Berlin’s Awakening Beauties Series 3



Episode 1: Going sustainable with three Berliners, a wedding and a baby…

With Analena Baerbrock from Germany’s Alliance 90/The Greens leading many of the polls for the country’s upcoming September elections, it is an excellent time for our host Mark Felstead to talk to two of the Berlin’s leading exponents in sustainability for events.

Enter Alex Beck, sustainability manager from the AXICA venue in Berlin and Luisa Mentz, a senior project manager at the Berlin Convention Office in this lively discussion about current innovation trends in sustainability.

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Luisa says the aim is to transform Berlin into one of the most innovative and sustainable event destinations in the world. “It is a start up hub, a place where things are going on. There is room to position the city for sustainable events and keep the transformation going.” She shares her vision for the next 10 years that sustainable events become the new normal. And we hear about the BCO’s certification process and tools for helping partners implement more sustainable processes. “Many people don’t know where to start, and where to stop, so we developed with an external consultancy to create a catalogue of criteria to help our partner and to help them gain visibility.” The idea will, she says, help planners take their sustainable events to the next level.

Alex Beck talks about how the AXICA went back to basics and created more awareness of where they were and how they were doing. ‘There’s no premium without sustainability’ has become a mantra, and she says that, “If we have a product that is not sustainable, we will not offer it anymore.”

She explains how the catering departments are tracing the holistic lifecycle of products.

Alex also explains her participation in off-site catering organisation ‘Hoflieferanten’ (From the farm to the city) which offers sustainable catering for 200+ events per year.

Luisa mentions the Berlin Congress Fund, launched by Berlin. “Not only does it offer funding for an event held in 2021 but, additional funding is available if your plan is sustainable.”

Mark reminds us all that ‘sustainable’ also means riding out the storm and staying around and keeping our businesses going in these difficult times.

And we finish with news of a baby and a wedding.


Episode 2: Diversity Day Special

Our host Mark Felstead marks World Diversity Day (18 May) with a session involving a trio of Berlin’s leading supporters of diversity and all its glorious colours.

Although the image of diversity is seemingly bright for Berlin, there is a dark cloud threatening the rainbow, Mark notes.

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Guests for this second episode of BAB Series 3 are Irene Wolters from the AXICA, Gregor Blach CEO from We-Do communication agency and Philip Ibrahim, MD of The Student Hotel Berlin, host venue of the podcast this time round.

Irene (pictured left) dreams of travelling the world and visiting her Asian roots, but has made her home in Berlin; Gregor is a Frankfurter (with a mix of rusty Scottish!) whose heart is now firmly in Berlin, and Philip is a Berliner who represents the second most ethnic group in the city – the Swabians.

Gregor (pictured below) has been recognised for promoting LBGTIQ themes in business and taking a stand for visibility and describes what it meant being voted one of the top 100 “Out” CEO executives in German business in 2019.

Philip (main photo), who’s father came from Ethiopia, was one of the co-founders in 2008 of the ‘Pink Pillow’ hotel initiative to promote a group of Berlin’s hotels to the LBGIQ community.

Gregor gives his end of term mark for the city, with a warning, however:  “Berlin, good so far but could do better…” He agrees with Mark that there is much progress to relate but says there is plenty of work still to do with 560 homophobic and transphobic attacks reported in the city in 2019. “Diversity is challenge for all of us to work on everyday. We haven’t achieved enough,” says Gregor and suggests every company needs to act and do something in their own field and surroundings. His agency, he says, has developed a three-week agenda for activities to mark Diversity Day, including inviting speakings and internal training. “It’s about communication and finding understanding and knowledge, but there is a long way to go,” says Gregor.

‘Meet them where they stand’ is a principle Philip espouses for a positive approach to diversity and describes the importance of choosing the right words.

Irene adds that diversity means accountability and dialogue for her. “You need to commit and be intentional. It’s not enough to compose a diverse team just for the sake of it. That just scratches the surface,” she says, noting that her team had signed a charter of diversity. “By signing a certificate you assume commitment to remove barriers that prohibit inclusion,” she says, adding that leaders can do a lot to create ‘psychological’ safety for their employees and that creating a safe environment is a real step forward.

Gregor sets out six key dimensions of diversity and says it is important not to overlook some of these individual strands of diversity, which he lists as gender, ethnicity, age, physical and mental ability and sexual orientation. “We have to face all these dimensions in diversity,” he says.

Irene talks about the power of co-workers to help each other settle in unfamiliar environments and new countries. She tells the story of a gala dinner for an incentives group from southeast Asia in the convention centre where she worked in the Middle East. One of the main courses was lobster. The organiser asked for a whole lobster, head to tail rather than the beautifully plated arrangement. There was no criticism of the chef’s approach, rather a desire to imbue the dish with cultural meaning – the whole lobster standing as a simile to the company’s holistic approach to business from beginning to end. Understanding that cultural element was part of the effective translation and, with roots in Asia, Irene says she felt she was able to bridge translation gap for cross-cultural communication.

