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‘Fight with our art’: Ukrainian artists take centre stage at Frankfurt book fair

Illustrator Oleg Gryshchenko took a 17-hour bus ride and a flight to get to the Frankfurt book fair. But it was worth it, he says, to promote Ukrainian culture in the face of Russian aggression.

Ukrainian book illustrator Frankfurt Book Fair
Ukrainian book illustrator Oleg Gryshchenko speaks during an interview with AFP during the Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo: ANDRE PAIN / AFP

“I have not joined the army but we can fight with our art,” Gryshchenko told AFP on the opening day of the fair, at a display of pictures by Ukrainian illustrators’ group Pictoric.

“A lot of Ukrainian artists have joined the military and I am proud — but I am better at drawing than with a gun.”

Gryshchenko is part of the major Ukrainian presence at the world’s biggest publishing event: authors and industry figures appearing throughout the week at the country’s large stand.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is due to address the fair on Thursday, part of the fair organisers’ efforts to support Ukrainian culture against what they see as the propaganda disseminated by the invading Russian forces.

Gryshchenko travelled with girlfriend and fellow illustrator Olena Staranchuk — once he had obtained the necessary authorisation to leave Ukraine.

With no civilian flights out, the took a lengthy bus ride to Poland for an event there, before flying on to Frankfurt.

“We were tired but we have be here to present Ukraine,” said 37-year-old Gryshchenko. “I would even travel for 20 or 30 hours.”

READ ALSO: Zelensky to address Frankfurt book fair as Ukraine stars

‘Culture as a weapon’

Setting up the large Ukraine stand in the cavernous conference centre posed a number of challenges, not least getting furniture and books overland to Frankfurt.

Getting them out of Kyiv was further complicated by the recent Russian missile strikes there, said Sofia Cheliak of the Ukraine Book Institute, part of the culture ministry.

Getting them from Kyiv to Frankfurt took about two days, said Cheliak, who helped organise the stand.

“Because of attacks, everything was closed. It was quite hard to find a car, and organise the whole process.”

But the stand is there, with a wide array of Ukranian books of every variety. It also has a stage, above which a large red light flashes when air raid sirens go off back in Ukraine.

Forty-six Ukrainian publishers will take part in the five-day fair, which opened Tuesday. Among the many authors attending are the well-known “punk poet” Sergiy Zhadan.

Ukrainian officials see high-profile events such as the fair as key to pushing back against Russia’s attempts to wipe out the country’s identity.

“Russia uses culture as a weapon,” said Ukrainian Culture Minister

Oleksandr Tkachenko, in a video message to the fair Tuesday.

He accused Moscow’s forces of having burned Ukrainian books and replaced them with Russian literature. “Russia is fighting against Ukrainian people and our identity.”

Emerging from Russia’s shadow

While Ukrainians have top billing at the fair, Russian state institutions, which usually run their nation’s stand, have been banned. Instead, prominent opponents of President Vladimir Putin have been given the stage.

While the Ukrainian publishing industry initially ground to a halt following Russia’s invasion in February, it has since rumbled back to life.

Sales may not be what they were before the conflict, but some types of books are proving popular, said Cheliak: Ukrainian history for example — and how to deal with trauma.

Pictoric sees the fair as a chance to show the world that Ukraine is about more than war — their displays includes not just illustrations inspired by the conflict, but others from before the war, covering a range of subjects.

“A lot of people did not know anything about Ukraine, and now we have a chance to show them what Ukraine is,” said one of the group’s illustrators, Anna Sarvira.

“For a long time we stayed in the shadow of Russia… We are trying to change that.”

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CULTURE

10 of the best festivals around Germany in 2023

From Stuttgart's Cannstatter Volksfest to the Bremen Freimarkt, there are plenty of local festivals around Germany to check out. Here are some key dates to keep in mind this year.

10 of the best festivals around Germany in 2023

What is a Volkfest?

Volksfeste or folk festivals are regional celebrations and events in Germany that usually have a long history. They are often based on local culture and the seasons as well as holidays like Easter and Whitsun can play a role. Depending on the region, folk festivals can also be called “Kirchweih”, “Kerbe”, “Messe”, “Jahrmarkt”, “Schützenfest” or “Kirmes”.

Germany’s biggest and most famous Volksfest is Oktoberfest (which takes place in Munich from September 16th to October 3rd this year). But there are plenty of other local celebrations to check out. Here’s a look at some of the best folk festivals across Germany. 

Kiel: Kieler Woche (Kiel Week or Kiel Regatta)

From June 17th to 25th, the Kieler Woche, billed as the largest sailing event in the world, will take place. In 2019, 3.5 million people attended the event, which is based in venues spread all over the city. At the Olympic Centre Schilksee, international regattas are planned, while the Willer Balloon Sail on the Nordmarksportfeld sees colourful hot-air balloons take to the skies.

For concerts and theatre, crowds head to the open-air stage at Krusenkoppel and the Fördebühne at Bernhard-Harms-Weg. And in the Scandinavian fishing village on the Reventlou Loop, a market with northern European charm and a lighthouse attract visitors.

