Frankfurter Buchmesse 2017 from a physicist’s perspective

9 minute read

Here is my description of the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2017 from my perspective – the perspective of a physicist and a software developer. It was kind of a journey because I switched from my original core question to collecting impressions and meeting interesting people. Continue to read if you want to follow my journey.

Original core question

Whenever I have seen books such as ‘The ultimate reference guide to Python’ (fantastic title), I would ask myself why these kind of books still exist nowadays. I mean, sure back in the old days when there was no internet, it must have been a good idea. But nowadays all the references are online. And people are even too lazy to use those. Usually there is an answer to any question in the first preview section of Google. Mostly they are provided by stackoverflow.

So my core question was:

“Why are there still books like ‘The ultimate reference guide to Python’ (fantastic title)?”

My plan was to find some exhibitors who provide these kinds of books and ask them. Sounds good, doesn’t work. To make this short: I was unable to find even just a single one of them.

I think even if I could not ask someone, the fact that I haven’t found one is answer enough: There are no more books like this on this fair and the ones that still exist, e.g. to buy on the internet, are a niche marked. I guess that they are for the older generation of software developers who are still used to this format. But this ended my original plan. So I decided to let myself flow.

Continue to read if you want to follow me on my journey.

First impressions

At first I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the fair’s area. It felt like it was the same size as the Hamburg Airport. The buildings are also shaped like an airport hangar (see the first picture). The area was divided by topics e.g. ‘Scientific, Technical, Medical Publishers (STM)’ in section ‘4.2’. This was the area where I spent most of my time. The difference in attendance between the areas was significant. Walking in the mainstream areas was very difficult because it was so crowded. Other areas were almost empty (see the second picture above). In the third picture the courtyard – called ‘Agora’ – is shown. There were the signing tents. I have never seen queues this long.

Behind the scenes

I arrived on Saturday right when the exhibition opened. So I had a chance to observe everything before the big crowd was there. For me as a technology enthusiast this was great. I am always curious about how small and big video (and of course audio, too) productions are made. In the picture above das blaue sofa is shown from the cameraman’s perspective.

There were a lot of other ‘interview couches’ also. For example arte was also there. While the shows were recorded there was always a monitor on which the end result (which was then broadcast) could be observed. It was impressive how this end result often differed from the impression I had in real life. Specifically some of the crews did very well with the voice recording. It was pretty crowded and therefore noisy around the stage area, but they managed the technology so that one can barely hear the crowd. It sounded like it was recorded in a dedicated studio.

‘Jugend Hackt’ and little Robots

There were also a section of ‘Jugend Hackt’ and the ‘Node festival’. Unfortunately I was only able to be there when they set up their showroom so I cannot provide further information or pictures.

I had the pleasure to know Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler and Carolin Liebl who are an artist duo. They organized a workshop where people could build little ‘Brush Robots’. In the pictures above one of its kind is shown. They are mainly made of a transparent hemisphere which is sealed with a round-shaped prototyping board. In the prototyping board there are two rows of pin headers. In the hemisphere is a power source, a vibration motor and a photo sensor. If the photo sensor detects no light, the circuit is not closed and there is no motion. If the brightness increases more and more currents flows to the motor, and the robot starts moving. The direction of its movement is a bit defined by cutting the pin headers (see the last picture).

This is in one way interesting from a technical point of view. But more than this: There is art behind this. It really recalls the situation many people know from their childhood. If there is a big stone in a forest just lying down then there is no movement. But once you lift the stone – and therefore let light in – there is a big crush going on. It is the same with these robots. One can emulate the stone thing with a paper cut (see the first picture).

Nikolas and Carolin are doing more things like that. Those projects can be found on their websites.


The Wikipedia was also represented at the fair. They had a stand and a presentation at the fair. I captured an emotional moment in the picture above. A couple in the audience started a discussion with the presenters about neutrality in Wikipedia articles. The opinion of the Wikipedians was that some extreme personalities have to be put in some context. For example, if there is an article about someone from a right-wing party there should be something such ‘XYZ is a right-wing extremist and a political’. In contrast a centrist should be introduced with ‘XYZ is a political’. The couple in the audience had a problem with this. They asked the Wikipedians who gave them the right to decide this. They blamed the Wikipedians for being biased in a political way. Jens Best replied:

Yes we are biased. We are biased with democracy.

