The largest exhibition for our printing industry has been Drupa (Internationale Messe Druck und Papier – a title which shortened to Druck und Papier, and then to Drupa). This is held every four years in Duesseldorf in the month of May. I got my first chance to visit the same in 1990.
Since this was my first foreign trip, I was extremely excited
There were many operators like Orbit, Sita Travels etc. offering Drupa conducted the tour. The only problem with them was they would put you in hotels which were minimum two hours away. Hence I decided to try a "Bed & Breakfast" option within the city, about 30 minutes away from exhibition grounds. Luckily someone gave me a reference of an old German couple, Krings. There was no email or mobiles then and hence booking was done via phone call. Fortunately, Dr Krings was fluent in English so it was relatively easy.
I reached Duesseldorf on 28 April and landed at the Krings residence. The couple heartily welcomed me. The old lady of the house offered me something to eat even though it was not part of the contract. She also asked me several questions about my food and other preferences. I was offered a small attic room on the first floor which was very cosy. I was told that Europeans don’t like being asked personal questions so I didn’t really inquire much about them.
For the next eight days, I was savouring a sumptuous breakfast every morning. The couple made me really comfortable and gave a feeling of being home which was just wonderful.
My first day at the exhibition (29 April) was of awe and admiration, It turned out to be a jaw-dropping experience. The exhibition was spread over 16 halls covering a total area of 127,000 sqm (approximately 14 lakh sq/ft). The total number of exhibitors were 1,760 from 42 countries. The size was intimidating.
At the entrance, there were many shops selling knick-knack. I was in for a rude shock when I realised that the beer was for one Deutsche Mark (German currency equivalent to Rs 10 then), Coke or Fanta was 1.2 DM but the water was 2.5 DM. Now even if I like my pint of beer, it was unimaginable to have it at 9.30 am. Things must have changed now but back then even the food options for vegetarians were limited. Since I relish all types of meat, there was no problem for me at all. The most popular dish seemed to be Frankfurter Sausage in a small bread with lots of pungent mustard sauce. I genuinely enjoyed my meal but the problem was I felt very thirsty. One can of beer didn’t help. I was desperate for a glass of water but felt it was criminal to pay Rs 25 for it. Those were the days when I had no credit card and availability of foreign exchange was very hard to come by. Hence every penny mattered a lot.
Suddenly an idea struck me. So I went to the restaurant and told the lady at the counter to give me a glass of water from the tap behind her. When she realised I wanted to drink the same, she freaked out. She told me, I am not too sure whether this is potable water or not. I told her, just don’t bother, give it to me. My thirst was quenched after drinking two glasses. The old lady was looking at me as if she has seen a ghost. The next day, I made it a point to go to the same place. The lady was relieved when she saw me alive. She asked me laughing, water? I said, yes that’s why I am here. She again asked, do you know what you are doing? She had no idea what kind of dirty water we used to digest in India then. For the next few days, I made that as a ritual to visit the same place for quenching my thirst.
The experience at the end of the first-day dinner was also unique. I went to some local restaurant; had a drink or two before having dinner. I had gone in around 7.30 pm and must have stepped out around 9.30 pm. There was bright light when I stepped out. I was pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming. Later, I realised that the sun sets late there, around 10 pm or so, being summer.
Knock, knock, knocking on the doors of digital print
Drupa 1990 was meant to be the first stepping stone for digital print. I was unaware about the technological jump the western world had achieved over manufacturers like us. It was as if they were light years ahead.
Coming back to my trip, my interaction with Krings couple was very cordial. One day before I was to leave for India, the couple told me in the morning that I would be having the dinner with them that evening. In any case, I was bored with my consumption of junk food every day for lunch and dinner so I happily agreed. I was asked to be home by 6 pm. Dr Krings took me to his basement which housed a massive wine cellar. He was one of the biggest wine dealers in Duesseldorf with imports from all over the world. He asked me to select any wine. My knowledge of wines even today is laughable - and back then it was non-existent. When he realised that I had absolutely no knowledge, then he offered 3-4 vast and varied rare bottles and made me taste all them. Luckily he wasn’t expecting me to finish the bottles. Then he showed me the family album.
The dinner was outstanding. I don’t know the German names but there was chicken, pork, home-made bread, apple pie et al. I must have really let myself go as the old lady was watching me intently and told me that she was very happy that someone relished her cooking with such delight.
On the day I left, both the senior citizens had become really emotional. They mentioned that their earlier experience with Indian guests wasn’t very good and was very sceptical about me. They had consented only because I had gone through a couple of good references. But they were happy as they found me of not being pushy, no bickering, which is why they had invited me over for dinner. Before leaving, I told what I intended to do and then bowed in front of them. They were simply floored and didn’t know how to react. The old lady just hugged me and bid me goodbye.
I came back from Germany with such wonderful memories. Unfortunately, with non-existent communication network back then, I couldn’t keep in touch with the Krings. I am pretty sure that they will not be on this planet any more. But they have occupied a small corner of my heart for last more than 28 years.
Similarly, I have a huge regret that I was unable to keep in touch with three wonderful people from AM Multigraphics viz. AL Bussey, Les Henderson and David Law. It would have been so wonderful. If and only if cellphones had arrived a little early! But that’s life; acceptance is the key.
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