Postcard from Frankfurt

Penning this on the flight back to Edinburgh from Frankfurt. This is my second trip to Germany – the first was earlier this year, to Berlin. This trip, while somewhat less spectacular, and bereft of Paul Friend’s ubiquitous sleeping carcass, has been good fun.

I like German style and design – I like the sharp black suits, the angular black-rimmed spectacles, the cars. I even like the fonts. I’ve long considered the spoken German language a bit ugly, if you can so describe an aural experience, it being less musical to the ear than its French and Italian counterparts. However, having now made two short trips here, I’m not so sure. Began to quite enjoy listening to it spoken. Not that I ever had a scooby what was being said, although I can pick out a few important words, like schokolade.

Approaching Frankfurt by air, we flew over a lot of forest – the Black Forest? If it was, I daresay it’s pretty black from the interior, but from above it’s unremittingly green, apart from little pockets of deciduous trees which are various shades of brown. I am a big fan of the effect autumn has on trees, and love driving through Perthshire at this time of year, with the browns, reds and golds so evident. However, when viewed from above and appearing in little areas surrounded by evergreens, it puts me in mind of slightly-out-of-date broccoli. Speaking of outdated food, I recently discovered some flour in my cupboard – with a best before date of December 1999. I think it may have been for making pancakes about 8 years ago.

When I arrive back in Edinburgh I’ll go back in to the office for the afternoon, being a dedicated, conscientious soul. Going away on work trips on my own tends to make me slightly nervous, as on my return my boss Stephen wants (understandably) to hear any news from the trips – vis à vis new products, industry gossip etc etc. This usually goes a bit like this:

SF: “So how was the trip Andy?”
AQ: “Uh, yeah, it was good, thanks”
SF: “How was the exhibition?”
AQ, brain temporarily freezing over: “Em, yeah, it was good – Unitron had an ice hockey shooting competition, Phonak had a golfing green with a giant screen full of people, who all stood up and cheered when you holed a putt”
SF: “Any new products/what’s happening in the industry…”
AQ: Uh, no, don’t think so, nothing much really.

Typically, two days later Stephen will mention that he’s had an email from one of our contemporaries down South, who was also at the conference, and has discovered from them that several products have been launched that will revolutionise the industry. Not to mention that several manufacturers have gone bust, Roman Abramovich has moved into hearing aids and is relocating to Scotland, and the government has abolished the NHS. That type of thing.

AQ: “Erm, yeah, I heard all that, but didn’t think it was of much interest.”

I don’t have much of a brain for business, or gossip for that matter. One is good, the other not so much. I might be rescued by that fact that Stephen’s wife Andrea has just given birth (on Tuesday) to their second child, Emily. So here’s hoping his mind’s on other things 🙂

Frankfurt, Day 2

Having flown to Frankfurt yesterday with Lufthansa, I was rather hoping that I would be able to update my blog from mid-air, since Lufthansa offer in-flight wireless broadband on some of their routes. Sadly, it appears that this is only available on their long-haul flights, and there are hints on their website that the service may be withdrawn in January 2007, so perhaps I will never get to experience the joys of playing stick cricket at 39000 feet. Why this should be any better than playing it at sea level will be a mystery to most of you, I’m sure, but rest assured there is a difference.

So here I am instead, in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, Frankfurt, at an unearthly hour of the morning. I am here as a guest of Phonak UK, who are one of our main suppliers. Unfortunately they have booked me a room sans wireless internet, indeed sans internet at all, and so I have to resort to sitting in the lobby. This would not be my choice, since it’s full of people and pre-8am social interaction is a clear and present danger. Thankfully the UK delegation is relatively small at this conference, and one can rely on UK hearing aid dispensers at events like this to not surface too early in the morning, given their customary exploits in the bar the previous evening.

Prior to “retiring to the bar”, we had spent a rather surreal evening at a venue in Frankfurt. The main event was a product release by Phonak, held here in Frankfurt to coincide with the EUHA hearing aid congress which kicks off today. The launch started at 5pm, at which point I was just about to board a train from the airport. Arriving at the station, I emerged from the subway to find the Hotel Continental where I expected the Intercontinental to be. It looked a somewhat, um, seedier establishment than I would expect Phonak to make use of, and so, somewhat disconcerted, I reverted to the map in the train station. With a fair amount of relief, I soon discovered the Intercontinental nearby. On the way, I walked past the Hotel National (4 star), as well as the aforementioned Continental (3 star) and had time to muse on the apparent inverse relationship between hotel rating and its geographical claims. It didn’t bode well for the Intercontinental, but thankfully it has surpassed expectations in this regard. Apart from the lack of wireless internet in the rooms of course 😉

Having arrived at the hotel sometime after 5.30, I conceded that I wasn’t going to make the product launch, but happily I was able to find the venue in time for the evening meal, which was very acceptable. I found myself at a table opposite the head of Phonak UK, a Dane, which gave me a great opportunity to bring up Northern Ireland’s recent fighting draw in Copenhagen. Just as the meal was drawing to a close, we became aware of a low note sounding continuously from somewhere in the room. I thought perhaps Kenny D had somehow made the trip and was warming up his vocal chords before bursting into song, but it proved to be a number of saxophones, played by men dressed in long, hooped dresses, some of whom were wearing facemasks (as you might use for scuba diving/snorkelling), and all of whom had their heads covered with a veil of some description.

These made their way on to the stage, to be quickly joined by 2 equally-bizarrely dressed cellists, who mounted rotating plinths on the stage and proceeded to play their cellos while standing up, for the next 30-45 minutes or so. Subsequently saxophonists also popped up at both sides of the room, at the back, and in the gallery. There was about 15 of them all told. In addition, one end of the gallery (directly above the stage) was glass-fronted and contained three singers and a bass guitarist. All dressed in similarly weird costumes. The whole shebang was coordinated by some sort of conductor on the ground level who was communicating with them all via a headworn mic. The music was, um, interesting, if not unpleasant. But it was all very strange. And that was before the men in orange jumpsuits, with coloured plastic inflatable tubes strapped to them, appeared among the tables. They were playing bass saxophones, if that wasn’t already immediately obvious.

Jan (the Phonak UK MD) found it all as bizarre as the rest of us, which was comforting.

Today I am off, along with some other UK hearing aid dispensers, to the bar, no sorry, to hear about how the hearing aid market operates in Germany. I realise that’s a tantalising cliffhanger of a way to finish a blog entry, so I will try to fill you in on the exciting details as soon as possible this evening.