by Padraic Gilligan
Berlin, Early Morning, 7am
The room is already flooded in bright light when my alarm squalls into life at 7am. I think my vintage football shirt might be appropriate in Germany’s capital, now that Arsenal FC has signed Poldolski so I wear it for my morning march. I try to capture on my iphone something of the whimsy and scale of the buildings in and around Potsdamer Platz but, really, you need more sophisticated equipment. It’s an extraordinary testament to German endeavour and execution that this area, moribund throughout the Cold War years, is once again a major European nexus for commerce and culture.
Koreans in Berlin
My early AM march takes me right down to Pariser Platz which, with supreme irony, has been entirely colonised by the Koreans whose Hyundai brand, one of 12 global sponsors of Euro2012, has commandeered the entire square for a gigantic “Fan Zone” where those that stayed at home can follow the fortunes of Germany in Poland & Ukraine. It’s an extraordinary use of civic space and a supreme example of the power of events to bring people together. I return to the Scandic taking an early morning browse around the Sony Centre and make note of the location, on the corner of Potsdamer Platz, of a very dishy looking Ritz Carlton.
The ICC, Berlin
Today’s Site EMEA business sessions have been organised at the Berlin ICC. We all make the 25 minute journey by public transport using the complimentary 3 day integrated travel ticket provided by our hosts. The metro is safe, clean, and convenient and , of course, very CSR friendly. Thanks to the volunteers, provided courtesy of Visit Berlin, nobody gets lost. At the ICC numbers swell as Site EMEA delegates merge with Mexcon2012 delegates to create a impressive pan-industry gathering including MPI, ICCA and other national associations. Our plenary session takes place in the round, in a retro high-tech space that looks like it ‘s straight out of a Dr. Who set. Apparently the ICC, fondly familiar to veterans of ITB Berlin, will shortly close for extensive refurbishment.
Lode Beckers, a highly rated speaker from previous Site events, is introduced by Event Chair Anna Maria Ruffini who generously acknowledges the important input of her committee under that gregarious, garrulous Gael, Patrick Patridge. “For everything that goes well, thank them”, she says, “For everything that goes wrong, blame me”. Lode addresses us on the euro, presenting the latest instalment in a narrative that began way back in 1999 at the Site University in Florence. The heady, Pollyanna -like optimism that characterised Beckers’ previous interventions is somewhat tempered now in the light of the present “brutal facts” but Lode is still a believer, steadfast in his support of the vision of Schuman and de Gaspari.
Our present woes, he explains cogently, are nothing to do with the European project per se but result from simple, unadulterated greed, perpetrated within the banking sector and dating from the 1980s. This will end with a smooth landing, he says, provided we take a bird’s eye view, as if from a helicopter, and secure the right combination of solid leadership, good navigational equipment and smooth rotation.
Lode’s intervention is an promising start to an educational programme that also includes an excellent workshop on Negotiation with Ricardo Perez Nuckel, an energising session on Social Media with Gerrit Heijkoop, an innovative Idea Wrestling session at which I present myself and a discussion, nicely moderated by Raymon Honings, on our industry’s response to recent negative publicity on corporate incentives in the German press. With commentary from Euromic’s Christophe Verstraete and CIM’s Katharina Brauer, who covered the stories from our industry’s perspective, this is a supremely important session which suffers somewhat from being scheduled at day’s end, when fatigue and distraction have many of us in their nasty grip.
Our evening social function unites us again with the Mexcon2012 delegates at the historic Tempelhof Airport. Built in the 1920s, this pre Art Deco construction offers space for events on a grand scale. All 800 of us fit easily into the front hall and enjoy some pleasant networking and welcome speeches including a rousing happy birthday to Ray Bloom, Chairman of IMEX. At the appointed moment we pass through the specially created entrance corridor and emerge into an Alice-in-wonderland world of fantastical creatures who roam and glide around the vast spaces. Food to tantalise the tastebuds is served at one side of the room while drinks to ignite the imagination are available on the side opposite. With food in our bellies and drink in our brains we’re soon feeling no pain. Accent lighting is kind and flattering and we all look a million dollars. Dressed in biker-chic with heels, from a distance ITB’s Olga Navarro looks like a 16 year old. We bump into MPI and ICCA friends who are attending Mexcon2012 – here’s Inge Hanser, there’s Gerrit Jensen – and finally the room assumes that unique Meetings Industry buzz. As current MPI Chairman and CEO of MCI, Sebastien Tondeur, always says “When people come together, magic happens”
Padraic Gilligan is VP, Industry Relations at MCI and VP, Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division. He is a former President of Site.