RETAINING EUROPE'S TOP SPOT
Last year Germany took the number one position for European meetings destinations for the 13th consecutive year, according to the International Congress & Convention Association’s (ICCA) Statistics Report, and, as we take a closer look at the current and future offerings in three of its largest cities – Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt – we see no reason why it couldn't retain it for another.
Alongside modern state-of-the-art conference centres you'll find characterful historic venues that can accommodate all manner of events (7,300 of them in total). Add a vibrant hotel sector, strong regional food and drink scenes and a rich variety of sights and experiences for incentive travel to the mix and it would be tough not to find this central European region attractive.
"Germany benefits from a very even spread of top venues in great destinations throughout the country," says Birgit Pacher of the German Convention Bureau.
"In fact, it’s one of the things that makes Germany stand-out: It’s not just the capital and major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf or Cologne that can offer top conference and event venues, but also smaller destinations that have developed the same kind of infrastructure and service offers needed to organise conferences and events.”
Conference organisers who are 'thinking big' should head to Berlin, a city which prides itself on a leading position within the international trade fair and convention market.
Trade fair company Messe Berlin's portfolio includes exhibition centres the Berlin ExpoCenter City and Berlin ExpoCenter Airport as well as the new, multi-functional trade fair and event location CityCube Berlin.
But, as Robert Luft at Visit Berlin explains, the city's convention sector is not standing still.
"All across Berlin, old industrial buildings are being creatively repurposed," he says. "The latest example is von Greifswald. Centrally located in Berlin, this former freight yard has two halls with a total of 800 m² of event space and a 4,000 m² outdoor area.
"Since the beginning of this year, the Osthafen has become another industrial location for events. Located directly on the waterfront, the multifunctional hall with more than 1,100 square meters of interior space and additional 2,000 square meters of exterior space offers a special setting for every event."
Messe Berlin is also planning to complete the construction of a new hall in the city by 2019, providing another 10,000sqm of space.
"With the construction of an additional multifunctional hall, Berlin is strengthening its position in the international trade fair and convention sector," adds Luft.
Germany's second largest city – Hamburg – offers the 'perfect blend of old and new' according to Florian Gerdes of Hamburg Convention Bureau.
Major conference and event venue, CCH – Congress Center Hamburg, set to re-open in 2020, is a few minutes' walk from the city centre and the Hamburg Metropolitan Centre where you'll find many hotels with conferencing facilities and other venues.
Modern development HafenCity is Europe’s biggest inner-city development project and a SMART city bringing together business with culture and leisure, tourism and retail facilities. The area is also home to the city’s now iconic Elbphilharmonie concert hall which offers many meeting and event options, including two state-of-the-art concert halls and five-star hotel Westin.
"The ‘Elphi’, launched to great acclaim last year, typifies the city’s mix of old and new," adds Gerdes. "A modern concert hall, shaped like a rolling wave to reflect Hamburg’s maritime heritage, sits on top of a historic former warehouse."
Venues steeped in culture and history are Frankfurt's forte. Alte Oper Frankfurt is not only the city's premier cultural landmark, but has also gained an 'excellent reputation as a highly modern and well-equipped special event menu' says Kirsten Bialonski of the Frankfurt Convention Bureau.
"It consists of two ballrooms, four parlours and five foyers, all tucked away behind its time-honoured façade, and it is suitable for nearly any kind of events: gala dinner, press conference or international congresses," she continues.
Bialonski also recommends combining venues for events – namely the Gesellschaftshaus Palmengarten, a 19th Century society house with space for 2,000 guests and a botanical garden, with congress centre Messe Frankfurt, which offers different spaces for 500 to 10,000 participants.
"Gesellschaftshaus Palmengarte fits perfect for gala dinners, but also for a meet-and-greet, a cocktail reception on the unique outdoor terrace, a corporate function or a congress," she says. "One of the advantages is the close proximity to Messe Frankfurt. That´s a great combination: congress at Messe Frankfurt and evening event at the Gesellschaftshaus Palmengarden."
Kap Europa; © Messe Frankfurt, photo: Marc Jacquemin
Congress_Gesellschaftshaus Palmengarten © #visitfrankfurt, Holger Ullmann
WHERE TO STAY
Modern hotels boasting reliability and good value are in plentiful supply in Berlin, with recent additions including the 41-bedroom Orania Berlin in the Kreuzberg district and The Lulu Guldsmeden offering 81 loft-style rooms.
