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December 21, 2014
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Current Concerns  >  2012  >  No 11, 12 March 2012  >  Leipzig - city of books [printversion]

Leipzig - city of books

by Walter Mayer, Karlsruhe/Germany

Every year in mid-March, the Leipzig book fair takes place in Leipzig. As first book fair of the year it provides important stimuli for the book market with the presentation of the forthcoming books of springtime. Today it is primarily a public fair whose foremost aim is to provide authors and visitors with the chance to meet. This is also supported by the reading festival “Leipzig liest”  (Leipzig reads) which offers more than 2,000 events on more than 350 sites at the trade fair grounds and throughout the entire city where the Leipzig citizens and many young people can directly get into contact with the authors and which makes it the biggest reading festival of its kind in Europe.

In the former Graphic Quarter the Buch­gewerbehaus (book trade building) with its oriels was considered a landmark of the book metropolis Leipzig. The House of Books, opened for the first time in 1996 to the citizens of Leipzig, stands on historical ground and has become a meeting place for book lovers and bookmakers; literary events take place there almost every day. It stands on the site of the former booksellers’ house which was erected in 1888 in the magnificent neo-renaissance style. In 1990 during the negotiations for a merger of the booksellers’ associations in Leipzig and in Frankfurt-on-Main, people remembered and revitalized the old Leipzig tradition by building this house on historical ground.

Leipzig developed into an international trade fair location

Leipzig can look back on a more than 500 year old tradition as a production and trading place for books, as well as a place of traditional book culture and literature promoting.

After the award of the city rights and the market privileges around the year 1165 by Otto the Rich, Margrave of Meissen, Leipzig developed into an important trading centre.

Since 1165, after being awarded the city and market rights, the oldest preserved city and parish church St Nikolai was built. She owes her name to Nicholas, the patron saint of merchants. Leipzig’s tradition as a major trading centre in Central Europe with one of the oldest fairs in the world dates back to 1190, when the Easter and Michaelis markets were confirmed. Since 1218 the first documented merchants and craftsmen have settled in Leipzig. In 1341 the clothiers bought their own building on the Leipzig market, the first “Gewandhaus” (Garment House). In 1497 the Roman-German king and future Emperor Maximilian I gave Leipzig the imperial trade fair privilege. This privilege was confirmed in 1507. Furthermore the Emperor gave the stack privilege, which meant that, within the precincts of 115 km, no fairs were allowed to be held and no goods could be stored outside the city.

In the course of the centuries Leipzig has developed into an international fair location. Leipzig owes its development as the city of books to its trade.

Art of book printing since the 16th century

Even before the invention of book printing, handwritten books were brought in large barrels to the fair. The first single sheet prints of the 1450s still were a fair sensation; only a decade later printed books were mentioned as exhibits. Until about the end of the 15th century predominantly itinerant book printers and traders brought their publications to the city. The first book printed in Leipzig was published in 1481. It was Johannes Annius’ “Glosa Super Apocalypsim de Statu Ecclesiae” (The future victories of the Christians over the Turks and Saracens), printed by Marcus Brandis. Books spread widely.

By 1500 there were already six printing houses in the city, which especially printed books for the city council and the clergy. Unit 1530, about 1300 book titles had been published, including prints of liturgical, theological, philosophical, legal and mathematical works, first editions of the classics and works on the Reformation. The first printing house in Leipzig, also producer of the most beautiful, artistically and technically high-level printings of the time, was founded by Valentin Bapst in 1541. In 1559 under his successor Ernst Vögelin the company succeeded to become the largest print shop in eastern Germany with six presses, a type foundry, a scientific publishing house and a bookstore. In 1594 Henning Grosse published the first catalog which listed all books published since 1564; in 1860 he abandoned its publication. The fair catalogs were published almost twice a year, usually at Easter and Michaelmas, and were the first regularly published book trade directories. In 1632 the number of books presented in Leipzig exceeded those from Frankfurt-on-Main for the first time.

Independent book fair

The book fair, where publications from all parts of Europe were traded, developed together with the general trade fairs during the second half of the 16th century and became independent in Modern Age during the 17th Century. Its tasks included the sale, the commission and the exchange of books; the contracts between printers, bookbinders, paper merchants and publishers; billing and payment as well as the coordination and the exchange of professional work.
The bookseller cantata, later the Book Fair, achieved importance as an independent event. It was a show within a show or changed from a fair with bookstores to the book fair.

