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.