Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Attending The Munich Show

We had always heard about how great The Munich Show is, and this year (2018) we finally got a chance to attend it.  Finding information online about the show and all of the intricacies of attending it were difficult to come by, so we had to ask a lot of experienced friends in the Mineral business for advice.  Now that we're back from Munich I though it would be a good idea to write up a detailed article about our experience and what we learned so that it may help others who are also contemplating going in the future.

About the Show

The Munich Show takes place every year in October at the Munich Trade Fair Center which is on the eastern outskirts of the city.  Technically speaking, the show runs Friday through Sunday, but only Saturday & Sunday are open to the general public.  Friday is only open to people in the mineral, fossil, or gem & jewelry trade, so to get in on Friday you have to be able to prove your trade affiliation by showing a sales tax ID and other information about your business when you register online.

The show dealers setup on Wednesday, and most of them are ready for business Thursday.  It ends up Thursday is the secret insiders-only day of the show, and you need a show a badge to get in.  Thursday is the best day to come because you get first access to all of the good stuff and there are no crowds, but you have to know someone who can get you that special badge to get in.  Otherwise, apply to get in on Friday.  You definitely want to be there Friday because the crowds shows up on the weekend.  You need to buy your tickets in advance on The Munich Show's web site, and be sure to apply for the 3-day ticket with the Friday admission.  Do this at least a month in advance.

The show is huge and spread across several interconnected Halls, each of which is larger than most entire mineral shows:

It's difficult to judge the size of this building complex by the map, but it is enormous!  It's so big that it has a subway stop on one end and another on the other end.  The A6 hall is where most of the major Fine Minerals dealers are setup.  The A5 hall also has lots of awesome fine minerals, but it's where many smaller dealers are setup.  The A4 hall has lots of Moroccan wholesale material while the B halls are for gems and jewelry.

What makes The Munich Show so awesome is that it's the largest show in Europe, and probably the best single show anywhere in the world.  Yes, Tucson is much larger overall, but it's spread out over 44+ shows across the city.  The Munich Show is all in one location and is a single show, so everything is right there.  In addition to that, there is a plethora of material that is hard to find at the U.S. shows like alpine material, Italian sulphurs, German fluorites, etc.  You still see lots of the usual Elmwood calcites and Afghan tourmalines, but there is so much more European material than you'd see at any show in the U.S.

The other interesting thing about this show is that the prices don't seem as insane as they do at the American mineral shows.  There is far less of the "got to be a billionaire to afford this" specimens.  Very little of what we saw seemed outrageously overpriced.  Even things like Illinois fluorites seemed to be less expensive in Munich - we expected the opposite.  European material was especially less expensive:  Large Spanish pyrites appeared to be about half of what they go for stateside, and the pink Alpine fluorites were relatively cheap and surprisingly plentiful.

Pretty much everyone speaks at least some English.  Most speak it fluently, and some are so-so.  Overall, the language barrier is not a problem.

Unlike any other mineral show I've ever been to, this show actually had some decent food options. There were some small cafe and cart vendors and then a main dining area with more significant food options in the A4 hall.  Since Europeans are cool, they had lots of German beer and dealers were allowed to have alcohol in their booths.  For that matter, the facilities and overall organization of this show pretty much blew all the other shows in the States away.  It felt more like going to the Super Bowl than going to a county fair like most mineral shows.

Great vendors, great location, great facilities all make The Munich Show awesome and highly recommended!

Getting to the Show

The Munich Trade Fair Center is way off on the east side of Munich, and not in a particularly interesting area.  Most of the vendors stay at a nearby hotel, but if you're not a vendor then there's no reason to stay way out there.

It is extremely easy to get to the show via the Munich subway system known as the S-Bahn and U-Bahn.  We wanted to stay in the middle of town where all the action is, so we booked a hotel just a few hundred feet from the Marienplatz station.  From here it was about a 30 minute train ride out to the show, and it involves one easy train change.  We got the 3-day family pass which gives you unlimited use of the trains with up to 5 people in your group.  It only costs about $30.  Do not take a taxi to the show - it will cost you double that each way every time, and Munich traffic is horrific!  Take the U-Bahn!