In 1650 the first daily newspaper in the world was published

As early as 1643 the Leipzig printer and bookseller Timotheus Ritzsch printed and distributed a newspaper that was published four times a week. From 1 July 1650 he had his newspaper published six times a week – so it is regarded as the first daily newspaper in the world – and he called it Incoming Newspapers. “Newspapers” in the former usage corresponded to messages or news. Each issue had four pages; the circulation might have amounted to 200 copies. The paper was typeset in metal letters, printed by hand on a wooden printing press. Ten years later as a continuation Ritzsch then issued the New Incoming News of War and World affairs, printed by him as well.

The scholars’ journal Acta eruditorum (Latin: reports, deeds of scholars) edited in monthly magazines by the scholar Otto Mencke in the year 1682, published in Latin extracts from new publications, reviews, independent smaller essays and notes. Due to Mencke’s extensive correspondence, scientists of international reputation were won over to write reviews for the paper; excerpts from new works, independent smaller essays and notes were added. The Acta eruditorum initially had an average extent of two to three pages. They were published by the company Grosse’s Erben (who also published the Leipzig and Frankfurt fair catalogs), the publishers Johann Friedrich Gleditsch and temporarily Thomas Fritsche in Leipzig. Their aim was to represent the German scholarship internationally. It was the first scientific journal in Germany.

Until the founding of the first bookbinders’ guild in 1545, the printers’ guild in 1595, there had already been fourteen bookstores. Around 1700, 276 works had been published and printed, the fair catalogs became more and more extensive, while the Frankfurt catalogs became thinner until they finally disappeared in 1749. Around 1800, about 1600 works were annually published in Leipzig, with the number doubling during the next hundred years. Leipzig attracted the book trade and flourished as a book printer and publishing place.

Establishment of the Booksellers Association

In his essay “Thoughts on the book trade and its deficiencies” the publisher Georg Joachim Göschen wrote in 1802 that the first place among the merchants was due to the booksellers, because they dealt with the most precious commodities. He called for a booksellers association in order to organize the annual accounts. The German Publishers and Booksellers Association (most commonly called “Börsenverein”) – founded in 1825 in Leipzig by 99 companies – got its name from the Booksellers’ Exchange founded in Leipzig in 1792. The participation of Leipzig Companies in the founding of the Börsenverein was initially relatively low; it was only when Prussia threatened to shift the book fair to Berlin that this threat promoted cooperation with the booksellers. The Börsenverein served as centralized association of independent German booksellers, introduced strict rules for the commerce of the booksellers among themselves and with the public and took care of education and training of the booksellers. In 1834 it founded the Börsenblatt. As from 1835 on, it was owned by the Börsenverein and was then called “Official Gazette of the Booksellers Association”. At first it was published weekly, since 1866 daily (except Sundays), consisting of advertisements, an editorial section and the bibliography Published News of the German Book Trade, indicating new books and magazines. After the division of Germany, there was a Leipzig and a Frankfurt edition of the financial newspaper. Since the unification of the Leipzig and the Frankfurt Börsenverein in 1991 only one financial newspaper per week is published. The Leipzig count of volumes was accepted, because Leipzig could hark back to a longer tradition.

Collections of encyclopedic knowledge

The city played an important role for German encyclopedias. For decades, the city hosted the publishing houses of the two most important German encyclopedias, F.A. Brockhaus and Meyers Bibliographisches Institut.
The first comprehensive collection of historic sources for German history, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, founded at the instance of Baron von Stein in 1819, was published in the publishing house of Heinrich Wilhelm Hahn in Leipzig in 1826.

On the Swiss publisher Salomon Hirzel’s initiative the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began their work on the largest and most comprehensive dictionary of the German language with altogether 33 volumes in 1838: Das Deutsche Wörterbuch (German Dictionary) or “the Grimm” was also published in Leipzig. It was a classical reference dictionary, which described the origin and use of each German word and also contained abusive expressions and vulgar words of a period from 500 years ago to the present. Its aim was that every commoner could make sure of the national commonalities in the German language. In 1854 the first volume was published; the last volume in 1960. The German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) initiated further developments in the area of bookselling and trade. During the 19th century Leipzig has established itself as central interface and hub of the German book trade.

Leipzig held the leading position as book metropolis until 1945

In the search for larger warehouse spaces and premises and because factories were not allowed in town centers for environmental protection reasons, the book trading enterprises migrated and expanded into the eastern suburb, into the Graphic Quarter. Approximately 1,500 manufacturing and trading companies, the poly­graphic industry and the central branch federations resided there. Among these publishing houses are famous names like Teubner, Seemann, C. F. Peter, Reclam, Insel and also the large companies of the intermediate book trade, mechanical engineering companies, bookbinders, graphic institutes and printing companies. Leipzig was terminal and staple market of almost the entire German book trade: Ordering is only to be done in Leipzig. Nearly every tenth inhabitant of Leipzig was active in these industrial trades. Leipzig became famous as “city of books”, even abroad. It had its high phase at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Leipzig held the leading position as book metropolis until 1945.

