Visitors stand next to a television set showing the tv-debate between German Chancellor and leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, leader of Germany's social democratic SPD party and candidate for Chancellor, at the booth of German public television broadcaster ARD at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin on September 4, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ

People in London were surprised when the Berlin Senator for Economic Affairs, Stephan Schwarz, saw the negotiations “on the home stretch” more than two weeks ago. In the headquarters of Clarion Events, the 70 percent shareholder of Ifa Management GmbH, people have been amazed at the Berlin stakeholders, including the senator, for a long time. The Ifa negotiations between the state-owned Messe Berlin and Clarion have now been going on for almost a year. Instead of an agreement on the future of Berlin’s most important trade fair, there were shrill background noises and ugly personal stories that prompted the chairman of the supervisory board to resign and cost the Ifa director his job. A week ago, talks finally progressed about the future of the Ifa, which has so far only been secured in Berlin until 2023.

Exhibition boss Martin Ecknig has now submitted a written proposal that could lead to a basic agreement before the start of the radio exhibition this Friday. The question of who is organizing Ifa 2023 remains controversial to the last: Messe Berlin for the last time or already Ifa Management GmbH, in which gfu Consumer

Until 2023, gfu is contractually bound to Messe Berlin, which until then not only acts as the lessor of the site and the exhibition halls, but also as the organizer. The exhibition company pays a small seven-figure fee to gfu for this. The Ifa, with more than 80,000 trade visitors from abroad, is extremely important for the city’s economy – but also for Messe Berlin: Sales are around 35 million euros and the bottom line is that three to five million euros have remained in profit in recent years .

This year, the exhibition center is 80 percent fully booked; after two bleak corona years, that’s a good value. but how does it continue? There are around a dozen similar electronics events around the world that Ifa competes with. The Ifa is the only one that is not co-financed with public money, according to the industry. This is one of the reasons why the former Berlin trade fair boss Christian Göke was looking for financial partners for the Ifa and the entire trade fair company. Discussions with the Springer publishing house, in which the Governing Mayor Michael Müller also took part, remained unsuccessful.

By 2024 at the latest, Ifa will be in the hands of Clarion. The group wants to invest in the brand, expand and digitize the Ifa. Preferably as early as 2023. Clarion is said to be giving a location guarantee for Berlin until 2032. Messe boss Ecknig will inform the supervisory board on Thursday about the status of the Ifa talks. The presentation of a strategy for the trade fair company, which was originally planned for the meeting, is said to have been postponed.

Ecknig, who has been in office since early 2021, is still working on it. And the supervisory board is busy with the past for the time being. After the resignation of Wolf-Dieter Wolf, Economics Senator Schwarz (independent, for the SPD) leads the committee. When asked, his spokeswoman stated that Schwarz “a few weeks ago” caused the Supervisory Board to deal with the findings of the compliance investigations available up to that point on September 1st.

The Senate Departments for Finance and Economics are examining the circumstances surrounding the commissioning of the journalist Gerhard Spörl as Ecknig’s media coach for a daily fee of up to 2,000 euros. Spörl is the husband of the former RBB director Patricia Schlesinger, and Wolf, until recently also the chairman of the RBB board of directors, is said to have initiated Spörl’s involvement in order to train Ecknig for the trade fair job.

The circumstances of Ecknig’s appointment as head of the trade fair in autumn 2020 are unusual. A few months earlier, Göke had asked for his contract to be canceled on December 31st. With the help of the personnel consultancy Odgers Berndtson, which has experience in working with Messe Berlin, the supervisory board was looking for a Göke successor. In the end, the Personnel Committee, chaired by Wolf-Dieter Wolf, only proposed one candidate to the Supervisory Board: Martin Ecknig.

Ecknig, who is not familiar with the industry, previously worked as a real estate manager at Siemens. Wolf, who has known Ecknig for years and is on first-name terms, allegedly asked or even asked the personnel consultants at Odgers Berndtson to put Ecknig on the shortlist of the best candidates.

This suspicion is supported by the description of an applicant at the time, who claims to have had 18 years of experience in the industry. “Early on in the interview, Odgers Berndtson’s partner asked if I knew the Chairman of the Supervisory Board Wolf-Dieter Wolf personally,” the applicant reports to the Tagesspiegel. “It seemed to him that this would be an advantage.” The man had to answer in the negative and was not shortlisted. Ecknig, on the other hand, was appointed spokesman for the management of Messe Berlin by the supervisory board headed by Wolf on January 1, 2021, although his profile did not correspond to the position profile of Odgers Berndtson. Experience in real estate management is hardly “a sensible prerequisite for leading the trade fair business, which is currently in upheaval, into the future,” says the rejected applicant with trade fair and marketing experience.

Trade fair experience is obviously not required for the chairmanship of the supervisory board. In early summer, Economics Senator Schwarz dismissed two members of the Supervisory Board, who Wolf and Messe Supervisory Board member Jan Eder saw as “submarines” on the gfu side. Schwarz appointed the young entrepreneur Iris Lanz and his buddy Eric Schweitzer to fill the vacant positions: the trio of Schweitzer (President of the IHK), Eder (Chamber of Commerce General Manager) and Schwarz (President of the Chamber of Crafts) had a considerable influence on Berlin’s economic policy from 2004 to 2016; then Schweitzer, who owns the disposal and recycling company Alba, moved to the head of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce until 2021.

Schweitzer is to become chairman of the supervisory board at Messe Berlin. Schwarz doesn’t find it a problem that Alba also does business with the trade fair. “Mr. Schwarz appreciates the expertise and experience of the DIHK Honorary President as well as his social commitment and his commitment to the city of Berlin,” the senator said.