Newcomers include the four-star 165-bedroom The Lindner me and all hotel that will open this year in the newly built “Volt Berlin” shopping centre and The Campus Hotel in the Adlershof Technology Park that will consist of 320 four-star category rooms, a conference area, hall for up to 1,000 delegates and a sky bar.
"The most spectacular new building to be constructed in Berlin will be the expansion, by 2020, of Germany's top-selling hotel, the Estrel Berlin, with its existing 1,125 rooms, through the construction of a 46-story 'Estrel Tower,' with 814 additional rooms," says Visit Berlin's Luft. "At 176 metres, the new tower will be about two- and-a-half times as high as the current Estrel Berlin, making it the highest hotel tower in Germany."
If new hotels are of importance for your next event, Hamburg is the place to head for.
Nineteen hotels are scheduled to open in the city in 2018, double last year's number of new openings. They include Jufa Hotel Hamburg HafenCity – a four-star, 200 room hotel with five workshop and seminar rooms, hosting up to 500 participants, The Fontenay, offering views over the Alster Lake from its 131 bedrooms and four conference rooms and the 11-storey my4walls offering 143 serviced apartments.
“Hamburg’s increased accommodation and venue options truly cement the city’s reputation as a formidable location for meetings and events. These new venues have an expanded offering for delegates – going beyond accommodation and meeting space, to offering activities, fine dining and transport,” says Hamburg Convention Bureau's Gerdes.
When time is short, Frankfurt may be the best option. The compact city has approximately 10,200 hotel rooms within walking distance to the locations of Messe Frankfurt, including the Maritim Hotel, which is adjacent to The Congress Center, and the Grandhotel Hessischer Hof which is a three-minute walk from Kap Europa, Messe Frankfurt's sustainable smaller congress venue which opened in 2014.
If hotels with a proven track-record of hosting events as well as providing a bed for the night are preferable, the aforementioned Maritim Hotel chain, which operates 33 hotels across Germany is a strong option.
The company, which will be exhibiting at The Meetings Show this year, has a motto 'meetings and accommodation under one roof'.
"We combine over five decades of industry leading experience and comprehensive event infrastructure to deliver unparalleled business events of all sizes. With a highly personalised approach to each event, along with a global portfolio of centrally located city hotels, conveniently located airport hotels, coastal beach resorts, lakeside family hotels, course-adjoining golf hotels and parkland spa hotels, we have something for everyone," says Mark Spivey, director of international sales at Maritim Hotels.
FOOD AND DRINK
Finding somewhere to re-fuel after a day of trawling a trade fair or concentrating at a conference is simple in all three of our profiled cities. Deciding which place to go to from the ample choices on offer may not be so easy, however.
With 24 Michelin stars held in restaurants across the city (including six two-star and 14 one-star) it's unsurprising that the guide has named Berlin the gourmet capital of Germany.
While fine-dining options like Facil, Horváth, and the Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer are in plentiful supply for those looking to take business into the dining room, Berlin also has multiple options for a more relaxed dining experience.
Local cuisine, like classic curry sausage can be found at Curry 36 in Kreuzberg, or for those with a more sophisticated palate, a visit to Kreuz und Kümmel or to Duke at Ellington is advised.
International cuisine is also well-represented, while you can grab a quick bite at street food market Streetfood auf Achse in the Kulturbrauerei on a Sunday where Berlin classics like knuckle of pork, currywurst and boulettes (meatballs) are served.
Beer and seafood are specialities in Hamburg, but the city provides for all tastes with 'numerous dining options around the corner.'
"It’s very easy to find places to eat in the city. From fresh fish in a harbour-side restaurant to traditional Hamburg cuisine including labskaus and red fruit jelly, plus a whopping 11 Michelin star restaurants," says Gerdes of Hamburg Convention Bureau.
Gerdes recommends squeezing in a visit to the city's fish market, which has been running since 1703 and taking time to sample a beer or two.
"In my opinion, Hamburg is Germany’s craft beer capital – there are so many to choose from!" He says. "There’s brew pub & brewery ÜberQuell, and you can enjoy beer tasting with a view at Störtebeker on the 5th floor of the Elbphilharmonie."
In Frankfurt it is equally as easy to find a restaurant for dinner or a quick business meal, says Bialonski of the Frankfurt Convention Bureau. The city, which is home to 170 different nations, is a global culinary hotspot.
