Quite a Messe!
Next March, a group of friends and I will travel to Frankfurt, Germany to attend the big ISH fair at the Messe Frankfurt. This show, in case you haven't heard, is flashier than Times Square, and heaven on earth for anyone in this business. This will be my eleventh consecutive trip to this show of shows, and I know I won't be bored because there will be more than 200,000 people there, pushing and shoving in that delightful European and Asian way of theirs. I'll work my way through some of the 1,300 booths and drool like a silly idiot over things that we'll probably never have here in America. I'll drink free beer, eat free sausages and pretzels, and stare at random naked people in a number of the booths. In Europe, sex continues to sell.
Messe Frankfurt is the third-largest expo center in the world. It has a total area of 6,221,540 square feet. (Let me hear you say, Yikes!) Its nine halls have a total of 3,463,331 square feet of indoor exhibition space, and there are an additional 1,034,175 square feet of outdoor space where manufacturers can show their stuff. (Let me hear you say sore feet.)
In years past, I always got a kick out of the way the Europeans smoked at ISH. They don't allow this anymore, but back in the day, you could barely see from one end of a hall to the other. It was just this blue, tobacco haze. The manufacturers would talk to me while blowing smoke in my face, and their chosen topic was often indoor air quality. They are delightful people, these Smokin' Euros.
On my first visit to the show in March 1991, I was asking a German engineer a question about his equipment when he stopped me with a question of his own"
"You are from New York, ya?"
"Ya," I said.
"I thought so. I recognize ze accent."
"Oh, and have you been to our fair city?" I asked.
"Ya, I have," he said. "Und, you people are pigs!"
"Pardon?" I said.
"You people heat your buildings mit steam!" he snarled.
"True dat," I said. "However, we have very old buildings in my city."
"You peoples don't know vat olt is!" he slobbered. "You should get rid of the steam. It is Nineteenth-Century technology. Pigs!"
"But you can't just get rid of it," I said.
"You can if you have ze vill," he said. "We got rid of ours!"
"Well, actually, we got rid of yours," I reminded him. "Your daddy may have mentioned that at some point during your upbringing. Remember?"
Ah, how I love making new friends in foreign lands.
As I wandered through the Messe Frankfurt that year, I was delighted to see the steam radiators in the stairwells. They (or we) apparently hadn't gotten rid of all the steam heat. Nope, here were these steel-panel radiators with thermostatic radiator valves and honest-to-goodness steam traps. I took pictures of them, and then followed up on each of my subsequent visits to ISH to see if they were still there. They always were.
Steam was living on in the stairwells of the Messe Frankfurt even as the exhibitors condemned such antiquated technology. The radiators were pounding out more heat than a menopause convention and all of it was coming up from beneath the city streets. Frankfurt has an active district-heating system, not as large as the one in New York, but similar. Most of the big buildings convert the steam to hot water, using plate-and-frame heat exchanger, but not the Messe Frankfurt. So there.
I had that in mind when I came across an article about the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is also at the Messe Frankfurt. The Book Fair draws more people than ISH, which proves that reading is more popular than plumbing and heating throughout the world. The article told me that they've made some green changes to the Messe Frankfurt this year, and all of those changes made me smile.
For instance, they're doing something about water usage these days because, in much of the world, water is the new oil. It's suddenly precious. They use about 1.85 million gallons of water during the Book Fair (probably close to that during ISH). Messe Frankfurt wants to set a good example, so they're now using rainwater and recycled water wherever they can to flush the toilets, water the plants and supply water to the decorative fountains. They've also switched all their toilets over to the need-based variety, which is foreign to most Americans, but very common in Europe. Euro-toilets have two buttons - a small one for a small pee flush, and a larger one for those Big Country Dumps. This change alone is supposed to save nearly a half-million gallons of water during the typical fair. Nice.
There are many "toiletens" at Messe Frankfurt, and when you're using one of them, you will often be surprised by a cleaning women. She will suddenly appear to swab at the urinal next to the one you're using. And, yes, she does peek. She also expects a tip on your way out. It takes a bit of getting used to (the peeking, not the tipping), so my advice is to tip, but only if she's not smirking.
They're also doing something good about waste materials at Messe Frankfurt. Germany is huge on recycling, and you can see the bins for this on the streets. There's one bin for paper, another for plastic, and then separate bins for green, brown, and clear glass. People are very conscientious about this. The same now goes for those who visit the Messe Frankfurt so I wish them the best.
I was doing a seminar not long ago in a LEED-certified building here in America. This place had separate bins in the dining area for the trash, and everyone was very careful with where they put what.
This being a nighttime seminar, I got to hang out for a bit afterwards to chat with some of the folks. I was packing up and shooting the breeze when the cleaning crew showed up. They were from an outside company. One of the cleaning people took all the bins with all the carefully separated recyclables and dumped the whole works into one big plastic trash bag, which he then tossed into the back of a van. I figured he was going to leave that on the side of some major American interstate highway.
Old habits sure die hard, don't they?
At Messe Frankfurt, they installed dimmable, energy-saving lights everywhere, and they upgraded the ventilation system. Too bad they couldn't have done that back in the days when everyone was smoking as if they wanted to die right now.
Hall 10, which is the building that hosts most of the controls manufacturers and the little-valve people, now has a photovoltaic plant on its roof, which can make up to 300 kilowatts of electricity. They say that's enough to power all the booths in that hall. I suppose the sun has to be shining, though, and I don't recall that ever happening during my 10 trips to ISH, so you might want to bring some candles if you're planning a visit (smokeless ones, of course).
As for the heating at Messe Frankfurt, they've made some major changes to that as well, and I'm wondering if anyone at next year's ISH will notice.
First, they switched over to fast-rolling doors, which they say do just that. Everyone will have to move a lot quicker next March so as to keep in the heat. Scurry!
They've also replaced their old poorly insulated (by their standards) steam mains with new vacuum-insulated steam mains. That's about as high-tech as it gets when it comes to moving steam, and in the buildings that had those steam radiators, they now have warm-water radiators.
For me, it will never be the same.I'm going to see if I can find my German engineer buddy when I get back to Frankfurt. I want to congratulate him on getting rid of the last bit of the steam - and, this time, without our help.