Just in time for the supervisory board meeting of Messe Berlin this Wednesday, the conflict over the Ifa radio exhibition has eased. Christian Göke, head of the state-owned exhibition company until 2020, is withdrawing from a consortium that will organize the Ifa by 2025 at the latest. In Berlin politics and at Messe Berlin, it was seen as a betrayal that Göke had sided with the Anglo-Saxon event group Clarion and the Ifa rights holder gfu, who want to organize the International Consumer Electronics Fair in the future. “I would like to finally end the personal debate,” Göke told the Tagesspiegel on Tuesday. He was always concerned with the Ifa “and not with pecuniary interests,” the former trade fair manager continued. His withdrawal is “now a clear cut, which hopefully clears the way for a future for the Ifa in Berlin”.
Göke’s withdrawal can help resolve a deadlocked negotiating situation. In addition, the step not only comes at the right time for the supervisory board meeting of the trade fair company, but also falls between two meetings between Gökes’ successor Martin Ecknig and Simon Kimble, the head of Clarion. Ecknig met Kimble in London on Whit Monday to discuss the future of the Ifa. Without a result. However, the gentlemen arranged another meeting and are currently coordinating the date.
It is still open whether and how the Ifa in Berlin will continue. The fact is: Messe Berlin’s contract with Ifa rights holder gfu Consumer Home Electronics GmbH expires in 2024; With Clarion (70 percent), gfu (30 percent) has founded a company that wants to organize the Ifa from 2025. And ideally in Berlin – as long as there is an agreement with Messe Berlin about their role as lessor of the site and the halls under the radio tower. It’s about money and people: the state-owned trade fair company wants a long-term and lucrative contract; gfu/Clarion some kind of exit option in case a virus prevents the event, like 2020 and 2021.
Although Ecknig fixed key points of the contract with the gfu supervisory board member Volker Klodwig in November, there was a rift afterwards. Ecknig and representatives of the state of Berlin, who own the trade fair, accuse Klodwig of making unacceptable demands. Klodwig, in turn, speaks of “exorbitant additional demands” that Ecknig put on the table. Furthermore, the head of the Berlin trade fair, who took office as Göke’s successor at the beginning of 2021, is accused of unfriendly behavior towards the partner gfu: gfu receives around 1.2 million euros every year from Messe Berlin as a kind of license fee for the Ifa. Because of the corona-related cancellation, Ecknig did not want to pay at all and then only a small six-digit amount. This angered the gfu bosses, who see themselves as customers of Messe Berlin and want to be treated accordingly. 15 of the most important companies in the electronics and household appliance industry have come together in the gfu, including Samsung and BSH, Miele and Philips, Sony and Liebherr.
The crisis management surrounding the Ifa has raised doubts about Ecknig’s qualifications and about Wolf-Dieter Wolf, the chairman of the supervisory board at Messe Berlin. The real estate entrepreneur Wolf has been a member of the supervisory board since 2010 and became chairman in 2017. Ecknig, born in Berlin in 1967, has spent his professional life at Siemens, predominantly in real estate management. Ecknig has no experience in the trade fair industry, but was proposed by Wolf to the supervisory board as Göke’s successor. There were also applicants with industry knowledge, including a niece of the former Berlin CDU politician and senator Elmar Pieroth. Wolf and Ecknig are said to have known each other for decades, and Wolf is said to be the godfather of one of Ecknig’s sons. When asked about this, Wolf told the Tagesspiegel that he did not comment on personal relationships.
Economic Senator Stephan Schwarz (independent, for the SPD), represents the state on the supervisory board of Messe Berlin and is the first deputy chairman. Schwarz has largely stayed out of the dispute with gfu/Clarion; the solution is a task for operational management. But the owner was increasingly suspicious of the dispute, which was also held in public. Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) is reportedly considering a new appointment to the supervisory board, including former IHK and DIHK President Eric Schweitzer, who could replace Wolf.
“In the short term, Messe Berlin will have to invest heavily in the development of digital platforms,” said ex-Messe boss Göke on Tuesday. Also in the Ifa. gfu and Clarion “requested his expertise in the course of the pandemic for the further development of the Ifa”. But he is now withdrawing from the joint venture. “I was concerned with making the Ifa more competitive and securing it for the Berlin location in the long term,” said Göke.