History of the International Green Week Berlin

From 20 to 29 January 2023 the focus will be on experiencing, discovering, trying and finding things out at the International Green Week in Berlin.

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After a two-year break due to the pandemic, International Green Week, one of the most popular and leading trade fairs in the agricultural, the food industry and horticulture sectors, will kick off in Berlin, the German capital, with a customary wide range of products.

From a local commodity exchange to the world’s leading trade fair. Over 100,500 exhibitors and 34 million visitors since 1926.

The International Green Week Berlin is the longest-running trade fair in the city as well as one of the best-known events in all of Germany. It can now look back on 93 eventful years and in 2019 its doors will open for the eighty-fourth time. No other international exhibition attracting hundreds of thousands of consumers every year has taken place as many times as the Green Week. Originally just a local product mart, it has grown into the world’s largest consumer show for agriculture, food and horticulture. Since 1926, over 100,500 exhibitors from 130 countries have presented a comprehensive range of products from all continents to 34.0 million trade and private visitors.

The first Green Week – an end to itinerant trading

It all began back in the days when farmers were recognisable by their loden coats. For one week each year at the end of the 19th century, when the farming association known as the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG) used to hold its winter conferences in Berlin, these long green clothing items were a common sight in the city. These were accompanied by the sale by the craft trades and the industry of consumer goods and items for the farming sector in the streets around the conference venue. This itinerant form of trading gradually became more organised, and eventually a farmer named Hans-Jürgen von Hake suggested to the Berlin Tourist Office that the 1926 conference should be accompanied by an agricultural exhibition on the street known as Kaiserdamm. This was the start of the Green Week, a name apparently given to it by journalists.

Its introduction met with widespread approval. Previously, events such as horse shows, exhibitions of small animals, a seed market and hunting shows had been scattered all over Berlin. With this new arrangement they were concentrated in a compact display covering 7,000 square metres in halls normally used for radio and automobile exhibitions, and in the inaugural year they attracted an attendance of over 50,000. In those days one fifth of the area of the German capital was devoted to agriculture and horticulture. Within the city there were 45,000 horses, 25,000 pigs, 21,000 dairy cattle and over half a million poultry. Allotment gardens were owned by some 200,000 Berliners. The largest exhibit at the first of these shows was a 100 hp tractor with metal tyres. This monster, four metres in height and with wheels taller than a man, signified the start of agricultural mechanisation.

Scientific and technical achievements

The Green Week underwent rapid expansion during the years that followed, and many scientific and technical achievements were first introduced at this event. For example, in 1928 a device was used to demonstrate that dogs only followed the tracks made by humans, and not their scent. At the 5th Green Week in 1930 a giant machine for keeping eggs fresh attracted enormous interest. It held 5,000 eggs, which were rotated, a ‘natural process’ which enabled them to be kept fresh for up to a year. During the twenties and thirties such innovations as an in-churn milking unit, a crawler tractor and higher yielding cereals from well-known plant breeders met with an ever greater response. In 1935 Wilhelm Hölter’s design depicting stylised yellow ears of wheat against a green background was adopted as the symbol of the Green Week. The Green Week did not take place in 1938 due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the following year’s event, the last for some years, dealt with a subject that is still topical today: a special attraction, visible from afar, was provided by the ‘nutrition clock’, programmed to show how to cut calorie intake and automatically provide tips for healthy meals. One of the recommendations from the nutrition clock, for example, was to replace marinaded ribs by a tasty dish of vegetables, with precise details of the ingredients.

The Green Week during the years of Nazi propaganda

After the National Socialists came to power on 30 January 1933 (at that very moment the Green Week was taking place, called the ’Green Week for Sports and Animal Breeds’ from 28 Jan. to 5 Feb.), it took only a few weeks for the Nazi regime to seize complete control of all trade fairs and exhibitions in the German Reich. For the Berlin trade fair company, Josef Goebbels’ subsequent appointment as Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda on 13 March 1933 marked the beginning of a new age. On 18 April 1933 the Institute for Cultural and Economic Propaganda was set up which controlled all trade fair activities in accordance with regime rules. On 30 June 1933 responsibility for trade fairs and exhibitions was transferred from the Reich Ministry of Economics to the Reich Ministry of Propaganda and on 12 September 1933 the German Advertising Standards Council was set up. All these measures stripped the trade fair company of any independent control over its trade fairs and exhibitions at the grounds on Kaiserdamm and at the Berlin Radio Tower. By law, it had ceded control to the state.

The 39th Travelling Exhibition of the German Farming Industry which from 20 to 28 May 1933 took place under the regime’s supervision on the entire exhibition grounds and on the open-air sites south of the grounds offered a foretaste of things to come. Activities at this last exhibition organised by the DLG (subsequently amalgamated with the ’Reichsnährstand’) were already dictated by Nazi agricultural policies, which under the slogan of ’Blood and Soil’ pursued racist and ultimately expansionist aims. In 1934, at the ’first Green Week of the newly established state, it was declared that the German Reich was to become self-sufficient and that food and animal feed imports would cease. This measure had the effect of channelling foreign currency previously earmarked for imports as well as other resources into arms production.

