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2014 trip to the Frankfurt Musikmesse

Elizabeth Ward

Thanks to Facebook I have found the account I wrote at the time.  Here it is.  There are references to collecting a cat - he's the one on my picture.

We've wanted to go to this event (it is a large trade fair) for several years but until this year have never been able to afford it. And this year we were really too decrepit to go. However, we went.

We simply could not face the thought of sardine class in an aeroplane, even just to Germany, so the plan always was to go by ferry and then drive, but in the end the opportunity arose to bring a cat back so that all fitted in well. I like the ferry (apart from the beds which really are not very comfortable, too narrow and with a metal edge, and you tend to feel you are falling out). David hated it and managed to fall over on the way to breakfast, so ended up being taken in a wheelchair. I still had to "walk" (to put it bluntly, I wouldn't have fitted in the chair).

So, off the ferry, through Holland, we had lots of time so decided to detour to look at Arnhem but couldn't actually find anywhere of interest to stop, not where I could walk from anyway, so all we managed to see of interest was the river over which " a bridge too far" once stood (presumably in roughly the same place as the present day bridge?). And so on to Germany, where the hotel was easy to find. David went straight to bed even though it was only 4.30pm. I went to Aldi which was next door but one to the hotel.

I studied German O level, rather a long time ago, but because I did it from scratch in two years, I never retained much of it compared to French, so I had tried to revise a bit before the trip and I was very glad I did. Last time I was in Germany (which was only briefly) I found myself unable even to understand German because of the length of time my brain took to process the sounds I was hearing. This time I found myself able to understand most of what was being said to me. I was to be very glad of this the next day at the Musikmesse.

I am not a complete idiot (contrary to popular belief) and had contacted the messe in Frankfurt before we ever booked to go. I had what appeared to be foolproof instructions from one of their own staff, with an assurance that a mobility scooter was booked for me. The messe is like the NEC in Birmingham - but probably a lot bigger - 11 vast halls, each the size of a large supermarket such as Tesco Extra, and each two or three stories high. You get round from one hall to other other in a shuttle bus. I thought I probably would not manage that, hence my request for special disability passes so that I could park as close as possible to the halls.

I would have done far better to have taken the shuttle bus. Hindsight is everything.

There are ten gates and four entrances, each entrance has two or three gates. Started off by going in the East entrance only to be waved away by the car park attendant, got to the next gate, and was told that I was in the wrong place, but to be fair they did give me a map showing how to get to the North entrance - and directions in German, verbally, which I did understand. The map, however, failed to take any notice of the little detail that half of Frankfurt seems to be a building site right now, including the roads (goodness knows what they are doing) so we had a few wrong turns. Didn't feel quite so bad about it when I saw a coach carrying visitors to the Messe that got lost exactly where we were lost.

Finally arrived at the north entrance, was eventually directed to gate nine where I had been told to go, and then they directed me to park in front of hall ten. Yes, in German (I rather got the impression that in Germany, as in England, there are certain jobs that are done almost entirely by immigrants, and this is one of them, they spoke almost no English).

Went into hall ten which was completely empty. There was a phone for help so I called the number given (this time the man on the other end spoke fluent English) and was told I was in the wrong place and had to go to a building between halls 8 and 9 called the Galleria. So back to the car, and off we went to the galleria. Found that OK, was allowed to park right outside, and the information desk was just inside, so things began to look up. The man on the phone had told me that indeed a scooter was reserved for me at the first aid station in hall 8.

I guess it was at about this time that the first aid station phoned my home - home calls were being diverted to a friend - and asked where I was.

The man on the information desk in hall 8 did not speak much English at all, however I managed to convey my needs in German and he gave me a map showing the layout of the hall including what was allegedly the location of the first aid station - row K. The rows are labelled from front to back, A to M. This seemed strange but it was very clear on the map that the first aid station was in row K, and toward the right hand side of the hall. Should have been easy enough. After wandering around hopelessly lost for a while we found an English exhibitor who checked his floor plan and confirmed the location, but the first aid stand was not there, or anywhere near there, or anywhere in the hall as far as we could see. It was rather difficult to see much because this was the professional sound hall and there was a huge amount of interest and a lot of large stands and a lot of people (and a lot of noise too). After hobbling around for about an hour I was seriously frustrated. We had come all the way from England specially for this event and already we had missed one appointment we had made and were on the point of missing the next, nearly three hours of the exhibition had passed by now.

Finally we went back to the information desk and I threw a hissy fit in German which was not at all put on. It worked. Within minutes, the first aid crew had their own ambulance outside ready to collect us!

We were loaded into the ambulance and driven round to the back of the hall, at which point it became clear why we had been unable to find the first aid station. Despite the map clearly showing the first aid station as being in the hall, it was in fact out the back, through a door you couldn't even see because stands were in front of it, then across a corridor and through another door. It was like being told that the milk at Tesco extra was on the back aisle when in fact it was in the staff room.

