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that this is only available on their long-haul flights, and there are hints on their website that the service may be withdrawn in January 2007, so perhaps I will never get to experience the joys of playing stick cricket at 39000 feet.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.

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