From then on ’Blood and Soil’ supporters such as Reich Minister of Agriculture Walter Darré dictated activities at the Green Week. Overall, the Nazi regime maintained full control of the Green Week in the years 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1939. In 1938 the Green Week was cancelled due to a widespread outbreak of foot and mouth disease. At the last Green Week in 1939 a proud announcement was made that Germany had attained an even higher level of self-sufficiency than in 1914, a clear indicator of imminent war, which subsequently curtailed all trade fair activity on the exhibition grounds.

A new beginning with sausages and ham made of cardboard

Photo: 1951, souvenir card from the Green Week Berlin. You can see some attractions of the exhibition, which can report a post-war record of 284,000 visitors, such as the tree hall, whose seedlings were later planted out in the summer garden

Following the years of war, famine and destruction, the organisation representing allotment holders and other landowners engaged in cultivation displayed the courage of their convictions to a remarkable degree when they resurrected the Green Week in the late summer of 1948. 59 exhibitors presented their products to the Berlin public, under the most difficult circumstances. The three western sectors of Berlin only had electricity between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. and again from 9 to 11 a.m. each day, and were subjected to a Soviet blockade on all connecting routes on land and water. During a 24-hour period on the opening day of the Green Week 250 British and 357 American aircraft flew supplies of all kinds into the western part of the city. Among the many popular attractions on the Exhibition Grounds were fruit and vegetables, including a cucumber weighing 3.3 kilograms and a pumpkin that tipped the scales at 40 kilograms, representing the unattainable for many Berliners during this time of hunger and shortages. When they saw Dora, a breeding pig from the suburb of Kreuzberg, with her piglets, many visitors could only dream of ham and bacon, and sadly, what appeared to be ham and sausages on some of the stands was in fact made of cardboard.

Adenauer came to admire a pyramid of vegetables from the Netherlands

This was the rebirth of this event. In 1949 the trade fair company owned by the local authorities, Berliner Ausstellungen, assumed responsibility for the fair. In 1950 the Green Week was not held, due to major construction work on the grounds. The Green Week first acquired its international dimension in 1951 when a Dutch exhibitor, with obvious foresight, displayed tempting pyramids of vegetables to an amazed public. Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was one of those who expressed their admiration. After this beginning the numbers of foreign exhibitors rose steadily each year. The ‘Darmstadt’ biogas plant was shown to experts as early as 1953, and its manufacturer’s advertising emphasised a daily output of ten cubic metres of biogas, which would be “sufficient to supply the cooking and hot water requirements in the home, as well as boiling the potatoes.”

Until 1961 the Green Week had a particular appeal for farmers in what was then the German Democratic Republic. Despite the considerable obstacles confronting them at the border with the Eastern Sector, between 30 and 50 per cent of those attending the fair regularly came from the East. By 1954 attendance passed the half-million mark for the first time and the displays now occupied some 30,000 square metres in nine halls.

The fair’s international dimension during the days of the Berlin Wall

The first time that it was held following the erection of the Berlin Wall (13 August 1961) was seen by its organisers as a challenge to demonstrate its viability now that it had been cut off from the surrounding area. It became the International Green Week Berlin ’62, for the first time with Federal President Heinrich Lübke as its patron. Of the 669 companies that were exhibiting, almost half came from outside Germany. By now some 50 countries, mostly from Western Europe, but also from the USA, Canada, Israel, Morocco and the Lebanon, were regular exhibitors. Over 438,000 visitors consumed 100,000 glasses of wine, 300,000 apples and 65,000 portions of yoghurt on the German stand, ensuring that the 1962 Green Week was a resounding success. The French stand nearly ran out of stocks, and by the end of the event over 54,000 oysters had been opened and consumed.

Expansion by focusing on specialist topics

During the following years the International Green Week became ever more important for the professionals. To an increasing extent it was based on three main areas, namely the food industry, agriculture and horticulture. Special shows on topical issues, combined stands organised by various countries and states, and displays of the achievements of individual regions all met with an enthusiastic response. The specialist supporting programme, comprising more than 150 separate events, attracted growing interest. It was at this time that the International Agricultural Film Competition was included in the programme.

In 1971 the concept was expanded to include special, instructive shows, for example on data processing and fisheries, forests and the landscape. Whereas in the two decades following the war the emphasis was on the need to ensure that the population was sufficiently supplied with food, gradually the aesthetic aspects of food and drink came more to the fore. This was demonstrated by shows with names such as ‘Home-grown food tastes best’, the ‘Avenue of German Wines and Sparkling Wines’, ‘Appetite ahoy’ featuring the fishing industry, and an increasing number of floral displays.

