Money Unmoored

Party Time on the Potomac

Potomac
The Cherry Blossom, the Commerzbank vessel of choice.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Commerzbank Boat Tour is an institution during the IIF conference in Washington, and serves as a bellwether for the mood of the financial sector.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The IIF conference coincides with the annual IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington.
    • Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest bank, had to be bailed out by the German government in late 2008 and early 2009.
    • Martin Blessing has been the chief executive of Commerzbank since 2008.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The first and last time I was on the ship was in 2008, for some pretty hot days back then. The international bankers attending the meeting of the Institute of International Finance (IIF) in Washington were wondering whether the financial world as they knew it would survive the weekend. Germany’s then Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück and France’s former Finance Minister Christine Lagarde tried to allay people’s fears by holding out hopes of political support for the battered global financial system.

Back then, Washington’s weather was humid and tropically hot. The ship was a reproduction of a Mississippi steamboat, but with a modern engine instead of a steam engine, propelled by two paddlewheels on its stern. Each year, the bank sponsors a party for the German delegates on the Potomac, the river that runs through the U.S. capital. Martin Blessing, the chief executive of Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest bank, stood on the deck of the Commerzbank’s ship back in 2008, welcoming each guest and introducing himself.

In stark contrast, this year was cooler. The guests were calm. Mr. Blessing didn’t stand outside, because it was raining. Instead, he came hurrying down the steps to greet his guests. He is tall, and as slim as the banks’ profit margins. The guests are calm, and although the financial world hasn’t completely recovered yet, somehow everything feels good again.

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