Mark makes a round-up with the speaker team to tease out some fascinating stats at the end to provide final diversity of dessert food for thought.


Episode 3: Bernhard Wolf

Our regular host Mark Felstead in this week’s episode, meets in the Axica’s Sky Lobby, Bernhard Wolf, creator and presenter of the popular  ‘Ideenfrühstück’ (Ideas Breakfast) which has been a regular series, featuring great ideas to start your day with a creative impulse.

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Bernhard, who came to Berlin from Hamburg 12 years ago, is much more than a breakfast time ideas man, however. He moved from being a magician and entertainer to stand-up comedy and transferring his skills from there to the slightly better behaved audiences of corporate events.

He now spends most of his presenting time online and at the end of the podcast he shares his personal Top 5 tips for effective online communication, so stick with the programme, as they say. Not all his methods are by the playbook and he describes using a toaster as a timer for his act. Certainly an attention grabber.

He is also the master of the visual gag (and he’ll need all his magical talents to conjure that image up in a podcast) and talks about the relevance of imaging and how to fool the brain’s power to perceive. His party trick is talking backwards and even eating a banana backwards.

Bernhard also uses the hidden messages and backward speak to illustrate psychological perception patterns. All his ‘magical’ powers can’t quite keep Mark from going off piste, as usual, and the conversation wanders through the different waters and ‘hoods’ of Berlin and their appropriate dress codes, before magically arriving back at the script which then examines what characteristics can indicate a person’s willingness to adapt.

The crisis threw up plenty of surprises as to what type of characters could adapt best and those that were not able, is Bernhard concluding insight.

And, then, those five presenting tips at the end:


  1. Get closer. Many presenters are too remote from the camera
  2. Use dialogue, Q&A to prove you are in a ‘live’ situation and make the difference from a recording.
  3. Tell people where you are, the location.
  4. Practise and rehearse. Online is no less important than live stage work
  5. Create crisp formats. Do things sharper and surprise people.

We learn it is not easy to translate the old stage world into online but you can certainly improve with a few lessons from the master.


Episode 4: Opening shots and sustainable practices

We take a longer and more winding route than usual through this episode as our host Mark Felstead strides out to visit some of his favourite Berlin hotels and venues and conducts a vox pop report on local reaction to Berlin opening up.

He finds out how business guests are once again checking into hotels, and the city’s cafes and restaurants are opening as events take place again.

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Four of the venues on this tour are the Hotel PalaceEuref CampusThe Crowne Plaza Berlin City Centre and The Student Hotel.

First off, however, before Mark gets fully into his stride on the street, is Christian Lehnert, one of Berlin’s most experienced event planners who has built a strong portfolio of exclusive automotive events over the last two decades and who now very much concentrates on what exactly it means to make an event sustainable. He also addresses the existential question that the most sustainable event is no event at all.

Mark and Christian look at various aspects of the supply and command chain to see where concrete measures can and are being implemented. It’s not all about carbon footprint, says Christian as he illustrates how to shift the axis away from simple ‘greenwashing’ approaches.

There are concrete organiser tips, as Christian shares some real gems about how to plan events in the most sustainable way and how to avoid some of the common mistakes being made. He is an advocate of a top-down approach to sustainability and much more education. The talk turns to avoidance of food wastage – which Christian estimates at around 25-30% at most events – and how that fits in with the correct hygiene concepts and measures and how it is something that he and his company Bettr:live is concentrating on.

Mark and Christian then don their rose-tinted glasses to envisage what the hybrid events of the future might look like and try to see some great opportunities here for the events industry.


Episode 5: The TV Tower’s Christina Aue

In this episode our host Mark Felstead talks to Christina Aue, MD of Berlin’s iconic TV Tower.

Not only is the TV Tower a tremendous tourist attraction, whether with its 360-degree views of the city from 203m up on the viewing platform or from its fabulous revolving restaurant 207m in the sky, but also a unique event location. “The highest sightseeing tour in Berlin,” according to Christina Aue.

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Christina is no stranger to historic monuments, having previously run the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, location of the famous Allied conference at which the leaders of the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and United States made important decisions on the post-war shape of Europe and Germany. It was also host venue for a G7 conferences and has also welcomed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The TV Tower’s bird’s eye views of the city are now open to the public once again, with strict health and sanitary protocols in place.

Christina explains how the TV Tower offers artists, photographers, DJs and musicians a much needed place to perform and exhibit by way of giving something back to the Berlin public.

