Want to know what IWA is really like? We received this anonymous report from an IWA first-timer last year, giving us an alternative view…
Come to Nuremberg, they said. See the trade, they said. And I did – mostly the trade that does its business in the UK and I’ve met and spoken to in the UK many times.
So why we had to go to Nuremberg to talk business was, initially, beyond me. I’d lost count of the number of trade bigwigs I’d spoken to who’d dismissed my enquiries with: “Come and meet me at IWA and we’ll talk about it then.”
My instinctive response was, “Can’t I come and see you at your premises, or me at mine, or somewhere in between, all of which incur significantly smaller travelling costs than Germany?” But after several similar occasions, this response no longer got any further than a thought, and I decided to check IWA out for myself.
Yes, to Nuremberg it was with me. It was the only option, and that brought with it no small amount of pressure. What if all these people who were too busy to see me in the UK were still to busy in Nuremberg?
If anything, surely they’d be more busy there. What if an earthquake stuck the NürnbergMesse and the entire European gun trade was lost in an instant? What if, slightly more plausibly, I got lost? I’d heard a lot about the show, and its scale was the first thing anyone said. So I was steeled for a show many times the size of anything in the UK.
What I wasn’t prepared for, when I got there, was the individual stands being far bigger as well. A game fair regular, I was more used to seeing stands that were little more than dank corners delineated with a few hastily assembled boards, populated by goblin-like salespeople flogging bags and socks to even more goblin-like customers. Far from it at IWA: the average stand was a towering and brightly lit edifice in comparison, buzzing with professional and welcoming activity.
Leica had built its own high seat into its stand, which proved most useful as a place to survey the surroundings and get my bearings on the many times I got lost. Browning’s stand was the size of a small town, and had the layout of one, too. But the town in question was certainly no Milton Keynes (that’s probably the first and last time you will hear that sentence). I staged an impromptu re-enactment of the film Don’t Look Now trying to track down David Stapley – many a time thinking I’d spotted him round a corner, but rounding it only in time to see the flutter of a Browning logo-encrusted shirt disappearing into another part of the labyrinth. Luckily, unlike Don’t Look Now I didn’t end up killed by an evil, deformed woman (er, there’s no need to watch that one now).
Details aside, the setting was heavenly. And this was the place to do business, or so I understood. But when I got there, no one was talking about business right there and then. They were all talking about the pub they would go to in the evening. Typical gun trade, I thought – they spend all year talking about their plans for IWA, then they spend IWA looking forward to it being all over. But again, I was wrong – Finnegan’s, I was told, plays host to virtually the whole gun trade in the evening, and it’s significantly smaller than some of the trade stands at IWA so you’ve even got a better chance of finding and pinning down your mark.
Finnegan’s didn’t sound like the name of an authentic German Bierkeller to me, but I didn’t have much to lose at this point, so along I went. As it turned out, business was harder to conduct there than expected, to say the least. Descending into what might be described as a Guinness logo-encrusted cellar, I found myself unable to get to the bar for the crush of people.
It was harder still to talk to anyone more than a foot away, owing to the deafening sound of the music and the general throng. Okay, I’m being harsh and Finnegan’s is a nice place really – I’d just conned myself into imagining a rock star’s green room where business reps discuss deals in air-conditioned surroundings over a dry martini.
Acting on yet more advice (I’m starting not to trust my sources for all this advice), I decamped to yet another Irish bar. At least I can say I now know where the Irish diaspora has got to. In any case, this one was more spacious, and accompanied by a few members of the trade I helped myself to a number of Guinnesses. The exact number it was will remain unspecified, but after a while the room was spinning, so I made my farewells and trooped back to the hotel room.
Nuremberg is a picturesque city, but at night the main sight I stumbled across was of women of the night offering their wares in various side streets. I didn’t even get the bonus of spotting a member of the trade trying to solicit their business – maybe next year.
So it continued for another two days, until I eventually crawled back onto the plane home. It was tiring, I didn’t achieve all I’d set out to, and my experience of the beautiful city of Nuremberg was confined to the inside of an exhibition hall or pub – but I’ll still be back next year, armed with a year’s experience and ready to make all the same mistakes again.