Cologne is proud of its history as a major European trade centre, one which dates back more than 2000 years. Its favourable location at the heart of the continent, which has attracted international traders for the past two millennia, has been enhanced by 21st-century road and rail links as well as access to three major airports.
Today, Kaufhof and Rewe, two leading international trade groups, are based in Cologne, while the German headquarters and distribution centres of large international companies such as beverage company Pernod Ricard and retailer Toys ‘R’ Us are also based in the city. And according to statistics from Cologne officials, the Schildergasse, located in the heart of the city, is the most heavily frequented shopping street in Europe. This and the neighbouring HoheStrasse are often used by retailers as a test market for their German operations.
Cologne also boasts the fifth largest exhibition centre in the world, Koelnmesse, which covers 284,000 square metres of indoor space comprising 11 connected exhibition halls as well as about 100,000 square metres of outdoor space. The grounds can accommodate conferences with up to 19,500 delegates.
Global trade fairs hosted in Cologne cover sectors as diverse as food and food technology, interior design, digital media and entertainment, education, art, homes, garden and leisure, tools, machinery and technology, health, energy and the environment.
“Events were staged at Koelnmesse on approximately 180 days during 2013,” says Gerald Böse, CEO of Koelnmesse. “This demonstrates Koelnmesse's significance for Cologne as a business location. The money spent by the trade fair participants in the city, whether it is at hotels, restaurants or shops, is extremely important for Cologne's economy. They account for an annual turnover of about €1bn in this city.”
Major events such as Gamescom (for computer and interactive games), Anuga (food and beverages), Dmexco (digital marketing) and Photokina (photography and imaging) are helping put Cologne on the map. “Through the events staged by Koelnmesse, international companies are becoming aware of Cologne as a business location and beginning to use it as a base to expand their operations into the German and European markets,” says Mr Böse.
Martin Lorber, a PR director of computer gaming company Electronic Arts Germany, agrees: “More than 300,000 people come to the city each year for the Gamescom fair. It’s the biggest fair for interactive media, and is definitely a bonus for companies such as ours. It’s good for networking and for raising the profile of the city as a centre of new media, which helps when attracting staff.”
Unlike many trade fair locations, Koelnmesse is centrally located, giving visitors a chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of Cologne while also attending meetings and business functions. But this central location can be a double-edged sword, as it can create a logistical headache that out-of-town locations do not have to worry about.
“A good infrastructure is an important prerequisite for the success of our trade fairs,” says Mr Böse. “That’s why we are in constant contact with the City of Cologne and other Cologne institutions so that we can coordinate the traffic situation with them during trade fairs and also co-operate with them over the long term on planned infrastructure projects.
"In addition, in the years ahead, we will carry out a number of infrastructure projects on our side of the Rhine, which will greatly enhance the immediate surroundings of the trade fair complex. One of these projects is MesseCity [Trade Fair City], which will involve the construction of offices, a hotel, shops and restaurants on a vacant area near the Messe/Deutz train station.”