The strangest thing about the Munich subway system is that it seems to be based the honor system.  There are no turnstiles which require you to prove that you paid.  You buy the tickets at kiosks and then have them timestamped, but there's nothing preventing you from just walking right onto the train and going wherever you want to.  I assume they have conductors that check tickets every so often, but we never saw that happen during the 5 days we were there.  Nevertheless, we always paid - it's cheap - don't go to the German jail.

Like I said earlier, the Munich Trade Fair complex is so huge that it covers 2 subway stops, and since on the first day we didn't know which end of the building was the entrance we made the mistake of taking the Messestadt West stop - big mistake and a long walk to the other end!  Just take the train all the way to Messestadt Ost (East) which is the end of the line, so you can't screw up, and it drops you off right at the entrance to the show.  Very convenient!

Our hotel, the Hotel Schlicker, was within visual shot of the Marientplatz Station.  The hotel was nice, but the rooms are tiny, and the bed was very uncomfortable, so I think next time we will try somewhere else.  As long as you're within a few blocks of any subway station you should be good.

It is also worth noting that the S-Bahn also goes directly from Terminal 1 at the Airport to Marienplatz station (and others), so this is the fastest and most cost-effective way to get to your hotel from the Airport.  The same goes in reverse back to the Airport.  We found out that nothing at the airport opens until about 5:30am, so even if you have a 7:00am flight you won't be able to check-in or go through security until 5:30, so getting there super-early won't do you any good.

Just as a side note, you should always make dinner reservations for the restaurants in Munich.  They're pretty much required, especially on weekends.  Otherwise, you'll be eating a pretzel sandwich off the street.

Show Me the Money

For people coming from the U.S. the most difficult thing about attending The Munich Show is paying for the rocks.  Unlike shows here in the States where checks, PayPal, and other payments are quite common, at this show 95% of the transactions are done with cash, and very few dealers will take anything else.  The good news, however, is that most dealers are happy to take U.S. dollars.  100% of the dealers we asked were happy to take our American cash, and on two occasions the dealer preemptively asked us if we could pay with dollars.  The reasoning, from what we were told, is that they prefer U.S. cash so that they can take it to Tucson without having to pay the expensive currency exchange fees.

There was one dealer who had a great little alpine combo that we really wanted, but we didn't have enough cash on us.  So, I offered to wire him the money but he wouldn't take it even if I covered the fees.  Another dealer who even has a U.S. bank account wouldn't take a wire, PayPal, or even Zelle (which is the best).  He only wanted cash.  So, in both cases we walked away without a specimen because we had no way of paying.  Another dealer grudgingly agreed to take a wire for a sulphur specimen, but it became so complicated that we eventually told him we'd come back tomorrow with more cash to complete the deal.  It's pay cash or "no rocks for you" in Munich!

In the U.S. it's pretty much assumed that you're going to haggle about the price of a specimen - perhaps that's why the prices are so high - they need more room to negotiate down.  But in Munich every time we tried to negotiate we were met with a look of annoyance and an audible sigh.  Nevertheless, every time we were still able to get 10-30% off what they were asking, so even though haggling seems to be frowned upon there it still works!

When you read in the travel forums about getting money in Europe people will claim it's easy to pull out cash from any ATM.  This is false!  We found that only about 1 in 3 or maybe 1 in 4 ATMs would work with any of our bankcards.  We don't know why as there was no explanation given, but we would have to go from ATM to ATM trying to find one that would let us pull out cash, and even then there are daily limits (note:  the ATM at the cash exchange place worked and so did the one in the subway, but no ATM at any bank worked on any occasion).

