Berlin + Dusseldorf

Berlin is on a record run with 8.3 million visitors in 2009—its best year ever—with further increases so far in 2010. You don’t hear that very often about 2009. So we flew in for a dose of the arts, music, glamour and grit to see why the famously edgy capital hosts over 1,500 events a day.

The answer is immediate. Berlin celebrates modernity in all its manifestations, and in the meetings industry, modern equals green.

Germany is the world’s top producer of solar power and a European frontrunner in wind, biofuels and renewable energy. Laws subsidize solar energy production and thousands of Germans sell surpluses back to the grid. Many businesses are betting on a third industrial revolution fueled by green tech and clean energy, and Germany has been Europe’s top meeting destination for the last six years.

Nowhere is the topic hotter than in Berlin, where 32% of the landmass is public park and one is never too far from actual green. To spread the word, the Berlin Convention Office has created a planner-friendly Green Meetings Berlin site with a robust database of eco-active providers.

Meet Besondere Orte/Great Locations. The DMC is run by Tim Rössle, who converted a WWII-damaged church near Alexanderplatz into the Umweltforum Auferstehungskirche (Environmental Forum in the Church of Resurrection)—a modern, beautiful, and über-sustainable meeting space.

“Being eco was good marketing and it met our convictions as well,” says Rössle, a political scientist who always bikes to work. So the old rubble was recycled and new loam walls were built to better regulate temperature. Radiant heating was installed and solar panels were placed on the roof beside a vast rooftop garden. And a “solar facade” of cellulose comb behind glass plate transforms sunlight into heat to warm this ultra-green, majestic space—one ceiling soars to 55 feet. Two years later, the site generates almost half of its own power.

Clients like Greenpeace have flocked to the 4,800-sf Great Hall, with its awe-inspiring ceiling and world-class pipe organ. Including the foyer and 12 bright conference rooms, Rössle offers planners almost 13,000 sf, including tranquil outdoor gardens.

On the sunny morning of our visit, the “church” was host to a 280-person meeting of pan-German recycling agencies in the Great Hall. But pharma and tech companies meet here too, and the site was recently used for a party thrown by Heike Mahmoud, director of conventions at the Berlin Convention Office.

“I chose it because green is innovative and a church as a venue is so unusual,” says Mahmoud. “Our clients, mostly planners, loved the service and really got a sense of the range of possibilities we can offer in Berlin. This reflects the openness of the city and the endless opportunities.”

As a followup, Rössle converted a 19th century brewery into the 150-pax Conference Center New Malthouse, with two event spaces in the domed halls originally used to dry malt. Then he opened the 320-pax Jerusalem Church, a modernist revision of a 15th century historic building, with seven meeting spaces in the heart of Berlin between Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum.