Robot Pepepr on the CeBit Preview stage
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Hannover reboots CeBit with more sun, more fun and more beards

Image credit: Deutsche Messe

Will a radical new concept for the German computing and electronics show be enough to help it regain its former glory?

There was once nothing quite like CeBit in Europe and nothing at all like it in the UK. The giant consumer electronics and computing show wasn’t just a big event for the industry, or for Hannover; it was a national event. It filled just about every hall of the enormous Hannover Messe exhibition ground. The public, as well as industry, flocked there every year and its opening usually made the national television news.

However, with the developmemt of e-commerce and other competitor shows such as IFA in Berlin, the shine began to wear off CeBit. Each year it filled fewer halls and it became more specialised - more targeted towards a professional IT audience. The German Chancellor would still do her walkaround and industry still came, but CeBit had became that bit less, well, glamorous.

Now the organsiers have relaunched the show with a radical new direction. Only two things remain the same: the location in Hannover and the name – although even that is now all capitalised in the marketing. “The E is capitalised now and stands for Entschlossenheit, which means determination in English,” explained Oliver Frese, member of the managing board of Deutsche Messe. [NB: we don’t capitalise the name, as that is E&T house style for acronyms that are pronounced as words]

Hannover wants to attract a wider audience beyond the IT professionals and to do that Deutsche Messe has rethought the whole look and feel of CeBit.

The first is the date, moving from March to the week of June 11-15th. Visitors should now see the show in the summer sun. “The Messe fairgrounds are really pleasant to spend some time in,” said Stefan Schostok, Mayor and CEO of the City of Hannover. “They should really be one of the tourist attractions of Hannover.”

The Hannover Messe grounds

The UK has no exhibition grounds on the scale of the Hannover Messe but they were originally the idea of the British military government in 1947

Image credit: Hannover Messe

The next change is more fun. Organisers want a more party-like festive feeling running alongside the business and networking. Frese referred to “the festival spirit – because business and fun are not mutually exclusive”. In this spirit, there will be gigs and DJs, nightlife and community events in the city, as well as at the show. Alongside the business areas showcasing startups, technology and conference programming, there will be a special area known as d!campus for relaxing and partying into the evenings.

During the day, DJs will perform on two stages at the d!campus, providing background music for networking in the lounge areas and the street food mile. Then, in the evenings, the site will turn into an open-air festival. The German band Giant Rooks will perform on the Tuesday, followed by the headline act from the first day, Swedish alt rock band Mando Diao. On Wednesday evening, the Israeli Noga Erez will perform. She will be followed by Jan Delay, a pioneer of German hip-hop. The headline act on Thursday will be the electronic house music duo Digitalism, well-known to international festivalgoers.

Throughout the week, there will be a d!lounge area at a central inner-city location – the Kröpcke Square, which will serve as a kind of ‘CeBit outpost’. A purpose-built street cafe has been built on location where the happenings on the d!talk stages will be screened. In the afternoons there will be ‘digital chat and coffee’ meet-ups, where guest speakers talk about everyday aspects of digital technology. On the evening of CeBit Friday - from 6pm until midnight – a big, open-air closing party will take place on the Kröpcke Square site. Emma Lanford, Munique and Tom Gregory are playing live, DJ Ferry Ultra will play his sets and partygoers can also look forward to a surprise guest.

Will it all work? Hannover has clearly taken some inspiration from other city festival events like South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, which achieves a cooler vibe and attracts a younger crowd than CeBit has managed before. That event, said Frese, is a “big party in the city” and that’s essential. “If you want to organise the leading event for digitalisation and innovation then you have to involve the city,” he explained.

The new CeBit’s programming of music and nightlife is a fraction the size of SXSW, but it has to start somewhere and if it works there’s no reason it won’t grow with more European talent. They may be overdoing the causal approach here and there. The ‘F***Up Nights’ are where entrepreneurs talk about their fails with startups, only the new radical CeBit does not star out the title, as we’ve done here.

Hannover is keen to emphasise that CeBit will still be a place for business, covering all the technology buzzwords: artificial intelligence, blockchain, security, IoT and 5G, human robotics, VR/AR, drones, collaboration and workspace 4.0 and future mobility. “The move to structure the show around today’s digital mega-trends is really paying off, with all the major players in digital transformation on board,” said Frese.

CeBit preview presentes

Oliver Frese, Member of the Managing Board Deutsche Messe, Hannover, Germany, Stefan Schostok, Mayor and CEO of the City of Hannover and Achim Berg, President Bitkom, German Association for IT, Telecommunications and New Media

Image credit: Hannover Messe / CeBit

It looks like some big names that have been missing in recent years are now starting to return. Huawei, IBM, Salesforce, SAP and Volkswagen will all be there. LG is back. Vodafone is making its biggest investment since 2005. Facebook will be there. Other major-league participants are Intel, Deutsche Telekom, Oracle, Lancom, Materna, the Fraunhofer Institute, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Bank, BASF, Bundesbank, Continental, Lufthansa Industries, German Intelligence Service, Redbull, Melitta and over 350 start-ups.

“Somewhere between 2,500 and 2,800 companies from around 70 countries are taking part and everyone is enthused about the new approach designed to put a festive spin on business activities,” said Frese. “Our bold move to a totally new concept is already bearing fruit.”

The marketing has taken on a new look, too, clearly designed to appeal to a wider demographic than IT professionals. The slogan ‘CE you in a BIT’ is already appearing on buses in Hannover, alongside models who are presumably meant to look like cool, young, city startup types - sort of high-tech hipsters. Do men have to wear beards to the new CeBit? “No,” confirmed Hartwig von Sass, CeBit press team leader, “but it helps”. 

Hartwig von Sass on the CeBit preview stage

CeBit Press Team Leader Hartwig von Sass

Image credit: Deutsche Messe

E&T Readers can get tickets to CeBit half price. Just go to the CEBIT ticket shop and enter the following code on the bottom of the page under ‘Enter promotion code’: MpwA7YTDuU

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