the animated French film The Triplets of Belleville, you might get a sense of this). More about that later.


  1. Not sure if you misread or misspelt it. It's "ich liebe dich!" (NOT dick!) :D

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  3. Nostalgia time for me!
    I got lost (really!) at the Frankfurt Book Fair! Couldn't find my way out, kept on walking, deciding to take every right turn ... all this until I came to the Blue Couch on which I found Amitav Ghosh, with his sweet school boy smile, answering questions about cellular phone technology (yes, a cell phone company was the sponsor!)

  4. Sumana: yes, I've heard the Frankfurt Book Fair can be a scary place. Would probably feel quite lost there unless I had very good company. Thankfully this trip was much cosier, with some useful meetings and space for direct, personal interaction.

  5. Should I be concerned about what that frog is doing to the sparrow...

  6. i love the way pets r allowed *everywhere* in europe. trains, trams, buses, ferries, shops, malls! i have seen dogs n their owners rushing dn the escalator to catch a train :)

    but they pets pay a rather heavy price for it! if u notice no dogs bark!

  7. again a pleasure to read someone talk about hamburg...seems like you had a great time at hafen..and landungsbrucken!:D