Already in 1848 the publisher Heinrich Wilhelm Hahn from Leipzig suggested the foundation of a German National Library. In a letter to the Frankfurt parliament, the Frankfurt St Paul’s-Church Assembly, he asked for permission to donate “the writings of historical, political, statistical, war-scientific and legal contents, among them also the Monumenta [Germaniae Historica] to establish a reference library.” Other publishers followed, and the president of the National Assembly Heinrich von Gagern announced thereupon the idea of a German National Library, which was realized in 1912. A government-owned library was not possible due to the federal structures of the German Reich.

The city of Leipzig – center of the bookselling and publishing trade

The strong growth of German book production at the beginning of the 20th century made the establishment of a Central Library of German literature, including the bibliography of published literature, an important goal of the Börsenverein. The second dean of the association, Erich Ehlermann, finally wrote a memorandum on “A German National Library in Leipzig” in 1910, which included his conceptions of the establishment, the mission and goals of a National Library and emphasized its practical implementation. Ehlermann informed the executive committee of the association about his preliminary talks with the official authorities. The city of Leipzig, center of the bookselling and publishing in the German Reich, the Kingdom of Saxonia and the Börsenverein agreed on a contract about the establishment of the German Library located in Leipzig on 3 October 1912. The German Library should collect and completely file the national literature starting from 1913 onwards and work as archives of the German-language literature. Its mission was to collect the entire literature in German and in foreign languages that had been published in Germany from 1 January 1913.

Moreover, foreign literature in German should be collected, registered in a national bibliography and made available for everyone free of charge. The books are available for use within the library only, since the German library is a reference library. The German publishers commit themselves to deliver a reference copy of each new publication to the German library. Until 1945 it was the most important collection of printing products in German language.

From May to October 1914 the International Exhibition for Book Trades and Graphics (Bugra) took place on the fairground, on which the International Architectural Exhibition had taken place one year before. The exhibition was organized by the book traders association located in Leipzig. The painter and artist Max Seliger is considered its founder. Crucial impulses came from the association of German Book Artisans, which had been founded in the Royal Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Trades in 1909. Meritorious personalities should have been awarded with a diploma and a bronze medal created by Max Klinger for the preparation and execution of the exhibition which was, however, inhibited by the outbreak of the First Word War on 1 August 1914.

The German Book and Writing Museum is considered to be the oldest and the most important specialized museum of his kind worldwide based on the amount and character of its inventory. It was located first in the booksellers stock exchange, starting from 1888 in the booksellers house and from 1900 onward in the book trade building. As a basic stock it contains the inventory of the book trade museum founded in 1884 by the “Central Association for the Entire Book Trade”, from which it originated in 1917. Its mission was to serve as archives for the book culture in Germany; it dedicated itself to the collection, maintenance, development, presentation and conveyance of valuable evidence of the tradition of books, writing and paper production. The focal points of the collection were among others printings from the 15th up to the 19th century, international examples of the book art of the 20th century, art books, specimen signatures, vat watermarked papers, samples of and pattern books for industrial paper manufacturing, multicolored papers, archive material and documents of the history of books and in particularly of the book trade, tools and machines to manufacturing of books, paper and type setting. In 1914 the museum took over important exhibits of the “Bugra”. Since 1950 the museum has been a department of the German Library Leipzig and from 2006 of the German National Library. The permanent exhibition “Merkur and the books – Leipzig as a city of books for 500 years” reminds of the tradition of Leipzig (1497-1997) as a trading and manufacture site of books as well as a place of book tradition and the teaching of literature.

Despite heavy damage in the war: Leipzig remains ‘city of books’.

On 4 December 1943 Leipzig experienced the heaviest bomb attack of the Second World War lasting for about one hour. Royal Air Force carried out the attack under the code name Haddock. Another attack took place on 7 July 1944 by the US Air Force. In the hail of bombs the Graphic Quarter was almost completely destroyed; 1,000 enterprises and 50 million books were lost to the Leipzig book trade. It was the end of an era in which Leipzig had naturally been seen as the center of the German book trade. The ‘city of books’ Leipzig never recovered entirely from this blow; however Leipzig continues its tradition as ‘city of books’ by hosting the German National Library, the University of Graphics and Book-Art with the annual organization of the Book Fair and the unique reading events.     •