A doctor vaccinates a patient

Open doors for humanitarian aid

8 min

Trade fair halls are more than exhibition venues

A conversation with Michael Wiedekamp, Head of Guest Events Department at HMC, and Alexander Walter, General Manager at Käfer Service Hamburg GmbH.

After eight months of operation and administering more than a million vaccinations, the vaccination centre in the exhibition halls closed its doors at the end of August 2021. How would you summarise this experience, Mr Wiedekamp?

Wiedekamp: The vaccination centre was the longest guest event we ever had, and it was an absolute highlight. It was a great responsibility which gave us a strong sense of satisfaction, and we are proud to have helped more than 600,000 citizens of Hamburg get their COVID protection. The exceptional atmosphere and the trust that grew here have contributed significantly to the successful vaccination campaign in Hamburg. What is more, our cooperation with the city authorities and the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians worked really well.

Portrait of Michael Wiedekamp and Alexander Walter
Alexander Walter (left) and Michael Wiedekamp
Portrait of Alexander Walter
Hooded sweatshirt with the slogan „Hamburg impft“

In March 2022 the exhibition halls served as a centre for humanitarian aid for a second time...

Wiedekamp: That’s right; on 7 March 2022 the first buses with refugees from Ukraine arrived. We had received just four days’ notice and worked day and night to be able to accommodate 11,000 people in total. This was a major logistical accomplishment, thanks to all those who helped.

Walter: What made this possible was mainly the exceptional cooperation between all the trades involved. You cannot pull off such a project unless you can rely on a well-established and functioning logistics infrastructure and a great network and know you can depend on each other. Plus, everyone throughout the team showed exceptional commitment to make this happen. Every single person rolled up their sleeves, no matter at what time of day or night.

You yourself were quite busy too...

Walter: True. Käfer Hamburg was in charge of catering, and we provided food and beverages for the people in the halls at all times. That was quite a stretch for us, but in the face of this exceptional situation we all felt empowered to give more. I myself helped at the food counter, among other places. That was an intense and inspiring experience. We saw traumatised people who still acted politely and peacefully despite the stressful situation. What impressed me especially was that many showed their appreciation by helping with great dedication, for example with cleaning up... What is more, some people made personal contact which eventually led to specific support. I was able to help a lady with her defective phone. She was extremely happy about that, and that made me happy!

Wiedekamp: All in all, being able to draw on our experiences from 2015 was very valuable. That was the last time we had set up a refugee centre and a large charity clothing store inside the exhibition halls. So we knew what the challenge was going to be. I believe that the exhibition halls definitely demonstrated their suitability as a centre for humanitarian aid.

Did any other guest events take place in 2021 despite the pandemic?

Wiedekamp: Indeed they did. They included Nordstil, the ITS World Congress, the design fair blickfang, along with eat&style, WeinHamburg and the Affordable Art Fair. In addition, three district governments used our facility to count their ballots after the federal elections. Organising and implementing these events required a lot of flexibility on our part. The greatest challenge was that we had no robust planning basis and had to readjust every four weeks, or so it felt. We really had to think out of the box. Nevertheless, every single guest event was a full success, and both the guests and the exhibitors were very pleased.

Walter: This time has moulded us into an even stronger team and shown once again that we are able to operate safely even in an emergency situation.

Michael Wiedekamp in conversation
Sign indicating the direction to the Corona vaccination center in front of the exhibition

The final day of the vaccination centre