Frankfurt in January isn’t a hot vacation destination and time, but we had a great time anyway. The cold, rain and snow didn’t matter so much because we were happy to be in Germany, and inside Paperworld the atmosphere was bright and warm! We didn’t feel like tourists at all.
Many of the apartment buildings featured ornate stone work.
This is the entrance to our Airbnb.
For five days we were immersed in German local culture. We stayed in an Airbnb in a residential neighborhood, shopped at local grocery stores, and stepped out in the morning to walk to one of the 9 bakeries in a half-mile radius. Our favorite was Walser Brot.
Nobody sitting at these outdoor chairs this morning at Walser Brot, but we did see many people outside, and even at restaurants, hunched under blankets at outdoor seating.
After coffee and baked goods, we took the bus to the train station (which also housed a bakery in case we didn’t have time earlier), and the train to Frankfurt Messe and Paperworld. It was a routine that became comfortable immediately, though Vernon’s relaxed habits in the morning threatened a missed bus or train. But once on the train to Frankfurt—a 40 minute trip—we both were able to relax, think about the structure of the day, and talk about expectations. Or just sleep. Public transport was happily provided free of cost as part of our Paperworld entrance ticket.
Paperworld is held annually at Messe Frankfurt, the world’s largest trade fair grounds, and Paperworld itself is the biggest stationery show in the world. This year there were 1,668 exhibitors from 64 countries, and over 33,000 visitors.
The stairs up lead to Frankfurt Messe (fair), the stairs down to the trains.
It was good to be a part of a high-energy event and be surrounded by so many people in the same market as we are. We started each day jumping right in, visiting booths, looking for things such as how we can differentiate ourselves and carve out our own unique space in the market. A midday lunch break of a sandwiches and Becks (Becks was the only beer offered at any of the vendors at Paperworld), offered a bit of relaxation, after which we would be revived for a few more visits and connections.
Lunchtime at Paperworld.
We decided on Germany because we wanted to scope out the market, see what’s trending, and we figured that the best place to do this was at the biggest event in the field. We also chose Germany in order to visit an ancestral castle, but that is the topic for another blog post. Though the challenge of the rise of digital communication is felt by the stationery market generally, there are pockets where the market is strong and growing, especially where there is innovation and an artistic presentation. We like to vision ourselves in this group!
We came to Papeworld to be inspired, and we were, but not always in areas we expected. Some of what we saw was more of what we’ve been seeing at dollar stores and party supply stores; cheaply printed and foil stamped designs on unlovely paper. This makes sense to an extent, since design is influenced in a great part by technological advances. For example, in the 18th Century, decorated paper showed a clear link between the design and the way it was produced, by impressions from a hand carved block print, which resulted in organic design that might not be geometrically “perfect”. Today’s design reflects the influence on the industry by digital capabilities and high speed presses. For us, this is exciting because we can tap into all of the technologies to create authentic historical pieces. The inspiration we came away with was from exhibitors who could see past the allure of high speed and high volume, to produce innovative and thoughtful designs and products.
Exhibit at Paperworld
One exhibitor showed her background in typography and graphic design to produce compelling and new notebooks and products. Another played with the design of wall calendars, where the whole year was presented on an artfully designed sheet. But for us the most exciting was the array of pens, pencils, and art supplies that was on display. From elegant pens to wooden desk accessories, we saw many items that will complement our own paper offerings.
We made some great connections with pen and accessories reps. This was slightly unexpected, as we had our minds primarily on paper products. But in the last few weeks, as we have been trying to present our goods in the context of use, or lifestyle contexts, we have been thinking more and more that we would like to offer products that we don’t produce which would accompany and harmonize well with our own. We made a few connections with producers who were in the same space as us, and it was informative to have conversation with them, to see what is working, how they produce, and generally get their story.
The Kaweco booth. We’re very excited to stock some of their pens on our store. Soon!
Smaller exhibitors were more likely to share their story, which was great, since we’re still a small company! The larger companies were more streamlined and had marketing machinery in place, and as such, they were more interested in buyers than in sharing stories with other producers.
At the end of each day we would take the train back to Wiesbaden, pick up some bread, sausage, cheese and beer and go back to the apartment, to eat, analyze the day, and journal—in Papillon notebooks, of course! A couple of the evenings found us heading to the Alt-Sachsenhausen neighborhood, a curvy cobblestone street lined with classic old buildings which housed a variety of restaurants and bars.
A quiet evening in the Alt-Sachsenhausen neighborhood, where there are many
restaurants and bars, including the “speakeasy” Bonechina.
Our favorite was Bonechina, a small, 12 capacity bar housed in a Baroque building. Inside, towering above our table was a large porcelain elephant. None of the tables were tall, and the seating was set up more like one would expect in a cozy home than a restaurant or bar. No large sign was posted outside this speakeasy style bar, so one needs to ring the bell to gain entrance. We also visited a crammed sports bar called Stevedoo which was broadcasting a live Frankfurt soccer game.
Frankfurt was the first half of our trip to Germany, but the most Papillon focused part. For the five days we were there, we were saturated with information, sights, and pretzels, and we are still unpacking all of what we learned and observed. We have so much excitement toward the future of Papillon, and all the opportunities that Paperworld presented to us.