The year started with a “punch in the stomach”. And now that’s enough. “Legislators must ensure that trade fairs can also take place in the coming winter months – without access and capacity restrictions,” demanded Philip Harting, head of the Association of the Exhibition Industry (Auma) on Thursday in Berlin. Few other sectors of the economy were hit so hard by the lockdown: closures, bans and postponements of trade fairs and congresses would have caused overall economic damage of 55 billion euros, Harting calculated. “It must not go on like this.”

It doesn’t either. Germany is facing “a hot trade fair summer that has never been seen before”. Auma reports on 50 events in May and another 40 in June – more than ever before. After not much happened in the first four months – by March only 20 of 140 planned events could take place, in April things were slowly improving – business is now gaining momentum. “More than half of the more than 250 trade fairs this year will take place in the summer,” announced Auma. This is unusual because “the trade fair season is usually the winter half-year”. But the need to catch up is enormous, said Harting. This is also confirmed by Messe Berlin, whose first events after Corona this spring were “above plan”. The most important events are in September: At the beginning of the month, the Ifa, which it says is “the most important global trade fair for consumer and home electronics”, and at the end of September Innotrans, the leading international trade fair for transport technology, which attracts trade visitors from all over the world every two years world leads to Berlin.

These two events have the highest indirect profitability for the city, i.e. the greatest overall economic effect, as can be seen, for example, in the hospitality industry: During the Ifa and the Innotrans, the hotels are fully booked and can charge “fair prices”. After a two-year pandemic break, this year’s Ifa is well booked. According to Messe Berlin, “two thirds of the top exhibitors have already confirmed their participation”. For trade visitors, the trade fair is offering a “Super Early Bird Ticket” for 35 euros until the end of May. “September without Ifa is simply not the same,” said Michael Geisler, Managing Director of Electrolux Hausgeräte, in a statement from Ifa press people. “We look forward to the return of the trade fair – and thus to the perfect platform to present innovations.”

The Ifa will take place in Berlin up to and including 2023. Then the contract between the rights holder gfu and Messe Berlin expires. As reported, the industry association gfu wants to organize the Ifa itself from 2024 and has formed a joint venture with the Anglo-Saxon event group Clarion; Clarion holds 70 percent and gfu 30 percent of the new Ifa company. Former Berlin trade fair boss Christian Göke (2013 to 2020) is present as an advisor to Clarion and as an investor.

According to information from the gfu, Clarion intends to invest a good ten million euros in the further digital development of the Ifa and in global sales. For months now, gfu supervisory board member Volker Klodwig and the managing director of Messe Berlin, Martin Ecknig, have been negotiating the future contractual relationship. Or to put it another way: last year we negotiated. Since February, accusations about third parties have been exchanged: Klodwig accuses Ecknig of deviating from a key issues paper from November and “formulating exorbitant additional demands”. At Messe Berlin there is talk of a gag contract; In addition to the low remuneration for the trade fair, which will in future act as the lessor of the guest event Ifa, the annual right of termination – for example in the event of a lockdown – is unacceptable. It’s about money: If an Ifa fails, the new consortium wants to pay 1.5 million euros as compensation. Messe Berlin is demanding five million euros.

Wolf-Dieter Wolf, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Messe Berlin, has asked his predecessor in office, Hans-Joachim Kamp, who is also Klodwig’s predecessor on the gfu Supervisory Board, to mediate. Vain. Clarion boss Simon Kimble got involved and spoke to Ecknig on the phone. The gentlemen want to meet in London next week.

Actually, there is still enough time, since the current contract runs until 2023. But in the industry, one looks irritated at the dispute, which is becoming increasingly bizarre – and casts shadows on the Ifa. Jens Heithecker, head of the Ifa for many years, who had announced his resignation to Ecknig in October 2021 as of December 31, 2022 and received a contract offer from Clarion, was terminated without notice on suspicion of trade secret betrayal.

Göke, on the other hand, is accused by Ecknig of having worked at the expense of the previous employer. Göke had already tried before Corona to broaden the position of the state-owned trade fair company: Together with the then Governing Mayor Michael Müller, Göke held talks with the Hanover and Hamburg trade fair companies about a merger. After the merger did not materialize due to concerns of the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil, Göke and Müller also spoke to Springer-Verlag; first through a stake in the trade fair company, later through the Ifa. After talks fizzled out, Clarion came into play.

Since there are no investment funds from the owner, the state of Berlin, Göke was constantly on the lookout for outside capital in order to brand Berlin’s leading trade fairs internationally. Two thirds of all global industry trade fairs take place in Germany, five of them in Berlin. How things will continue after the pandemic is open. Much depends on the travel behavior of Asians and Americans. One thing is certain: the 2022 trade fair summer will end in autumn.