The ESICM meeting in Berlin was a treat because it gave me a chance to see Berlin again after an absence of almost 16 years. Last time I was there was 1988 and I got the nickel tour of (then) East Berlin from an East Berliner. An anesthesiologist married to a Russian woman who chose to live in the East, even after both his sons escaped to the West. I met him in Moscow and subsequently lost touch with him (pre- Internet).

In 1988, I crossed over through Checkpoint Charlie. They took my postcards of West Berlin, tore them up and threw them in the trash. It was about as intimidating as crossing into Moscow in those days- viewed from all angles in a blazingly lit cubicle by an armed soldier in a smoked glass booth. You got the feeling there was a trap door and if the soldier didn’t like what was on your passport it opened and you were never seen again.

The Eastern side of Berlin was so radically different than the West that it was startling. It really was grey, drab, and full of old Government buildings and two cycle cars that smoked like chimneys. But the East Berliners were very sociable and we had a nice meal and some Rumanian wine as I recall. It was quite a sight watching the Russian guards pour over cars looking for escapees stuffed into engine compartments under garishly bright yellow light.

Now, it’s all changed. The hotel I stayed at is on the former eastern side near Alexanderplatz. It’s all been built up and refurbished. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what was on the East side and virtually all traces of the Wall have been eradicated, save a few feet here and there with some art saved on it. In 1988 it was VERY omnipresent and stood out like a huge meandering keloid scar. Then came the Pink Floyd concert and it’s all gone, relegated to chunks for tourists to buy for their desks.

Connection in Frankfort where ripping off tourists is an art form (shared by many others I’m sure). A small bottle of orange juice and a donut- US$9.00. I refused to pay it and got a shrug from the vendor. Lufthansa Airlines hasn’t changed either. They lost my luggage just like they did when I was in Brussels when I was a Fellow in 1986. Naturally, the suitcase was on the next plane from Frankfort, which arrived in Berlin at noon. Finally delivered to the hotel at midnight. Teutonic efficiency 😉

The lodging was, however, majestic. It had the most incredible thing I have ever seen ensconced in a hotel. A HUGE fish tank in the lobby, about 50 feet in diameter and extending from the lobby to the 5th floor. Hundreds of colorful fish languidly floated by. For nine bucks you could rise on a platform in the middle of it, seeing fish over 360 degrees. It was really quite spectacular. Prices were about average for Europe I think. Taxis were VERY expensive. Food was excellent and priced about the same as here. The hotel was very westernized but had two double beds pushed together. No matter how you reclined, you eventually sank into the split between the beds. TV was all non-English and the only thing to watch was CNN.

Now comes the hard part. How to criticize the meeting fairly. I always used to get a kick out of car magazines “reviewing” new cars. Funny, they never came out and said a new model was a dog and should be all collected and dumped into the ocean. That’s because they accepted lucrative advertising from all the car makers. So each and every car they reviewed was just a gem. Oh well, CCM-L doesn’t accept advertising dollars from anyone so they get a brutally fair evaluation.

This meeting the ESICM symposium was not up to contemporary standards, in my humble opinion. The mileage of others may vary. The line for registration was endless because they only had two registrants working. In one of the talks I attended, there was a decided lack of focus. The moderator allowed the panel to meander around ad lib, offering up personal observations on things that diverted from the thrust of the subject. Panel members didn’t seem to be “experts”, rather local doctors relating anecdotal experiences from their country or culture. Talks are supposed to be an authoritative examination of a subject that teaches the audience something, asking the audience to get involved before the Q & A time at the end splits up the focus, diffusing the take home message.

In addition, the microphones didn’t work so audience kibitzers had to come to the podium and use the speaker’s microphone. That definitely didn’t work. Panel members all craned their necks to see slides on the screen, creating an atmosphere of discomfort. There was a huge line to get into one room because all those in the room for the previous talk had to file out one by one through one half of a two door exit. Then those entering had to file through the same door. It took 15 minutes.

However, they did do one thing that I think has potential. All attendees had a computerized ID card with a chip in it that they “swiped” at the entrance of each talk. And to get into areas of the meeting. So those looking at that data could tell who was going where and doing what. This data may very well yield some useful information on how to manage logistics in the future.

All considered, I enjoyed Berlin. The ESICM meeting wasn’t the Thrilla in Manilla but I did get some useful things out of it. ESICM meetings have been better in the past. Perhaps they will learn something from this that will improve future events. I give it three of five souvenir chunks of the wall.

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