A portion of one of the 26 exhibit halls at the Deutsche Messe in Hannover, Germany, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and pillar-free interior.
I have seen the future of trade shows, and it is scary.

For the first time, the IKK refrigeration and air conditioning trade fair took place in Hannover, a city of 600,000 in North Central Germany where it will now be held every odd-numbered year. (It will continue to take place in Nuremberg in southern Germany in the even-numbered years.)

How big is the Deutsche Messe in Hannover? Well, the IKK show had 800 exhibitors in three buildings. There are 26 (count ’em, 26) buildings on the site, with the 27th currently under construction.

IKK was in three of the larger buildings linked by covered walkways. Based on a map of the total complex, it appears you could take a typical ASHRAE/ARI Expo with 1,000 or so exhibitors and put five such shows on the site at the same time, with room to spare.

These exhibit halls have floor-to-ceiling windows and hundreds of skylights. Huge, automatic curtains that seem to follow the sun control intense solar heat gain. In a number of halls there are no pillars. There is parking for 40,000 cars, seating (not standing) for 20,000 in the on-site restaurants, and at least three separate subway stops.

This place is so big that different subway lines from downtown make different stops, so don’t get on the wrong train, like I did the day before the show started. I and a couple of other fellows from the industry took the wrong train and ended up at a bio-tech expo in some of the buildings to the north when we should have been at the IKK buildings to the southwest — way southwest. A long hike through the construction zone near Building 27 ensued.

IKK opted to move from its long-time odd-year locale in Essen to Hannover because Hannover (with its fairly new and massive Deutsche Messe, as well as an ancient history of trade fairs) has gained “a worldwide reputation as a traditional location for industrial trade fairs,” said Ruldolf Putz, general manager of IKK’s promotional arm, the VDKF. (That’s the literal translation out of the original German. What he was saying was, “Hannover is now the place to go for trade shows.”)

It is popular in the United States for the large exhibit complexes — such as those in Chicago IL, Atlanta GA, Anaheim CA, Orlando FL, and Dallas TX — to be in a constant expansion mode, so that each can claim it is bigger and better able to handle a major trade show.

Compared to the Messe in Hannover, they have a long way to go.

Publication date: 11/05/2001