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CeBit: Think North By Northeast

At CeBit, the pole dancers are robots.

Ina Fried

Every March, the tech world breaks into two and dispatches the hipster marketing types to the Austin, Texas, week-long South By Southwest bacchanal and the hardcore nerds to Hannover, the site of Germany’s CeBit tech tradeshow.

It’s not that CeBit doesn’t try to inject some hipness into the button-down corporate technology scene. There are bean bag chairs, foosball tables and the de rigueur sketch artist turning onstage keynotes into cartoon infographics.

There’s even one booth, for mobile app maker Tobit Software, that appeared to be a night club with pole dancers.

But, at CeBit, the pole dancers are robots.

Asked why they went with pole-dancing bots, a Tobit Software representative shrugged and said, “Why not?”

Robots are about as sexy as you get in Hannover.

The show, which once covered a range of consumer and business topics, has refocused in recent years and now centers exclusively around business technology. The shift has stemmed the show’s decline and, in a world focused on the latest gadget, given CeBit a fair bit of turf all to itself.

You may see the next big thing here, but it is likely to be the next big thing in security cameras, retail signage or some other arcane nook of corporate technology.

Those looking for more fun and less productivity can find the odd bit of excitement in Hannover, but one has to hunt.

In a hall mainly dedicated to resellers, in between a vendor of iPhone accessories and a maker of battery back-up systems, is DJI, maker of the Phantom line of aerial photography drones. Who knows if exhibiting at CeBit will be good for business? For a few glorious days, however, DJI was a star at the show, drawing in big crowds as its copters whizzed around the booth.

But, quite often, even those that seem most interested can’t think of how such coolness could apply to someone like a software engineer working on salesforce automation (lots of them here), said DJI spokesman Michael Perry. Perhaps the most interesting idea came from an unnamed cellphone carrier who wanted to put a receiver on top of one of the drones to test where its signal coverage was strongest and weakest.

Perry says the company, which is making its first appearance at CeBit, will carefully weigh returning next year.

A mainstay of CeBit — and really most tech trade shows — are all the pavilions with various countries and regions attempting to rebrand as the next Silicon Valley.

Seemingly every city and region of Germany had a display and a slogan, from the “digital stadt” of Dusseldorf to Baden-Württemberg, “where ideas work.”

Beyond Germany, a host of other areas vie for attention. North Cyprus is the “new choice for technology,” while Indonesia pitches itself as “The Emerging Global IT Hub.” Kerala, India is “home to India ‘s largest and greenest IT parks” and promises “the perfect blend of nature, people and technology.” Nearby, Switzerland, Slovenia and Latvia made their cases as well.

A few halls over, Taiwan and China have their own vast collection of regional exhibitors. Branding had not quite caught up as there was an absence of slogan. The region let its dozens and dozens of vendors speak for themselves.

And CeBit goes on and on. Hall after packed hall houses all flavors of business technology. A couple of halls are taken up by the big names like IBM, SAP and Microsoft, but in Hannover, there really is room for everyone.

While there are some names you may have heard of, to be sure, it is just as common to see the likes of Gigaset and Allnet that sound kind of like a tech company in a Bond film. Another, Fritz!, sounds more like a place to try Belgian frites, but turns out to be a line of routers.

And there you have it. CeBit in a nutshell: A once-thriving nexus of edgy cool that has matured into a staid if productive affair. I suspect my colleagues had more fun in Texas.

But I bet they didn’t get to see any robot strippers.

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