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“What Are We Going to Do if Nobody Comes?” – 20 Years of EXPO REAL

Andreas Schiller
Andreas Schiller
General Manager Schiller Publishing House

Looking Back

EXPO REAL with its about 2,000 exhibitors and more than 41,500 participants has become a real “blockbuster”. A look back at the eventful history of the trade fair by Andreas Schiller, one of the EXPO REAL organizers of the first hour.

When the first EXPO REAL was held in 1998, a lot was very different. The event was still held at the MOC conference center in the Freimann district of Munich and it only used one of the much smaller halls. This made it a very clearly structured event. I still remember what Eugen Egetenmeir, then deputy general manager and general manager of Messe München from 2010 to 2014, said in the morning of October 8, 1998, when we were standing at the entrance together: “What are we going to do if nobody comes?” With meanwhile over 41,000 participants this question no longer arises. But more and more visitors already flocked to the second EXPO REAL every morning.

Eugen Egetenmeir and former trade fair director Manfred Wutzlhofer had got EXPO REAL off the ground. Of the current members of the Council of Experts Lutz Aengevelt, Hartmut Bulwien, Peter Wasner, formerly KGAL and now Eiwobau München, Hans Schlamp from Accumulata Development, Kurt Kapp from the City of Munich, Klaus Laminet from Investa and the author of this text were already there at the time. I was still the editor-in-chief of the Immobilien Manager magazine back then. In our first meetings we had lively discussions about the concept of the new trade fair. I remember one topic: At the beginning the slogan for the promotion of EXPO REAL was “The Users’ Trade Fair”. This changed later, because from the very start users did attend, but not exclusively.

147 exhibitors at the first EXPO REAL

147 exhibitors and 2,528 visitors came to the first EXPO REAL from October 8 to 10, 1998. Back then Aengevelt, Corpus, KGAL, the City of Augsburg, Ellwanger & Geiger, Bayerische Hausbau, BayernLB, the Deutsche Bank Group with its real estate division, Hannover Leasing, Investa, IVG, the City of Cologne, Dr. Lübke Immobilien, the City and Airport of Munich were already among the exhibitors.
The international exhibitors included the cities of Lodz, Stettin and Bydgoszcz from Poland, the City of Graz from Austria as well as companies from Budapest, Pécs and Prague.

In 1999 the City of Moscow first joined us, at the time still under the name of “The Moscow Land Committee”, in search of Western investors and knowhow. The big issue at the time was the creation of a land register for the City of Moscow. In the first few years Messe München still invited to an exhibitors’ reception with a set dinner in the Residenz. Today the exhibitors outdo each other with all sorts of invitations.

From Moscow to North America

Until 2000 EXPO REAL stayed at the MOC and grew from the initial one hall to three. In the same year the current project manager Claudia Boymanns joined Messe München and replaced the first project manager Ralf Ludwig Schön. I had my first meeting with her in spring 2001 at the Café Roma, which has since closed, on Maximilianstrasse in Munich, followed by our first joint trip to Moscow that summer. After all the presentation of the Russian capital had to be advanced. As a sort of geopolitical counterweight, Brad Olsen from Atlantic Partners already organized the “American Afternoon” back then, which has become an established part of the conference program up to this day.

DotCom, FinTech, Proptech – Digitalization is not a New Topic

Initially there were just two forums in the conference program: The EXPO REAL Forum – by the way in a round arena with rising rows of seats – and the Exhibitors’ Forum. Today there are eight forums with more than 200 events and 500 speakers. The topics we have continually seen included “I get out and do my own show”, i.e. new companies started by former employees of established and big market players. Crowdfunding was on the agenda just as early on as sustainability, or “black swans” and the associated influences of external factors on properties and investments.

At the moment digitalization is a big issue. Originally EXPO REAL was about the associated changes in the retail industry. But there already were discussions on the emerging FinTechs under the motto “What do we still need banks for?” years ago. By the way, with high-ranking representatives of banks, all of whom are still on the market. The current focus is on the PropTechs.

Quite a few people feel that this is a déja vu of the dotcom bubble, which mainly decisively influenced events at the stock exchange around the turn of the millennium. This also had consequences for EXPO REAL, which, however turned out to be quite positive. For many investors relied on material assets again, and the real estate industry was thriving. With about 850 exhibitors the number of participating companies has grown by more than one third since 2000. At Neue Messe München three halls were originally provided for them, this space was later expanded to six halls.

There has always been an array of very different ‘attractions’ at the fairgrounds in Munich Riem. Russia would turn the big wheel in one year, then there would be a special exhibition area for China. Some of you might remember show stoppers of a special kind, like the Hypo Real Estate stand which was surrounded by pattering water and could only be reached over small bridges. Oh well, Hypo Real Estate has ceased to exist.

The Real Estate Sector Eventually Benefited from the Financial Crisis

The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 also left its traces at EXPO REAL. Some big market players, many of whom were quite full of themselves, disappeared or at least withdrew as exhibitors. But all in all – it may sound cynical, but it is not meant that way – the property industry in general, and thus EXPO REAL, benefited from the financial crisis. Because investors discovered the benefits of investments in material values over pure financial market products. More and more investment capital was available. This made everyone more euphoric again: from project developers and towns, cities and regions, who want to stand out in the competition for locations, to service providers, financiers, advisers and the specialized media. Without actually having experienced the crisis, EXPO REAL also gathered speed again quickly.

Internationalization and digitalization are two of the buzzwords often mentioned when you talk to market players about the changes in the industry over the last 20 years. The clear increase in professionalism is also often brought up. But if you look at the actual changes in the industry, you will find that it is mainly the property itself that has increasingly become a tradable item in the past 20 years. If the “buy and hold” attitude was still very common 20 years ago, the motto “buy and sell”, often also described as an active portfolio or asset management with “transactions”, rapidly became the name of the game. Never has the transaction cycle been as fast as it is today.

Manfred Wutzlhofer, then head of Messe München, opens the EXPO REAL.

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