"You will find nearly any kind of cuisine from all over the world: from A (Argentina) to Z (Zambia)," adds Bialonski."
Cool bars with 'international flair', such as Café Plank, Walon Rosetti and Maxie Eisen and trendy restaurants can also be found in the city's main station district.
"Everybody will find the perfect place for a relaxed end to an exhausting business day." Says Bialonski.
Like its food and drink scene, Germany also has a plentiful array of incentive programmes.
Whether you are looking for incentive activities with cultural, adventurous or innovative leanings, you'll find them all in Berlin.
Take a culinary tour through the city and add a meat cookery workshop at Filetstück, where participants learn about butchering as well as cooking, or get active by going on a high ropes course or building rafts.
You can also learn more about Berlin's reputation as a centre for innovative science by taking delegates on an innovation safari on the site of the European Energy Forum.
Gerdes of Hamburg Convention Bureau says there is also 'plenty' for delegates to do outside Hamburg's meeting rooms.
"Hamburg continues to record rising numbers in overnight stays and was recently rated as one of the 50 ‘must see’ destinations by Conde Nast Traveller and ranked 10th among ‘52 Places to Go’ by the New York Times," he says.
Among the things to do are tours of Hamburg's Airbus factory (the city is the third largest aviation city in the world), Hamburg Port, and its historic 19th century warehouse district, the Speicherstadt. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest historic warehouse complex in the world, it offers a number of incentive activities, such as spice tours, chocolate workshops and wine tastings.
The maritime city also offers many water-based activities, from a trip on a solar-powered raft to a speedboat ride on the River Elbe. Energetic delegates can explore Hamburg’s picturesque Lake Alster via stand-up paddlers which offer coaching sessions for larger groups.
Frankfurt's River Main allows similar activities, but it is the surrounding region of Frankfurt Rhein-Main that offers countless possibilities for incentives.
"I would recommend a wine tasting – for example at the monastery Kloster Eberbach," enthuses Bialonski. "This historical cloister is a 45-minute drive away from Frankfurt and during the wine tour of the cloister you will learn many interesting details about monks’ lives in medieval times. This is the place, where the film The Name of the Rose was shot – and, more recently, a trailer of the TV series Game of Thrones."
THE LAST WORD
As we come to the end of our visit to Germany, we leave the German Convention Bureau's Birgit Pacher to give one last word about its suitability as a destination for the MICE market.
"In a nutshell Germany provides great value for money, outstanding infrastructure and top business and scientific know-how in a wide range of sectors, all coupled with a fascinating travel destination.
"There’s a wide range of beautiful historic towns and, similar to the even geographical spread of top venues, inspiring cultural offers can be found in every region throughout the countries. This includes world-class museums and galleries, outstanding orchestras or fascinating history and architecture. And, obviously, major cities, such as Berlin, Munich, Dresden or Hamburg, are top cultural destinations in their own right.
"Add to that the beautiful and very varied nature or typical traditions, such as wine and beer festival or Christmas markets and you can create a very competitive and attractive offer for your delegates."
HOW TO GET THERE
By Air: Berlin has two airports - Tegel and Schönefeld which are both integrated into the national and international route network. The largest airlines at Berlin's airports are airberlin, easyJet and Deutsche Lufthansa. Both airports are best accessed by public transport.
Hamburg Airport offers direct international connections to Europe, America, Africa and the Middle East and is 20 minutes by car to the city centre.Frankfurt Airport is Germany’s largest airport and one of the busiest in all of Europe, servicing some 300 destinations in over 100 countries. It is 11 minutes by car to the centre of Frankfurt.
By Rail: All three cities are on the national Deutsche Bahn rail network and can be accessed from various cities in other European countries, such as Paris, Warsaw and Prague and are connected to local S-Bahn networks.
Inner City: All cities have underground U-Bahn systems and are on the international motorway network. Hamburg has also introduced a bike hire scheme with hire stations throughout the city centre.
DID YOU KNOW?
German sausages are sensational: The frankfurter pork sausage, traditionally enjoyed in pairs and served with mustard and bread rolls, or potato salad, originated in Frankfurt while the Currywurst, pork sausage was created by Berlin's Herta Heuwer who came up with the idea of drenching a sausage in tomato sauce and dusting it with curry powder in 1949.
9 November 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. To commemorate the protest movement that led to the reunification of Germany, there are plans to build a Memorial to Freedom and Unity in central Berlin.