READ ALSO: Eight unmissable events in January in 2023

Hamburg: Hamburger Dom

Hamburg’s famous funfair takes place on the city’s Heiligengeistfeld, St Pauli three times a year. Visitors to the festival get to experience a mix of carousels, lottery stalls, snack bars, sweet stands, bars and rides.  In total, there are over 230 different attractions, and the Volksfest dates back over 700 years. In 2023, the Spring Dom is planned from March 24th to April 23rd, the Summer Dom from July 21st to August 20th and the Winter Dom will be in place from November 10th to December 10th. 

Hamburg

Winterdom in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

Hamburg: Hafengeburtstag (Harbour Birthday)

The city’s Hafengeburtstag is a street festival taking place on the banks of the river Elbe. It involves boating traditions and offers people the chance to stroll, hang out and feast along the harbour mile. Check out the fireworks on Saturday night at the Landungsbrücken. The festival takes place from May 5th to 7th.

Bremen: Freimarkt (Free Market)

Founded way back in 1035, the Bremen Freimarkt is one of the oldest folk festivals in Germany. It attracted 4.4 million guests in 2019, making it one of the biggest in Germany. Its name derives from the fact that here – in contrast to the usual weekly markets – non-local and local merchants were both free to sell goods. Otherwise only members of other Bremen guilds were allowed to trade. It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that it became solely an amusement festival complete with a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, ghost train and almost 50 other rides. It takes place at the Bürgerweide near the main railway station.

Things are a bit more tranquil at Bremen’s market square at the “Kleiner Freimarkt”, with doughnuts, roasted almonds, liquorice and nostalgic carousels. In the nearby market village dating back to 1382, blacksmiths, glassblowers and stonemasons will be demonstrating crafts, while jugglers and singers will provide entertainment. The whole fest is taking place for the 987th time from October 13th to 29th.

Paderborn: Libori

Expect culture and fun activities at the nine-day Libori Festival. The town hall square becomes a concert mile and dance floor, the Franz-Stock-Platz a “place of the arts” with acrobatics, comedy, theatre and puppet shows. Another tradition is the beer fountain, where barley juice flows instead of water. The festival originated in 836 when the holy relics of St Liborius were brought back from Le Mans to the episcopal city of Paderborn. The next Liborifest is set to take place from July 22nd to 30th.

Soest: Allerheiligenkirmes (All Saints’ Fair)

Europe’s largest old town funfair, which has clocked up almost 700 years of tradition, attracted almost 1.3 million spectators in 2019. Its unique atmosphere is based on the juxtaposition of colourful high-tech fairground rides, historic half-timbered houses and the almost 1,000-year-old cathedral.

In the centre of what was once one of the most important Hanseatic cities, almost 50,000 square metres is reserved for the festival, taking place from November 8th to 12th this year.  A culinary speciality at the North Rhine-Westphalia fair is honey liqueur, served in edible “schnapps glasses” made of chocolate-covered wafers.

Snacks at the Allerheiligenkirmes festival in Soest in 2021.

Snacks at the Allerheiligenkirmes festival in Soest in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Inderlied

Düsseldorf: Größte Kirmes am Rhein (Largest funfair on the Rhine)

The third-largest Volksfest in Germany, the ‘Größte Kirmes am Rhein’ attracted four million people in 2019. Held on the Rhine meadows between the Rheinkniebrücke and Oberkasseler Brücke bridges, the festival is hosted by the St. Sebastianus-Schützenverein.

Among the rides, the Bayern Tower stands out. The world’s tallest maypole, at 90 metres, rotates 73 metres above the ground. Don’t forget to check out the fireworks display. Put these dates in your diary to check it out: 14th to 23rd July.

Herne: Cranger Kirmes

Among the 50 or so rides at this fair in North Rhine-Westphalia, the ferris wheel offers great views and cool experiences: guests can have a picnic, tapas or coffee in the cabins on the ride. The funfair programme includes a horse market, musical performances plus the tapping of the barrel by the mayor as well as a large parade. A fireworks display traditionally forms the finale. The Cranger Kirmes takes place from August 3rd to 13th. 

Nuremberg: Nürnberger Volksfest (Folk Festival)

There are two editions for this festival at the Großer Dutzendteich: the Spring Festival from April 8th to 23rd  and the Autumn Volksfest set for August 25th to September 10th. There are lots of fairground rides for the whole family. The programme includes the samba show Bateria quem é, Punch and Judy in the Frankendorf, a classic car parade and the ‘Night of 1000 Lights’ – a fireworks display over the Dutzendteich. But there are also contemporary events such as ‘apprentice speed dating’ in the Ferris wheel, where major employers from the region try to fill their apprenticeship places (yes, really!). 

Revellers attend the Nuremberg Volksfest in June 2022.

Revellers attend the Nuremberg Volksfest in June 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Löb

Stuttgart: Cannstatter Volksfest/Wasen

The Cannstatter Volksfest is known as the Wasen after its venue in Neckarpark in Stuttgart’s Bad Cannstatt district. It attracted around 3.5 million visitors in 2019 and is celebrated between September and October. A huge number of fairground operators set up in the city. During the parade on the first Sunday of the festival, expect outlandish costumes and music bands from all over Germany marching through the historic streets of Bad Cannstatt to the Wasen.

The spring edition of the festival – a “Wasen light” – is to take place from April 22nd to May 14th. The regular folk festival is scheduled for September 22nd to October 8th.

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