Gems and Germany plus Bouchercon

Well, we’re back from the justly fabled Munich Gem and Mineral Show and we’re exhausted, but it was worth every minute. You cannot believe how big the show was – five display halls, each of which felt larger than a football field, each absolutely stuffed with vendors, exhibits, and activities. We were told that the exhibition area was over five acres under roof – and all brimming full! There’s no way a simple camera can capture the scope of the Show, especially from floor level, but here’s one attempt –

And for those of you Dr. Who fans who have a slightly warped sense of humor, I found out what happens to retired Daleks… they take work as trash cans in Germany! Sorry this picture is a little blurry, but I was laughing so hard…

This was our first visit to the Show and The Husband was so excited he couldn’t wait to get there. Christoph Keilmann, CEO and presiding genius of the Show, had been so very kind as to send us VIP passes which allowed us in at any time, so we walked in at 9 am on set-up day. Only about one-fifth of the booths – if that many – were open for business; others were in various stages of setting up and some were just empty stalls. The energy was frenetic. The floors had been covered with heavy gray plastic. We walked knee-deep in drifts of packing material and dodged cars and vans delivering merchandise to the various booths. It was both weird and exhilarating to watch sophisticated display booths emerge from nothingness and to see treasure after treasure being pulled from swaddling paper. All I can say is the various shipping and cartage companies around the world must love the Show, because there was so much stuff, and so much of it heavy. I can only imagine how much it cost to ship the merchandise and exhibits. I found an onyx lamp I simply adored, but not only could I not afford it, I couldn’t even lift it!
At the first open booth that first day I bought a couple of pieces of stone jewelry (jewelry – yeah; you know me!) for just a couple of euros each. My new favorite is a simple bracelet of quartz plaques with inclusions of black tourmaline, with the plaques being about one inch by half an inch. Simple and sophisticated and very easy to wear. Also bought a bracelet of three-quarter inch balls of tiger eye; gorgeous and dramatic, but not at all easy to wear.
One of the nicest things about the Show was how friendly everyone was, no matter where they came from. I met a lovely pair of men from Belgium from whom I bought a (replica) Aztec mask of copper and crushed jade. Beautiful! (Though I do seem to have a penchant for buying definitely non-German stuff in Germany – remember at last year’s Christmas market I brought home a stuffed crocodile!) The Husband was interested in German fossils and bought several from a couple of people, each of whom had done the actual finding of the specimens.

I met so many lovely people, including my new BFFs, Tara Haymore (blonde) and Jesslyn Scott (brunette) who work for New Era Gems out of Grass Valley, California.