Berlin’s TV Tower, part of the Magnacity Group which has towers in Paris (Montpernasse) Chicago (previously called the John Hancock Building) and Rotterdam, is running small events again. Event planners and agencies have opportunities to book spaces and make use of special lanes. “We are about to grow our collection of observation towers,” says Christina. Virtual tours are available via the Magnacity app.

Christina is also an executive director of the World Federation of Great Towers, a collaboration of 51 towers from around the globe, and that, she says, give her excellent access to best practices in place worldwide.

With unparalleled views of the city, the Berlin TV Tower is now offering some unparalleled opportunities for art and culture, as well as businesses to thrive in this unique event setting.

Christina also talks about a changing perspective in work/life balance as a result of the pandemic experience.

And do listen right to the end when Mark throws in his own little TV Tower story of reminiscence.


Episode 6: Making a splash!

The Godfather (a.k.a. Mark Felstead) speaks to Jacquie Hughes who, for a couple of glorious Olympic weeks in July, was probably the most famous mother in the UK thanks to a viral video.

Jacquie Hughes is a mother of five and the video of her and her family cheering on son Tom Dean to his first Olympic swimming gold medal in Tokyo (200m freestyle) went viral and has now over 20m views.

Jacquie talks to our BAB host Mark about the chaos and joy of the moment of Tom’s success and the back story that led up to her new-found, but immensely deserved, media fame.

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Listen too to the end as the man himself, Tom Dean, also makes a little cameo appearance to speak about his mother.

Jacquie is no stranger to media and TV, having already a great track record herself as TV producer and journalist, although nothing could quite prepare her (and Tom) for the media storm around Tom’s sensational performances in Tokyo.

Imagine her frustration after years of devotion and dedication to Tom and his siblings (all accomplished athletes) – getting up early every day, attending competitions the length and breadth of the country – and then, when it comes to the BIG ONE, not being allowed to be there to cheer him on in person, due to the Covid situation.

But Jacquie decided she could not just let the moment of the main event go by and, also to have something to show Tom on his return, she did her best to re-create the poolside arena atmosphere with an event for friends and neighbours in her own back garden in Maidenhead near London.  There was some careful event planning behind the Watch Party, but no-one could have imagined how it would turn out.

The images of Jacquie with her family and friends celebrating Tom’s win not only went viral, they were used by the BBC as one of the defining images of the games, at least on British TV, and they were even shown as part of the closing ceremony in Tokyo.

Jacquie took hosting virtual events to the next level and says: “Events are the bringing together of people for a common cause, and alongside all the technology, it is the human story that people want to see and experience.”

What made it so moving of course, was its authenticity – the images were captured on a smartphone camera, and it was more than enough to capture a natural reaction that struck a chord with millions.

And for the future…

Jacquie has been asked so many times about how she raised her son to be an Olympic champion and what were the elements that went into his success, that she hopes very soon to publish her own podcast to share with parents the nuggets of knowledge and experience. Such wisdom is especially relevant in these times of post-lockdown lethargy and will, no doubt, help parents motivate their children and to get them involved in sport.

“Swimming is such an enrichment to your upbringing, even if you don’t harbour thoughts of raising an Olympic athlete,” Jacquie shares.

So, you heard it here first. Jacquie will launch very soon her own podcast called ‘Raising Gold!’:  The story behind raising an Olympic double gold medalist and how she can help others raise their children to a Gold Standard.

The stars may well be aligning for Jacquie and Tom to be making a guest appearance at the International Confex industry show in Excel, London, which runs 1-2 September. So , those of you that are UK-based, we hope to see you there!

Main photo: Tom Dean and Mark Felstead. Inset, Tom and his mother Jacquie.


Episode 7: Merryn Scholz

In this episode our host Mark Felstead returns to the core values of BABs and talks to Merryn Scholz, general manager of K.I.T. Group in Berlin – one of Europe’s largest PCOs – about the role she recently played in organising the Freedom Dinner for 3,000 guests on the recently closed Berlin Tegel airfield, as well as talking a little about how congress business is now developing towards 2022 as confidence in events slowly starts to return.

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Listen in and learn how Merryn and her team, supported by Messe Berlin and their event suppliers, were asked to play a game of pure brinkmanship while organising the dinner.  They were up against very tight deadlines, but could not be sure until the last minute how many guests they were actually allowed to invite (something which, most listeners know, is pretty crucial to being able to organise an event properly).

Learn too as how Merryn and her team were faced with the five-week challenge of implementing an outdoor dinner concept on a recently closed airfield, devoid of any infrastructure and completely at the mercy of wind and weather. Add to that, the central theme of the event was laying out the tables over an 800-metre stretch of runway to spell out exactly the phrase ‘BERLIN LOVES YOU’ – despite not knowing until the final hour how many guests would fill the tables. On the upside there was plenty of room for social distancing!