At the same time Germany’s agriculture and the country’s food industry intensified their efforts to promote sales of agricultural produce. By paying close attention to the needs of consumers the International Green Week Berlin used specialised information and presentations to explain about the production and processing of agricultural produce. It now features a changing programme of special shows on subjects such as ‘From Grain to Bread’, ‘Utilising Forests’, ‘Barley, Hops and Malt’, ‘Cheese from Germany’ and ‘Extensive Livestock Husbandry’.

With the opening of the International Congress Center ICC Berlin, which is directly linked with the Exhibition Grounds via a bridge, the number of conferences accompanying the Green Week each year rose to over 250. In 1981 the International Green Week Berlin was augmented by the first International Agricultural Policy Forum, followed in 1982 by the first Freshness Forums, now known as the World of Fresh Produce, for sensitive agricultural produce. In 1984 the first MultiServa took place, serving the interests of communal catering, and 1986 saw the introduction of the first National Beef Cattle Show, followed later by similar events dealing with Sheep and Heavy Horses.

The fair flourishes once again after reunification

The International Green Week Berlin experienced a revival in 1990 when, following German reunification, it was again accessible to everyone in its natural catchment area and from neighbouring countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It was necessary to improvise many aspects at very short notice, but by 1991 the expanded capabilities of the agricultural sector were clearly revealed by the first combined German display by the Central Marketing Company of German Agriculture (CMA), involving the five new Lands together with those of the former West Germany.

The programme was expanded with great success to include Product Markets for Beer, Milk, Meat/Sausages, Tea/Herbs/Spices and Seafood, which are now regular features with many foreign participants.

An expensive supporting programme is now available to all those participating in the Green Week, with around 300 papers, seminars and symposiums, including the International Agricultural Policy Forum held by the German Farmers’ Union DBV, and the East-West Agricultural Forum by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

This well-established trade fair on the Berlin Exhibition Grounds has since acquired a number of other highly attractive features such as FRUIT LOGISTICA (since 2004 this leading international trade fair for the international fresh produce trade has taken place separately from the Green Week), specialist events such as the Agricultural Machinery Show, and MultiServa, as well as Pets & Plants (incorporated in the Green Week in 1996), and the Bio Market, introduced in 1998.

New millennium brings forward-looking topics

In 1999 the latest stage in the expansion of the Berlin Exhibition Grounds was completed, providing 166,000 square metres of display space and enabling the agricultural section of the Green Week to be extended to include ‘Livestock Breeding’ and ‘Renewable Raw Materials’. With the new millennium the Green Week concept was supplemented by such forward looking topics as ‘Green Money’ and ‘Renewable Energy’. The Farm Experience was launched in 2000 and since then it has become highly successful, regularly demonstrating the workings of modern agriculture.

Forward-looking topics such as ‘Multitalented Wood’ and nature.tec – specialist show for bioenergy and renewable raw materials’ – were an added enhancement to the Green Week in 2008. In the same year, under the slogan ‘Power for life – food and exercise’, the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE) and the German Federation of Food Law and Food Sciences (BLL) joined forces for the first time.

In 2012, for the first time at the Green Week, visitors were able to experience the country’s culinary delights with a tour of Germany’s Lands. A chain of seven display halls was added to the hall which until then had featured Germany’s federal Lands (Hall 20) and presented even more authentic displays of regional specialities from every corner of the country. Overall, 14 federal Lands exhibited food and specialities from Germany’s local regions.

The Green Week against the background of EU expansion

With the International Green Week 2005, the first to be held since the eastward expansion of the EU (on 1 May 2004) that led to the creation of the largest single market in the western world, Berlin has assumed an even more important role as the meeting place for experts and policymakers representing consumer protection, food and agriculture. By 2007 the EU comprised a total of 27 member states. The impact on the Green Week of the dismantling of borders between the two German states and elsewhere in Europe since 1989 is illustrated by the fact that, in addition to the usual participants from Western Europe, approximately one third of the countries that now exhibit are from Central and Eastern Europe.

Focus on the partner country of the fair

The official partner country concept was introduced at the Green Week in 2005. The Czech Republic was the first, followed by Russia in 2006 with an impressive display of the diversity of products from almost all of the country’s regions, from St. Petersburg to remote Siberia. Germany’s presidency of the EU Council was the dominant theme at the Green Week 2007, which was opened by Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel and President of the EU Commission José Manuel Barroso. As the partner country in 2008 the Swiss display took place under the slogan of ‘Grüezi Berlin! Switzerland. Naturally’, presenting specialities from all of the country’s 26 cantons. As the partner country in 2009, the Netherlands presented ‘Quality from next door’. With 6,000 square metres Russia again staged the largest display by any foreign country on the Berlin Exhibition Grounds. This impressive display was underlined by the first visit by the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, to the Green Week.

