Well, it's that time of year. I'm off today to attend the IFA tech trade show in Berlin for about a week. I leave this afternoon, and get back soon-ish. The elves will be watching over the homestead in their leiderhosen and have promised to have sauerbraten for dinner at least once.
IFA, in that mellifluous way of the German language, stands for Internationale Funkausstellung. (Funk being radio, and ausstellung being an exhibition. It began in 1931 a radio trade show.) IFA is sort of the European equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show. In some ways it's better, in some not so much. It's definitely an experience, though, somewhat a convoluted mess. I'll write more about that later on. The short version is that from my limited experience (this will be my fourth time at IFA, but I've confirmed my theory with others who know Germany FAR better) is that the German culture isn't nearly as efficient as the reputation. Rather, Germans are incredibly skilled at following directions. If the directions are good, then things will be immaculately run and organized. But when the starting point is not well-planned, then what results will be a chaotic jumble.
I actually sense this on not only my very first IFA trip, but within minutes of getting off the bus. (That would be the Tegel Xpress bus from the airport, that dropped me off walking distance from my hotel.) As I was strolling along, I saw a restaurant that looked nice, and (like so many European restaurants) had the menu out front. I stopped to look at it, and as I was reading, I could hear a person coming along the sidewalk from my left and stopping, and waiting. As I kept reading, I could tell that the person was still there, and figured he wanted to look at the menu, too, so I finished sooner than I planned, and started to leave. To my surprise, it turned out that this person was not waiting to read the menu, but rather -- I was in his path, and so he stopped. And rather than just walking around me to the other part of the sidewalk, he instead waited, until I was no long "blocking" him. As soon as I was gone, he move forward, and walked on. It was bizarre -- and I'm sure not typical. But it gave me the thought that a lot of people here like doing things in proper order.
There was another similar experience on that first trip. The group that organizes my trip, ShowStoppers, has a big event there every year. A lot of people get invited, and many of them showed up early and lined up. And up and up and up and up -- creating an incredibly long line, one person after another, snaking out of the large waiting area, along the hall, down the escalator, and through the foyer. All the while, the waiting area was left completely empty. The ShowStoppers executive had the most difficult time trying to convince the Germans in line that they didn't have to stand in line, but could just mingle randomly in that large -- and empty -- waiting area. But they couldn't seem to grasp the concept. He kept pleading and imploring them to get out of the line, and just...stand around in the room. Finally, after about five minutes of effort, they finally caught on and, a bit awkwardly at first, broke the line and mingled. Order seems to be everything.
There's much more. The design of the fairgrounds where IFA is held, for instance, is otherworldly. I've literally spent 10-15 minutes on occasion just trying to find the right door to enter one of the buildings. And it wasn't just me -- I've run into others looking for a door, as well. (It's so common that I've learned the phrase, "Wo ist der eingang?" Where is the entrance?)
To be clear, much of what I'm seen is meticulous and beautifully organized and done. As I said, if the original directions are good, the results will be wonderful.
Anyway, I'll still be posting daily during the week -- about what I've come across at IFA mostly, though anything else if I have the time. Just know that the posting schedule will be off for a while. The time difference between Berlin and Los Angeles is nine hours. So, when I have a break at lunch and time to finally sit down at the computer. it'll 3 AM back in L.A.
(Though I'll try to post regularly, just know that the next post may not be for a while because of the long travel. I'll probably be checking into my hotel room in the mid-afternoon on Tuesday, which is 7 AM tomorrow L.A. time, though I don't know if I'll be up to writing anything then, perhaps not until the next day -- which will be very early morning Wednesday in Los Angeles. We'll see. But, hey, who knows, it's quite possible I'll be able to write something en route. We'll find out. I should have plenty of waiting time at the Los Angeles Airport, so the question is if I can get a WiFi connection. If so, maybe I'll even have something new this afternoon. And if I can get Wi-Fi in Frankfurt early tomorrow when I land after the first leg and have a long layover, who knows?, perhaps even then. So, keep checking back -- I will resurface soon-ish. Wednesday at the latest)
By the way, I must toss in something here. I like going to IFA -- as I said, it's my fourth time, and if I didn't enjoy the show so much, I wouldn't make the effort. It's a very long trip from Los Angeles, that has no direct flight, around 15 hours or so, depending on the layover, and then dealing with the dismal Tegel airport in Berlin that's like a bus station. But as much as I like the show...I absolutely love the morning buffet at the Grand Hyatt hotel where our group is put up. Seriously. It's not that it's remotely the most extensive buffet I've had -- not even close. It's just a breakfast buffet, after all, but everything is such high quality, with such great breads and amazing cheeses that we don't get in the U.S., and herrings and meats that it's a joy (along with normal things like waffles, eggs, fresh juices and champagne.) I tend not to eat cheese much anymore, and not all that much meat either, especially for breakfast, but here -- it's near-impossible to pass up. It's all just great. Seriously. I had to miss IFA last year, so I was without the buffet, as well, and I can't wait to be back for the spread. This below doesn't do it justice, but it's a start...
So, that's the deal. I'll be back on these pages soon. Perhaps sooner than later, if the Wi-Fi gods do their part. Auf widersehen.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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