Every year in March, the global travel industry goes to Berlin, Germany for the ITB, a five-day mega travel show.
Tour operators, hotels & resorts and visitors bureaus from cities and countries and regions all around the world set up show booths (some which are absolutely spectacular) at the Messe Center – a gigantic complex of several large hanger-type buildings on the edge of Berlin that houses some 100,000 exhibitors who attend the ITB.
Since I’ve been organizing adventure trips for the past six or seven years now around the world with my travel brand Active World Journeys, I decided it would be a good idea to attend this year in order to meet some potential tour operators I could partner with for some of the places that my travel clients want to go to over the next few years. I registered to be part of the what they call “The Buyer’s Circle,” and I was able to pre-schedule several meetings for the first three days of the conference, which wasn’t open to the general public, only for buyers and sellers to network and build relations.
So, for those three days I was attending, I would meet on the hour each hour with a potential tour operator partner to go over some hand-crafted itinerary ideas for my groups and it would literally take me sometimes 20-30 minutes to get from one pavilion to another pavilion for my next meeting, it was such a gigantic expo. It was a rush that I enjoyed, and I had a lot of fun zipping around the mazes of pavilions in each complex. During lunch there was a separate private small building for Buyer’s Circle members like me where we could relax, charge up our phones and consume some of the free drinks and food, which were offered exclusively for us. Sometimes too, as I was walking from one meeting over to another, I’d stop off randomly in a country’s pavilion… such as Romania, and they would have a chef cooking up a bunch of Romanian food to give out for free sampling. So, I never knew what ethnic type of foods I’d be sampling throughout each day. It was incredible! Some areas even had wine and beer from their region they were giving out as well (yes, I had to research that too you know!). I was really beginning to like learning about other cultures through tastings!
Each evening, one of the countries or regions might sponsor a mixer at a local restaurant/bar or club in Berlin. I went to the China Night, and it was full open bar and lots of delicious free tasty freshly prepared foods. It was held at this swanky nightclub near the Berlin Zoo. I had a great time! Thank you, China!
One evening I broke away from the travel events though to take a tour inside the Berlin Bundestag (Reichstag) building. You have to arrange this in advance online at https://www.bundestag.de/en/visittheBundestag. It was very fascinating, some of the original walls were left exposed where Russian soldiers were writing their names and the date when they were there after Berlin fell to them in World War Two. Since the Reichstag was badly damaged from allied bombings, the dome has been rebuilt out of glass and symbolizes the reunification of Germany. You can meander all the way round and round up through it with a free audio guide they provide. There’s also a nice restaurant at the top of the dome area with great views of Berlin that serves fine food. Reservations required. That evening as I was walking from the Reichstag and over to the Brandenburg Gate (which is near it) during twilight when the lights were coming on the structures, I was just in awe of these symbols of Berlin that have endured so much in history.
On one of the days of the expo, I had a longer than usual lunch break and noticed from my Berlin metro map that the Olympic Stadium was only two short stops from the Messe Center. This was the stadium built for the “Nazi Olympics” in 1936 where USA’s Jesse Owens won so many gold medals (much to the chagrin of Hitler!). For about 8 Euros you can take a tour of the stadium. Today it is used for soccer matches and concerts. The original Olympic flame holder is still there. Interestingly, the 1936 Olympics were the first to have the Olympic flame travel all the way from Greece to the hosting city, a tradition that still holds today.
As a fitness trainer and health coach. I always try to practice what I preach, so one morning before the travel show started, I went over to jog at Tempelhof Airport, made famous by the Berlin Airlift in 1949. The airport was built in the 1920s and then reconstructed in the 1930s by the Nazis. It had stayed functional for many decades and finally closed about 15 years ago. But instead of tearing it down, they decided to re-purpose it into a city park. So now you can jog or ride your bike on the runways, and/or in the summer have cookouts there and just simply have fun. The main terminal buildings are still there but they are closed; however, there are private tours available of the inside. Check info for that here https://www.thf-berlin.de/fuehrungen/english-guided-tours/ I thought to myself as I was jogging on the runway how fitting that this old Nazi airport is now a symbol of humanity and healthy community.
On my last late afternoon in Berlin I decided to stop off at the East Side Gallery. It’s an original section of the Berlin Wall that features murals and graffiti in an open-air gallery style setting. Many Berliners might agree that walls and division throughout history were never a long-term solution for those who were in power- and it has been the people – through trust and understanding, who always seem to prevail in the end.
All in all, I really enjoyed attending ITB Berlin and got a lot out of it. With so much conflict in the world between governments, it was nice to meet and make friends with so many international people (some from countries who are supposed to be my adversary as an American), who were all there in goodwill for cultural promotion and business development. I do believe that travel helps to encourage peace. Besides bringing revenue and jobs into a local area/economy, travel builds cross cultural relations and better understandings of each other. The outcome is we humanize each other more and demonize each other less. The more that countries in our world are connected through travel and economics, the less likely those countries will be aggressive about conflict and waging war or demonizing other races and religions in far-off lands. The travel industry indeed helps to build bridges of understanding and knock down walls of fear.
If you’d like information on going on my up-coming Active Russia Tour, South Africa Adventure and Safari, Guatemala Trekking and Glamping through Mayan Ruins and/or The Best of Vietnam and Cambodia Culture Tour, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
Fitness and Health Coach
310.562.5629 Cell / 818.760.3891 Main