We also met two very nice men from Peru who had tables and tables of the most exquisite pyrites… some absolutely huge! While The Husband discussed specimens with the booth’s owner, I chatted with his assistant, a nice young man who spoke no German and very little English. When he discovered I spoke Spanish (however badly) his face lit up and we talked in Spanish until The Husband had made all his choices. Then, just as we were leaving, the young man put a heart-shaped pyrite paperweight into my hand, closed my fingertips over it and gave me a bow worthy of a courtier while murmuring “Para usted, señora!” It was such a charming gesture, and the shiny heart looks spectacular on my desk.
Although there was something of everything everywhere, each hall primarily catered to one field – Fossils. Mineral Specimens. Fine jewelry, which made me drool and my Master Card tremble in terror; on occasion The Husband had to drag me away forcibly. (Especially from one emerald-cut thirty-eight carat heliodore… Sigh!) The museum quality fossils and collectors’ specimens of minerals ranged in size from that of a little fingernail to gloriously massive pieces roughly as big as a steamer trunk. And more. And More. And MORE… Every day we left staggering under the weight of our new treasures – and no, we did not buy anything huge or even close to huge, not even that glorious heliodore.
Having once had a company that made handcrafted one-of-a-kind jewelry, I felt the old creative stirrings starting to stretch and breathe again when we walked through the beads/jewelry hall. Yes, an addiction is never cured, it is only subdued, and I fully intend to dig out what is left of my old stock and add it to the new things I bought as soon as we recover from our travel exhaustion.
Each building had a couple of places to eat as well as simple snack bars where you could get everything from water to juice to soft drinks. Of course, as this is Germany, beer – very good beer! – was available everywhere. Such a sensible country, as there was something for everyone everywhere. Down the street from our hotel was a snack place which sold sandwiches, ice cream (including flavors I’ve never heard of – all delicious!) and had a small bar, all in a twelve-by-twelve shop. And that is not at all uncommon!
I have to go back to the Show. You could find everything from tiny tumbled stones to glorious specimens of minerals which cost everything from a few euros to the price of a modest house, to beads to lapidary machines to jewelry findings to museum-quality fossils to… to just about anything you could want or even think of. All in all it was incredible. Even more incredible was the cacophony of languages. In a strip of twenty or thirty feet you could hear almost that many languages. The standard European ones, of course, and many others, some I could recognize, some I couldn’t. There were several Oriental tongues, and some African ones, and some I can’t even guess at. Fascinating!
The Husband and I can’t recall when we’ve had a better four days in our lives and how I hope I hope I do so hope Christoph is so kind as to send us VIP tickets again next year! We really do want to do this again…
Though if we do I plan to pack a little better; we live in the southern half of the US, so to us Germany = cold, and I packed accordingly. Heavy jeans and sweaters (and thank Heavens, my sturdy hiking boots), though at the last minute I did throw in two long sleeved blouses, and was I glad I did. The temperature was roughly 65-70 F during the day and never went below 50 or so at midnight, so almost every night we ate outside, feeling very continental as we did so. During the day I ended up wearing my two blouses over and over… hardly a fashion statement, but I don’t think anyone but me seemed to notice. As I always believe in being prepared I had taken a light padded coat, but it never even left the hotel until we packed to leave. Being A Woman Of A Certain Age who lives in a hot climate, I always have a decorative hand fan close by, and boy, was I glad of it. Most days I had it out a couple of times an hour, trying to cool down. Mostly, I must add, to the absolute amazement/consternation/amusement of just about everyone else! Apparently hand fans are not common in Germany!
This year we lucked out on our hotel. We were late in making reservations, so we weren’t able to get close to the exhibition area, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We ended up being just a minute or two’s walk from the Sedlinger Tor underground station at a charming little place called the Carat Hotel. Small and not part of a chain, it was a mini U.N. We and one other couple were the only Americans there. Our room was small but comfortable, and in my opinion the only drawback was it had twin beds instead of a king, a flaw that was more than made up for by the breakfasts.
Now during various trips to Germany we have stayed in everything from 10 room mom-and-pop hotels to five-star international chains and without exception they all serve the same bountiful breakfast buffets. Fresh fruit. Yogurts. Many kinds of cold cuts and sliced sausages. Cheeses to die for (including at the Carat a black pepper coated, an incredible blue, a tangy feta), smoked salmon (my personal weakness!), olives, dolmas, many many many kinds of breads and pastries, peppers, tomatoes (even some sliced and served with mozzarella – caprese salad for breakfast? Who knew?) and more. Of course, they also had eggs, sausage links, potatoes and other standard breakfast fare as well. I tell you, those US hotels which throw out a waffle iron and some cold cereal and call it breakfast should be ashamed of themselves!
Whatever you might think, we didn’t spend all our time wandering the Show, eating, or drinking some of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. We also did the tourist thing. Being just one underground stop away from the MarienPlatz (the old town square) we went there several times to wander the old streets and markets and watch the world-famed glockenspiel in the City Hall tower do its thing. I was too busy watching the show to get a good picture, but this will give you an idea…

Even by today’s standards it’s still pretty fascinating to watch the mechanized figures dance and armored knights do a joust on prancing horses just as they have for the last four hundred years or so, but when it was new it must have been near miraculous to the townspeople. I could watch it every day.
Our last day we didn’t go to the Show; instead we went to the State Egyptology Museum, and it was so wonderful! Well, at least partly. The building is in the heart of the museum district and if it is not the ugliest structure ever made, it is at least in the top three. Made of uncompromising slabs of grubby gray concrete, it looks as if it won a ‘worst of show’ prize in Soviet-era architecture. No kidding – it is truly awful, but once we were inside the artifacts made up for it. Just take a look at the sculpture hall, the first display in the place.

Every single artifact no matter how large or small was spectacular and displayed and lit beautifully. It was just a pity the building itself was so hideous!
One last note – our entire time in Germany, from the time the plane landed until the plane took off to take us home, we did not ride in a car, or even a bus. We took the underground everywhere, or we walked. And walked. And walked. I am hoping to feel my feet again any day now.
Ever notice how things come in herds? First there was NINC, then The Husband got his medal in Nacogdoches, then Germany and then Bouchercon… Yep, we got home from Germany at 2:30 Tuesday morning and went to the mystery conference Bouchercon at 8:30 Thursday morning. Needless to say, we’re even more exhausted!
I didn’t make the cut for any of the panels for which I asked, but I was given the moderator spot on a panel about how to use social media. Of all the parts of self-publishing I am the absolute worst at social media! Luckily, I had a great panel – Colin Conway, Tom Crowley, Jeffrey Eaton, Julia McDermott and my darling friend of many years, Barb Schlicting. Thanks to their expertise – and a great audience who had lots of questions – it was a wonderful experience. Here’s a picture of us, all except for Jeff, who couldn’t make the picture session.

Well, that’s about all from here – and isn’t it enough?? This has been a wild month, and now I’m looking forward to settling down to some writing.