Getting material and resources and staff all proved challenging, which illustrates that the industry’s revival is not just a matter of getting permission to open up again.

Did the event fly against all the odds? Did the weather gods shine down on Merryn and her team allowing for take off? Listen in and find out.

Tegel is certainly an emotional location for Berliners and there were plenty of people wishing to take part.

Merryn also gives her frank take on the future for congresses and RFPs as well as sharing some insights into organising large sporting events.

Episode 8: Stuart Barnes

In this episode Mark Felstead talks to Stuart Barnes, who has over 15 years event experience in Berlin and a great supporter of the city and all it has to offer for major events.

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Stuart originally from Perth, Australia, arrived in Berlin, via a stint in the Connaught Rooms in London, and explains how he is creating new business around the enabling that new technology has brought. “Technologies have become not just enabled,” he says, “but everyone can use them”.

Stuart brings his experience form working in one of Europe’s leading PR agencies to the events industry will a view to really working on ROI and increasing the shelf life of events. He is also a strong advocate of collaboration with other event agencies to help all add value to their clients.

“An event is not a one-off but part of a longer communication campaign,” says Stuart of the lessons he learnt from his PR agency days.

Stuart is now business director of Next Convention which operates around 1,500 events a year and focusses very much on bringing innovation into play.

Under discussion also is the role that meaningful data is starting to play today as the technology allows more accurate tracking and can add value to the event to increase its ROI.

Sustainability and the carbon footprint of our industry of course feature in this week’s chat, a topic that is nowadays no longer an option but a must have – and the cost benefit it brings. Stuart believes corporate taxation may be based in future on a company’s carbon footprint, so get prepared, is his advice.

Finally the talk turns to the ‘Common Good Economy’, so important to younger people entering the business today. And there is a positive spin on where the event industry is going moving forwards, as well as some personal tips of where to meet in Berlin.

Episode 9: Björn Kempe

In this episode Mark Felstead introduces Björn Kempe, a German events professional with several stories to tell and projects launching from the ashes of the pandemic’s wildfire effect:

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Björn, originally from Halle in eastern Germany, has over 20 years’ experience representing and brokering for major trade fair organisations in Asia – whether Singapore, Shanghai, Bangkok or Hong Kong – he has seen them all.

He is now living in Berlin and shares his memories and insights with Mark Felstead. His career included time working for CologneMesse in Asia and also a stint as MD of Comexposium and, although living in Berlin, is still very much in the tradefair business with a focus on Asia and the brokerage business.

Björn gives his take on how the pandemic passed through the events industry like wildfire but yet has led to the sprouting of new green shoots.

“The last 18 months have not been easy, but gave me a valuable break. Because I travel 500,000 mile a year and have 16-hour days, I never had enough time to think about business. It gave me a chance to think about what we are doing and where it is all going and what sort of fertiliser is needed to make more green shoots grow. It is a time to prepare for whatever comes after.” After diving into the hybrid events market and event tech world and exploring the potential of the digital platforms, Björn confesses he is still very much an advocate of the face to face approach and its superiority.

He talks of more consolidation to come in the exhibition industry post-Covid. He foresees four or five global players in five years’ time with lots of smaller players, but believes the entire mid-cap sector will disappear. Face to face will endure because of the random element. “You can never have this on a technical platform. Digital matchmaking elements will improve and become a standard component. Our industry is one of the oldest in the world, two people meet and if they like something, a handshake and they sign something off,” he says.

Björn explains his big book project, ‘The future of trade fairs, events and congresses’ is now complete. Twenty-six authors, 13 men and 13 men, all at C-Level within the industry, give their views on the future. And they are all different. “It is like science fiction and everyone adds to the story! It gives various perspectives on where our industry might be heading,” he says.’ Out of the box’, ‘New platforms, ‘Monetisation’ and ‘Digitalisation’ are the four chapter headings.

Björn somehow has found time to work on a financial product – a publicly listed fund. The idea is for it to invest in MICE companies around the world. “Such a fund never existed before and towards the end of the year there will be an internationally listed MICE index,” he notes.

Björn also shares some cultural insights based on his experience in Asia and also some golden nuggets of advice regarding cultural differences between East and West. “It is not always about being direct in business; sometimes be prepared to take a few detours to find a more pleasurable journey and often better results.”

At the moment Berlin is not Berlin. The tourists are missing and the clubs are closed. It will come; it is a start up hub with lots of young people. Many German travellers are returning and he beauty of Berlin is the diversity. You don’t feel like a typical German here!”

Check out Björn Kempe’s book project here