The old-fashioned clock sitting on the bookcase says it’s just after 6am on day three of the Rotary International Convention in Hamburg.
Home is a delightful Airbnb in leafy Eimsbüttel, north of Hamburg, just two stops on the U-Bahn from the Hamburg Messe und Congress, where this year’s assembly is taking place.
From the bedroom window of this beautiful, old Hanseatic mansion, which has been converted into spacious apartments, you can spot the 916-foot Heinrich-Hertz-Turm, the radio communications tower which overshadows the sprawling convention centre.
The tower serves as a drawing beacon to 25,000 Rotarians from 170 countries who have flocked to this picturesque north German city. Their custom is expected to bring around £21.3 million to the local economy.
In Eimsbüttel, this ornately-decorated apartment, with its high ceilings, and Paul Gauguin paintings in every room, is hosted by Margarete.
A widow in her 70s, accompanied everywhere by her faithful Jack Russell, Daisy, Margarete is a house-proud former fashion journalist who, on my first day, offered a stern discourse on men’s toilet habits.
“Mann muss auf der Toilette sitzen und nicht sprühen,” she said. No need to translate, but you can guess what sprühen means!
Oh yes, you know who’s boss! This week in Eimsbüttel, not one crumb has been spilled on the finely polished wooden apartment floor, all cups and plates have been neatly stacked in the dish-washer and it is definitely sitzen-time for that morning constitutional!
Living with a family Airbnb fashion is a delicious way of savouring a slice of German life, slightly distant from the cosmopolitan crowds of the convention.
It cost just £400 for the eight-day stay; far preferable to the expense of an over-priced, characterless hotel with its annoying muzak in reception, boisterous stag/hen parties and limp breakfasts. And a good base for my morning runs along the canals and leafy suburbs.
Among the houseguests in Eimsbüttel are Bill and Bev Reed from Spokane in Washington State, situated close to the Rocky Mountains. Bev is District Governor for District 5080, and both are members of Aurora Northwest Rotary Club.
This morning, they’ve headed to a breakfast meeting for their District at a hotel in the town centre – a quick dash downtown on the uber-efficient U-Bahn; free transportation gifted to all Rotarians during the convention.
Bev explained over breakfast yesterday how she’d managed to persuade Bill Gates to speak at her District Conference recently. Bev, who works as a charity fundraiser, knows Bill Gates’ older sister, Kristi, so decided to pop the question.
“I nervously asked what would be the chances of Bill attending my conference?” explained Bev. “Kristi said 50-50. So when I picked myself up off the floor, she told me she would deliver the invitation personally.”
True to form, the Microsoft founder attended the conference in Spokane to talk about the end game for polio, plus the partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary.
Bev had introduced her illustrious guest by playing a gallery of Gates’ family photos of Bill, Kristi, and their younger sister Libby all growing up in the Sand Point area of Seattle.
These images were sourced from Kristi, as Bev offered a tongue-in-cheek reminder to the Microsoft founder about the wisdom of listening to your older sister!
“Oh, Bill Gates simply loved it and was laughing. These photos had never been seen publicly,” enthused Bev. “What a treat.”
This chance encounter with Bill and Bev is just typical of the four-day convention, an inspiring, mini United Nations of contact-making.
Strangers from all four corners of the world drawn together by Rotary, a global network of volunteers dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.
The House of Friendship, split across two huge halls and featuring more than 200 projects, is symbolic of the vast challenges which Rotarians are tackling.
I love the feeling of fellowship, I love the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances.”
The diversity is mind-blowing; from Crutches 4 Africa and Mediators Beyond Borders International to Women, Children & Youngsters Peace Builders in Colombia, and Save the Baltic Seal.
And no fewer than 10 Rotarian Action Groups had set up specific stalls on addiction prevention, endangered species, clubfoot, diabetes, family safety, microfinance & community development, peace, population & development, multiple sclerosis awareness, mental health initiatives. And on, and on, and on…
This convention is unimaginably vast, so much so, that two opening ceremonies were held on the first day.
Unless you’re a master of pausing time, it is humanly impossible to cover everything, including the morning plenary sessions with its impressive carousel of frontline international speakers tackling themes of leadership and integrity, service, plus diversity and fellowship.
The 35 break-out sessions each afternoon tackle every Rotary issue under the sun attracting audiences in the hundreds.
Tomorrow, I am sitting on a panel of speakers to discuss media content in Rotary with journalists from India, Germany, and Rotary International’s chief communications officer from Chicago. Will anyone bother to turn up?!
This year, there are around 600 Rotarians from Great Britain and Ireland visiting Hamburg.”
And let’s not forget the numerous offsite breakfast, luncheon and dinner functions, concerts, ballet performances and museum visits.
Tonight, I am visiting the Rotary Club of Hamburg-Dammtor, beginning with a cruise on the Alster Lake, and then dinner. It’s a weight-watcher’s nightmare!
This year, there are around 600 Rotarians from Great Britain and Ireland visiting Hamburg, and what a treat it is.
Similar to your annual health check with your doctor, the convention experience is like being injected with a Rotary brand of caffeine, fuelling your body with purpose and vision for the next 12 months.
I love the feeling of fellowship, I love the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances.
And while fellowship might seem an old word from a distant age, we would be fools to forget its important part in the foundations of Rotary – and its relevance today, more so than ever.
It’s a privilege to be in Hamburg and to call myself a Rotarian – but shouldn’t we be sharing more?!