Anyway, at this point I was indeed issued with a splendid new road legal top of the range scooter, able to use the "facilities" (German disabled loos are very good indeed) and so off we went. Except that it still wasn't all that straightforward. It was a very long way to Hall 3 (most people seem totally unable to understand that for someone who can't walk, distances are not measured in miles or even yards but in steps, very small steps, and most people have no understanding of how short a distance can be a problem). David refused to get the shuttle bus that goes between halls, fearing that we would lose each other. The distance was too far for him to walk and he really was struggling but his sight is too bad for him to use a scooter.

And so eventually, at about half past one (bear in mind that we had come all the way from England for this event) we were in the correct hall.

And so for the part we had come for, looking round the stringed instrument manufacturers. There were two problems I had not anticipated. First, somehow because of the way we came in, we had not collected our identity badges (in fact I have absolutely no idea where we should have got them from) and since this was a day for trade only, and price lists are trade secrets, some exhibitors were rather suspicious of us and needed to be convinced before they would even talk to us. Others (perhaps not unreasonably) seemed to take one look at us and decided we were small fry not worth taking any trouble over.

It has to be said that most of the exhibitors we looked at seemed to have very little idea as far as selling was concerned, one had bows which were so bad that they would never be saleable by us (surely you bring your best stuff to a trade fair, not your worst?) and explained it by saying that they were looking for a new bow maker (so, leave your bows at home then!), and few made any effort to engage us in conversation (the Chinese were notable exceptions). We did find some very nice violin cases - that is, we thought they were very nice until we were told that they retail at £1100!

The second thing that I found very surprising, bearing in mind that this was a huge international trade fair, was that some of those on the stands had very little English. This was also true of the car park staff and even some of those on the information desks. I did try to revise my German (O level, 1979) before going and soon found myself wishing I had made more effort, because I found myself having to converse in German a lot more than I had expected to. Still, last time I was in Germany I was unable to converse in German at all and this time I was able to get the gist of most things that were said to me, understand the news on the TV, and make myself understood in simple conversation. I am sure I won't be going to the trade fair again in a hurry (certainly not with David) but if / when I go to Germany again I will put in a lot more effort to revise / improve my German before I go. My young friends who are studying languages, take note, you really might need that language one day!

One more thing - and this was most annoying - the map of the messe shows all the disabled toilets and includes one where you can only get access by a special European disabled toilet key which you can buy from one point in the whole messe. The way the English map reads, is that all other disabled toilets can be accessed without the key. Not so. In fact you need the key for ALL of them. This is an extreme example of the sort of nonsense we have in the UK with motorway service area keys (if you don't have a key, please walk all the way back to the entrance where the shops are and queue up to ask our staff for a key). What part of "people who have mobility problems can't walk very far" is difficult to understand? Admittedly this is still not quite the worst I have seen, that honour goes equally to two places, one a sports centre where the disabled toilet is upstairs with no lift in sight, the other a church where the disabled toilet is upstairs and there is no lift at all. Fortunately I can still (just about) manage to use a normal toilet.

David fell over in the exhibition hall. He had fallen over on the ferry and found that about 20 people just walked straight past (!). In this hall, help was immediately on hand and someone found him a chair to sit on for a while, while I carried on looking around. By the time it got to 5pm and our last booked appointment, David was completely exhausted and I was ready to go too, so we went down to the information desk and asked them to call the ambulance (this is an ambulance based on site) because David was completely beyond the point of walking back. So the ambulance collected us and one of the ambulance crew took the mobility scooter back. We were then at the back of hall 8, having our deposit returned, but the car was at the front of hall 8, so having got out of the ambulance we had to get back in it (quite an effort - no tail lift). And so, finally, we headed back to the hotel. It took 90 minutes to get back because we kept getting lost despite the satnav.

We had intended to go out to eat but we were just too tired, so it was the remains of our packed lunch that we ate. The banana sandwiches were in rather a mess, having been carried around in a carrier bag all day.

The next day we were to meet the breeder who was bringing Shadow from the Czech Republic. She arrived in very good time (early, in fact) and then, after stocking up at Aldi (wine is so much cheaper in Germany!) we headed back for the ferry.

It has to be said that the driving on German autobahns is astonishing. Much of the autobahn network has no speed limits. Audi and BMW drivers expect to get where they are going rather quickly, and woe betide you if you are in the way. Indicating is so uncommon that when I got home, I checked to see if perhaps indicators are not required on autobahns. They are. Undertaking is forbidden as here - not that you would know it.

On one occasion I was driving at about 85 in the middle lane when a car overtook me and was out of sight so fast that I am sure it must have been doing at least 100. Not so strange, perhaps, except that another car was tailgating this one because, presumably, it was not going fast enough. On another occasion one car was weaving in and out of the three lanes, overtaking and undertaking as the driver thought fit. Then there was the driver who seemed to be mortally offended at my daring to overtake a truck on a two lane section of motorway in Holland, where there is a speed limit, and drove up close behind me flashing his lights and gesticulating with his arms.

And so back to the ferry, and home.  Never again!!

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