After the presentation the Wikipedia guys showed me their stand. In the following pictures of printed books based on Wikipedia articles are shown.

To create a book made of Wikipedia articles a special mode must be activated on Wikipedia’s website. Then articles can be added to the book being created. Afterwards a table of contents can be created and further settings can be set. Then the book can be exported into various formats or it can be printed by the service PediaPress.

Gear test

I used the following gear during my stay at the Frankfurter Buchmesse:

  • Canon EOS 700D (shown in the pictures above)
  • Peak Design Capture Clip Pro (shown in the pictures above)
  • iPhone 6

Canon 700D: This is my standard camera for every situation in which my iPhone is not adequate. I bought it in 2014 and using it since then with the 18 - 15 mm kit lens. I used it only to take photos, but I want to shoot videos as well. I will buy a decent microphone and a tripod for this purpose. Unfortunately I had not brought my dedicated show mount flash with me. This was just a pity because there were situations in which I had to use the internal flash of my camera. The poor performance can be seen in the pictures of the books above.

My initial thought was that the camera was too heavy to carry it with me all day and that it would be very annoying to pull it out of my bag and put it back again every time I wanted to take a picture. But I used my Peak Design Capture Clip Pro. It is made out of two pieces. The DSLR is mounted with quarter inch screw on the one piece. It is just a plate. The other piece of the mount is a more complex part. It is a clip which can be attached to almost any belt or backpack strap with two screws. In this clip the plate can be snapped in. To release it a button must be pressed. For extra security (in case the button in pressed accidentally) the button can be locked by turning it by 90 degree. I really like this clip and the experience with it was great. With a little practice the camera is ready-for-shot in an instant. And when it is not being used it is very comfortable to wear, especially in the way I did it. I attached it to the upper part of my backpack strap. So it was like a counterweight for my backpack. So carrying my backpack was more comfortable while carrying my camera than without it. How cool is that?

I used my iPhone 6 for note-taking and for selfies. For note-taking I used iOS’s build-in Voice Memos app and Evernote. The iPhone is obviously suitable for selfies but the quality of the images differs significantly from the quality of the DSLR, especially in low light situations. Because the next time I will definitely bring a tripod with me I will take ‘selfies’ with my DSLR next time.

Things I will bring with me next time:

  • Tripod or Monopod
  • dedicated audio recorder (perhaps some device by Zoom)
  • at least two microphones (one boom mic on the DSLR and two lavaliere mics)
  • iPad with Bluetooth keyboard
  • shoe mount flash (eventually with attached soft box)

Lessons learned

Additional to the impressions I got while I was at the ‘Frankfurter Buchmesse’ I learned a lot. I think the most valuable points to share with others are:

  • The lessons learned concerning the gear have already been covered in the previous section.
  • Ask the lecturer for permission to take photos and videos before the presentation starts: If one wants to take photos or shoot videos during a presentation the best idea is to ask them for permission before the presentation starts. Otherwise it might be a little bit confusing for them. Perhaps they may even interrupt their presentation and ask, ‘What are you doing? You hopefully do not want to publish this without our permission.’ This is especially bad because normally one honors the speakers of a presentation where he participates. And then they won’t be friendly when one asks them for an interview after the presentation.
  • Think about the legal stuff before the event (or better think about it in general): Think about where, when and what you want to publish. And most important: Think about which contents will require permission for you to use them..
  • Clearly differentiate between a private chat and an interview: I missed this point, and now I am limited to some content. I will only publish information on this blog post for which I am absolutely sure it is OK. And I had to ask for permission to publish photos and cite them afterwards. That just delays everything unnecessarily.
  • Publish as soon as possible: This might be the most important point. The ‘Frankfurter Buchmesse’ is now (time of publishing this article) nearly two weeks ago. After the next event I will give myself only one or two days until I publish. This is also better for keeping in touch with people I got to know at the event.


I really liked the ‘Frankfurter Buchmesse’. My original core question had answered itself, but this was serendipity because I had the chance to let myself dive through the fair and collect impressions. Although the output – in this blog post – is way less than I hoped I learned a lot. Perhaps some of you can benefit from the lessons I learned. I did it.



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