East and West

Trading for the Future

Celebrations for the 850th anniversary of Leipzig's trade fair. Source: DPA
Celebrations for the 850th anniversary of Leipzig's trade fair.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany, one of the world’s biggest destinations for trade fairs, has further strengthened its base over the past 25 years.

  • Facts


    • Leipzig is home to several important trade fairs, including ones for books and video games.
    • Other convention locations also benefitted from German reunification, especially Berlin and Nuremberg.
    • Düsseldorf has shifted its focus to Asian markets.
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Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago,  Leipzig has experienced many big changes, among them the total revamping of its traditional trade show.

“The fair had to reinvent itself,” said Martin Buhl-Wagner, spokesman for the Leipziger Messe, as the trade show organizer is known. “Trade fairs for East-West trade, with hundreds of thousands of visitors, just weren’t wanted under communism.”

Since reunification, Leipzig Messe has launched more than 30 trade shows and built new facilities. Today, it is one of Germany’s largest venues, with sales in 2013 of €88 million, or $110 million. Revenues in 2014, however, are expected to dip slightly,  due in part to the cyclical nature of some of its trade shows.

“The fair had to reinvent itself.”

Martin Buhl-Wagner, Spokesman, Leipziger Messe

But Leipzig still has a ways to go to catch up with Frankfurt, whose trade fair group reported revenues of more than €545 million in 2013, and Düsseldorf with €323 million.

Berlin has also benefited from the political changes, and “just like the city, Messe Berlin had to revamp itself completely,” said Christian Göke, a board member for the Berlin trade fair group.

Since 1990, the group’s revenues have risen more than sixfold to €265 million.

“No other trade fair organizer in Germany has realized such a hike in revenue,” Mr. Göke said.

Nuremberg, close to the former East German border, is yet another city is yet another city to have gained from a reunified country.

“The fall of the wall in 1989 was a huge stroke of luck for the NürnbergMesse,” said Managing Director Roland Fleck. “The proximity to eastern Germany and many customers in central and eastern Europe have been essential in pushing the NürnbergMesse into the big leagues.”

Last year, the group’s net revenue almost topped €193 million.

Numbers for both visitors and exhibitors grew across Germany over the past 25 years. According to the German trade fair association, trade shows in the country attracted around 110,000 exhibitors and more than 9 million visitors in 1990, compared to 180,000 exhibitors and more 10 million visitors in 2014.

Even though they are located deep in the western part of the country, trade fair organizers in both Düsseldorf and Frankfurt changed their strategies after the fall of the wall.

“The developments were mirrored in Messe Frankfurt’s trade shows and interest in eastern Europe,” said Wolfgang Marzin, the managing director of Messe Frankfurt.

The organizer forged deals with partners in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary in 1991.

Messe Düsseldorf went a step further by taking a stake in the trade fair group in the Czech Republic’s second-largest city Brno.

“The  group’s portfolio had a focus similar to Messe Düsseldorf’s on trade fairs for investment goods,” said Düsseldorf boss Werner M. Dornscheidt.

But Brno’s position as a “gateway to eastern Europe” has since been overtaken by developments, and Messe Düsseldorf is now looking to unload its stake in Brno’s trade fair operations with an eye to focusing more on growing Asian markets.

video: a motorcycle show during the motorcycle exhibition “Motorrad Messe” in Leipzig.

Regina Palm covers the trade-show sector for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: palm@handelsblatt.com

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