The tradition was continued at the Green Week in 2010, when Hungary was the partner country. In 2011, taking as its slogan ‘Polska schmeckt!’ (Polish food tastes good), Poland impressed visitors with its largest display to date at the Green Week, along with specialities from all of its local regions. As the 2012 partner country of the Green Week, Romania invited visitors to ‘explore the Carpathian garden’. In 2013, taking as its slogan ‘Quality grows in Holland’, the Netherlands celebrated 60 years at the Green Week. Taking as its slogan ’NATURally Estonia’, the partner country in 2014 drew attention to the importance of its immaculate natural environment for agriculture and tourism. ”Latvia – take your time” was what Andris Berzins, Latvia’s president, recommended at the opening of the Green Week in 2015. In 2016 Morocco, the first non-European partner country of the Green Week, recreated the atmosphere of a North African medina quarter to welcome its visitors. In 2017 the slogan of the partner country was ’Rich in Tradition, Diverse: Hungary’, and in 2018 Bulgaria brought the ‘Flavour of the Sun’ to Berlin. “From the wilderness” greeted 2019 partner country Finland. In 2020, the partner country Croatia presented its culinary diversity.

En route to a world agricultural summit

At the Green Week 2008 the East/West Agricultural Forum was replaced by the International Conference of Ministers of Agriculture, an event intended to reflect the global nature of the agricultural issues dealt with in Berlin. The high-ranking participants also included leading agricultural policy-makers and representatives from the whole of the farming industry. The aim was to build on developments at the Green Week 2009 to establish a world summit for agriculture, with participation by leading figures representing the entire value chain. Around 50 agriculture ministers, twice as many as in 2008, accepted Federal Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner’s invitation to attend the Berlin Summit of Agriculture Ministers in 2010, where they subsequently launched an international climate protection initiative. In 2011 the main theme was ‘Commerce and ensuring food supplies at global, regional and local levels’. In 2012, under the heading of ‘Food security through sustainable growth – farming with limited resources’, the GFFA addressed the vital contribution of the farming sector to the population of the world.

Ministers from around 70 countries took part in the 4th Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Summit. At the GFFA 2013, under the heading of ‘Responsible investment in the farming and food industries – a key factor in food security and rural development’, discussions took place on strategies for responsible investment. In 2014 the topic of the 6th GFFA was ’Strengthening agriculture – overcoming crises – securing food supplies’. In 2015 the 7th GFFA placed the following topic on the agenda: ‘The growing demand for food, energy and raw materials: opportunities for agriculture and a challenge to food security?’. Taking as its slogan ‘How to feed our cities – agriculture and rural areas in the age of urbanisation’, the 8th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) gathered key international players from industry, politics, science and society.

In July 2017 Germany hosted the G20 summit of heads of state and government of the world’s 20 leading industrialised and emerging economies. Immediately after the 9th GFFA in 2017 a meeting of the G20 Agriculture Ministers (22 Jan. 2017) took place under the slogan of ‘Agriculture and Water – the Key to Feeding the World’.The10th GFFA discussed ‘Shaping the Future of Livestock – sustainably, responsibly, efficiently’ in a global context. The 11th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, at which German Chancellor Angela Merkel also addressed around 70 agriculture ministers in the CityCube Berlin, was dedicated to the key theme of “Digital agriculture – intelligent solutions for the agriculture of the future”. In 2020, the motto of the GFFA was “Food for all! Trade for a safe, diverse and sustainable diet.” Due to the pandemic, the 2021 and 2022 GFFA will be held digitally. In 2021, the forum discussed “Pandemic and climate change: how do we feed the world?” In 2022, agriculture ministers will meet under the theme “Sustainable land use: food security starts with the soil.”

One of the special highlights of Green Week 2019 was the appearance of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 12th Future Forum on Rural Development. In 2020, it looked back on 94 years of eventful history. The 85th IGW was again a reflection of the times. For example, the topic of sustainability was the focus of many appearances. Among others, the “Friday For Future” movement was represented with its own stand in the Berlin Hall.

Green Week 2021 was overshadowed by the global Corona pandemic. In its 95-year history, the International Green Week is going purely digital for the first time. In doing so, the leading global trade fair for agriculture, food and horticulture set standards and brought the industry’s current topics online: whether animal welfare and climate protection, regional value chains “from farm to fork” or cooking with algae and insect meal – from January 20 to 21, 2021, the trade and private public could follow more than 100 contributions free of charge on four channels.

In 2022, the International Green Week did not take place due to the Corona pandemic.

The Green Week is organised by Messe Berlin GmbH. Its non-commercial sponsors are the German Farmers’ Union (DBV) and the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE).

Source: Messe Berlin