Gerhard Schröder and Amre Mussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, opened the Frankfurt Book Fair on Tuesday. Chancellor Schröder welcomed his Arab guests and stressed the importance creating a cultural dialogue.
Preparations are underway for the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair
The 56th Annual Frankfurt Book Fair got underway on Tuesday with more than 6,700 exhibitors from 110 countries gathering to present their latest literary offerings. This year, the literature of the Arab world will be the subject of special focus: the 22 members of the Arab League -- with the exception of Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait and Iraq -- are serving as special guests.
At the opening festivities, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Amre Mussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, stressed the importance of using such events to foster a cultural dialogue between the Arab and Western worlds.
In his speech, Chancellor Schröder rebuked those who continue to view the Arab world through a lense of prejudice and preconceptions and heralded the Arab country's attendance at the book fair as a chance to set the record straight.
"Those who rely on false assumptions should be prepared to differentiate their views," said Schröder. "That's the only way to foster understanding between different cultures -- there is no better place for that to take place than at the Frankfurt Book Fair."
Extra security precautions were taken to ensure that all goes smoothly at this year's event, which will no doubt be dominated by political debate. Indeed, even the Chancellor touched upon certain hot button issues in his opening remarks, mentioning both the situation in Israel and in Iraq.
Bridging two worlds
Members of the Arab League will be this year's special guests.
The organizers and their guests both expressed their hope that the book fair will help bring the Arab and Western worlds closer together at a time when conflict is rife.
More than 200 authors, artists and politicians from members of the Arab League traveled to Frankfurt, among them the Palestinian Mahmud Darwish and Moroccan Tahar Ben Jelloun.
The Nobel Prize winning Egyptian writer Nagib Machfus, however, could not attend due to health reasons, but has sent written remarks to be read aloud on his behalf.
The popularity of literature from Arab countries has been on the rise, particularly in Germany, where the number of books translated from Arabic into German has jumped from 10 to 20 percent. But, according to organizers, the presence of Arab writers at this year's book fair is not about increasing sales, but increasing understanding.
Raising the profile of German-language writers
In addition to the events highlighting the literature of Arab countries, a new German book prize modeled on the Pulitzer Prize in the United States and the Prix Goncourt in France will be unveiled at this year's event. The prize is part of a larger effort to raise the profile of German writers.
Meant to replace the award traditionally offered at the Leipzig Book Fair, the new prize will come with a cash award of €37,500 ($46,489). A jury of five literature experts will be responsible for selecting the winner, and the short list of the first five finalists will be released in September of 2005.