New Zealand will be on display more than 18,000km away in Germany tomorrow when the doors open for the Frankfurt Book Fair - the biggest book trade fair in the world.
Up to 1700 invited guests will attend the opening, including 400 in the New Zealand delegation, and more than 300,000 international publishers, buyers and members of the public are expected to visit the fair during its five-day duration.
The opening begins with speeches by big-hitters in the German publishing and political scene, including the Mayor of Frankfurt and Germany's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
New Zealand writers Bill Manhire and Joy Cowley will add a lighter touch, with New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Bill English bringing up the rear. And then the fun is allowed to begin.
Visitors entering the New Zealand Pavilion - a 2500sq m central space designed by architect Andrew Patterson - will be entertained by opera singers Sarah Castle and Aivale Cole, poets Ole Maiava and Courtney Meredith, the Tatau Dance Group and the kapa haka world champions, Te Matarae I Orehu.
The experience will be rounded off with Secrets, a 20-minute film and live performance produced by Auckland-based Inside Out Productions, with New Zealand food and wine created by executive chef Shannon Campbell.
The pavilion, which will host about 70 New Zealand writers, with 100 works translated into German editions, is described as "an island in twilight, floating in an ocean under a starry sky". Surrounded by a pool of shallow water, the "island" features couches wrapped in wool, watched over by projected images of moreporks in flight. The space will even "smell" like Aotearoa, awaft with the scents of natural oils.
The heart of the New Zealand Pavilion presentation centres on the concept of "manaakitanga" - hospitality - says New Zealand at Frankfurt Book Fair project director Tanea Heke.
"We're hoping our guests will experience all the richness New Zealand's hospitality has to offer during the opening and over the week of the fair."
The Guest of Honour status is the culmination of a year-long programme of New Zealand cultural events throughout Germany delivered on a budget of $5.5 million, with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture heading the project, and support from a raft of organisations such as the Ministry of Trade and Development, the Film Commission, Air New Zealand, Icebreaker, the Film Archive, the Music Commission, Beef and Lamb NZ, and the New Zealand-German Business Association.
With hundreds of well-attended New Zealand writer events in Germany and other parts of Europe right through the year, the budget has been value for money, yet Ministry of Heritage and Culture chief executive Lewis Holden is mystified by some of the negative coverage back home, including a claim that New Zealand only got the guest slot because Australia had turned it down.
"When we got into this there had been talk about New Zealand and Australia sharing the guest status in 2015 and a number of us felt that that misses the point for New Zealand. Our whole culture and society is quite distinctive," he says.
"When it got back to the Book Fair people that we didn't think that was going to work for us, they came back in January 2011 and said there is huge interest in New Zealand, its culture - particularly its Maori culture - and it's on many Germans' bucket list to visit, so what about if we bump you up the list and make you the guest country of honour in 2012.
"Countries tend to know about this four or five years in advance so they can plan accordingly, so the Germans said, 'we can help you with this.'
"It was always going to be a case of doing it in a very Kiwi way, utilising people we had on the ground there and basically working it from here. So the shorter time frame wasn't a disadvantage."
The benefits for New Zealand, he hopes, will be manifold.
"Germany is the fourth largest economy in the world so you are talking about one of the very big players. It's our main source of international students [3590 in 2011] who come to New Zealand. It's got strong commercial interests in New Zealand and vice versa. Then there is the tourism profile - Germans are our biggest spenders on a per-day basis.
New Zealand Publishers Association president Kevin Chapman says that although literature is at the core of the year-long programme, wrapped around that is the cultural programme which has included performances by sopranos Aivale Cole and Madeleine Pierard at the Leipzig Book Fair in March.
In August, the Museumsuferfest (Museum Shore Festival) in Frankfurt, Europe's largest cultural festival, featured a waka paddling up the river, a hangi, a kapa haka group, a festival of NZ short films, and music performances by Warren Maxwell, Flip Grater, Shapeshifter and Funkommunity.
In Frankfurt this week Live Live Cinema: Carnival of Souls, a live performance by New Zealand musicians and actors to a backdrop of the 1962 American horror movie, will be performed at English Theatre Frankfurt.
Weta Workshop founder Sir Richard Taylor is also in town this week to host a Hobbit-themed "cosplay" costume competition, as well as hosting a session talking about the special effects created for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.
Writer Lloyd Jones, who has been travelling around Germany and Switzerland on a reading tour, says he will be doing a couple of readings and interviews with the German media each day of the fair.
"I've already done dozens of interviews with the German media over the course of the year," says Jones. "The interest has been extremely high and very flattering. The interviewers are invariably well-informed ... it's as though we have been beamed up lock stock and barrel into the German reading community."
Holden describes the New Zealand programme in Germany as "a big gig that is multi-dimensional".
"We do start with the literature and many of the benefits are going to accrue to the publishers and writers.
"The next wave out is showcasing the best and brightest in the cultural realm, and many groups have already been invited back.
"We think there are going to be tangible benefits to the tourism sector, our exporters, trade benefits, educational tourism. Each of our partner agencies have their own metrics that they are using to assess the returns on their investment."
Chapman says the third layer of the programme - the culinary events - is all about "the opportunity to promote as much of New Zealand as possible in Germany".
"The culinary programme is part of the business stream which is linked back into the books programme in that the chefs are all cook book writers. The books programme has helped fund the chefs to get there but the actual events are all being supported by Trade and Enterprise and NZ Winegrowers.
"To some degree this has been a lightning rod for some criticism but right from the start we always said that in order to make this promotion work it had to broaden out."
Highlights from the NZ Pavilion
With 43 events in the NZ Pavilion programme, titled While You Were Sleeping, highlights include:
* A Nest of Singing Birds: readings from the NZ School Journal by Joy Cowley, Dylan Horrocks, Jenny Bornholdt, Patricia Grace.
* Some Other Country: poetry readings by Bill Manhire, Tina Makeriti, Eleanor Catton.
* From the Edge of the Universe: discussion between Lloyd Jones and Emily Perkins.
* Iconic NZ Writers: Mansfield, Frame, Sargeson and others discussed by CK Stead, Emily Perkins, Kate De Goldi.
* Christchurch - Rebuilding a City: with Carl Nixon, Justin Paton, Anke Richter, Bronwyn Hayward.
* Margaret Mahy: A celebration with Joy Cowley (pictured), Kate De Goldi, David Elliott.
* Urban Sprawl: Gritty NZ fiction, with Alan Duff, Chad Taylor, Carl Nixon.
* Mixing It Up: Anthony McCarten, Greg McGee on writing across genres.
* Transit of Venus: Poets Glenn Colquhoun, Hinemoa Baker, Chris Price perform new works inspired by the June 6 Transit of Venus in Tolaga Bay.
Korero Paki/ Storytelling: with writers Paula Morris, Witi Ihimaera (pictured), poet Robert Sullivan, master carvers Karl Johnston, James Rickard.
Death of a Superhero: Anthony McCarten
Weta Workshop: Back to Screen and Beyond: Richard Taylor, Martin Baynton, Greg Broadmore.
Once Were Warriors: Alan Duff discusses his Books at Home scheme.
The NZ Comic Scene: 30 years of NZ comics with Dylan Horrocks, Roger Langridge, Colin Wilson, Greg Broadmore.
Grisly Lunch: Crime writers Paul Cleave, Greg McGee, Chad Taylor, Paddy Richardson. The programme winds up at 3.30pm on Sunday with a handover to the 2013 Guest of Honour, Brazil.