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Site EMEA Forum 2012

The last 4 weeks or so have had me all over Berlin – Potsdamer Platz, Unter den Linden, Pariser Platz – but it hasn’t been as exhausting as may seem: Berlin was the key setting for two recent novels that I read – William Boyd’s The New Confessions and Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues. So today when I find myself ambling down Zimmerstrasse there’s a sense of recognition and familiarity about the experience. A sense of homecoming. A feeling of belonging. The fact that I’m attending the Site EMEA Forum, collocated in Berlin with MEXCON, adds to the connectivity.

We’re staying at the Scandic Hotel which is just off Potsdamer Platz. It’s a business hotel, bustlingly efficient, perfect for Pharma meetings – Pfizer, in fact, is located directly across the road. It’s surrounded by huge contemporary edifices, built since 1994, each outdoing the other in architectural zaniness, all stridently optimistic and confident, proclaiming the new unified Germany. With well over 500 rooms this well located Scandic offers a touch of Nordic chill in one of Berlin’s hottest happening areas. Rooms are Scandinavian-Spartan with hard wood floors, light fluffy duvets and small but perfectly formed bathroom/wet rooms. Wi-fi is reassuringly free of charge – but only for hotel guests. Breakfast is served in an large IKEA style cafeteria that you reach from elevators that play birdsong to assuage the early AM demons that beset some of us prior to our caffeine fix.

Tonight’s opening social function is about 20 minutes away in the uber-cool and trendy Kreuzberg / Friedrichshain district. This vibrant, eclectic area of the city typifies that edginess that many visitors regard as a key element in Berlin’s DNA – demographically its multi-cultural while culturally it feeds off an robust alternative past. Today it provides the venues of choice for Berlin Fashion Week as well as for the movie and advertising industries. Our function is aboard the Hoppetosse which is moored securely on the banks of the River Spree, just upstream from Jonathan Borofsky’s Molecule Men. The vessel presents as shabby chic – which may not meet with the exacting standards of some high end incentive programmes – but offers a truly authentic immersion in this great city and a great vantage point to witness the stunning sunset.

Anna Maria Ruffini, chairwoman of Site EMEA 2012, welcomes us all and introduces our host, the combative, indefatigable Heike Mahmoud of VisitBerlin. Heike has worked tirelessly over the years to bring a major Site event to her city and it’s great to see that, finally, her efforts are bearing fruit. Site President for 2012, Alejandro Verzoub, then bountifully spreads Latin American love and largesse by presenting special ambassador awards to 4 Site members who contributed to the success of the event.

This party is a perfect chance to touch base with many long standing industry friends – Christophe Verstraete, Olga Navarro, Joost deMeyer, Iris Langanke, Bill laViolette etc etc etc – and to meet some people that I’ve know for some time without actually meeting – like Barbara Jamison, Head of Business Development at London & Partners. I also have a great conversation with Alexandra Spriess of MarkenReise, a Berlin based incentive and destination management company. Alexandra speaks passionately about Berlin “Berlin is a trend setter, it’s first in everything. It’s dynamic, always changing. Other cities are predictable but Berlin is not. It’s a wonderfully innovative city, full of vibrant young people, artists, creative types …”

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Padraic Gilligan is VP Industry Relations with MCI and VP of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination management division.

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