Getting Euros from an ATM is the best way to get cash because converting your dollars to Euros at a hotel, bank, or currency exchange will cost you a FORTUNE!  Pulling Euros out of an ATM machine is by far the most cost-effective way to do things, and you should always pull out as much as you can to minimize the effect of the bank fees which can range from $5-35 per transaction depending on your bank and the host bank.

My advice is to bring lots of cash in U.S. $ and then supplement that with Euros from an ATM machine.  You won't have much problem spending American cash on minerals at the show, but you'll need Euros for everything else.

Getting Things Home

Our #1 concern about attending The Munich Show was figuring out how we were going to get things home.  There was not only the logistics issue of physically getting the specimens home in one piece, but also dealing with customs and security.  For this trip we brought a spare, empty duffle bag and only purchased what we knew would fit in it along with some puffy jackets for protective padding.  However, if you plan on buying large items or lots of items and need to ship things back home you have 3 options:

Option 1:  Cargo

This is an expensive and complex solution, and when we inquired about it from the agent who was setup at the show we couldn't get a straight answer about cost, but from what I could tell, a pallet of minerals would cost about $2000 to get home via air or sea cargo.  That's after all of the middle-man fees, insurance, etc.  This would only make sense if you either have very expensive minerals or a whole lot of them to absorb some of that cost.  Some people share a palette so that they can all pool their minerals together to distribute the cost.  It can take 2-4 weeks, or longer, to get your stuff home, and frankly, the idea of leaving my expensive rocks in a warehouse for 1-2 weeks scares me.  It's unclear how things are insured, when they're insured, what kind of temperature controls there are, etc.  I don't ever plan on using this option.

Option 2:  Mail it

If you have a smaller amount of minerals that aren't super fragile then it probably makes more sense to just box them up and have them shipped home via DHL.  There is no DHL, UPS, or Fed-Ex facility on-site, but there is a DHL location a few blocks away.  However, I would avoid using that particular DHL facility because one dealer we spoke with said that numerous things went missing when he shipped with them.  He theorized that the people at that shipping location knew about all the valuable minerals being shipped out, and you never want a shipper to know what's actually in a box you hand over to them.

Option 3:  Have them bring it to Tucson

Probably half the dealers at The Munich Show also attend the Tucson Show, and on several occasions when we were looking at buying a specimen that was too big to fit into our duffle bag the dealer offered to deliver it in Tucson for us.  We took one of them up on that, so in 3 months we will be taking delivery in Tucson of a rather large and awesome specimen we bought in Munich.

So, your best option is really to just hand-carry your specimens home.  It's faster, safer, and free.  You're just limited by how much space you have in your carry-on baggage, although you can probably put non-fragile, inexpensive items in your checked luggage too.  That's what we did.

U.S. Customs

The biggest unknown for us was how to handle U.S. Customs when bringing the specimens home.  I asked a lot of other people with prior experience with this, and got horrible advice from all of them.  The bottom line is this:  mineral specimen collections are non-dutiable which means there is no import tax on this coming into the U.S.  Therefore, you have nothing to fear, and no reason to try and work around the system.  The bad advice I got ranged from "don't declare anything" to "get fake receipts showing lower prices" to "they don't know what these are worth, so tell them anything."  These are all horrible ideas and will land you in jail.  Just be honest.   The worst thing that will happen is you will have show them your rocks - along with all the beer steins and fridge magnets you bought.

Just like when you ship mineral specimens to another country and you have to supply the Harmonized Tariff Code on the declaration form, you should keep this number with you when going through customs in case there is any confusion.  The HTC code for Mineral Collections is 9750.00.00  Whether you're bringing in a $1000 rock or a $1,000,000 rock you will pay $0 in import duties because HTC 9750 items are tax-free into the U.S.  From what I understand items with that code are subject to a 5% VAT tax when imported into Europe, however.

When we got onto our return flight we were handed a U.S. Customs form, and I filled it out accurately with the estimated value of the minerals we had bought in Munich.  When we arrived in Houston we passed through the Passport control and then picked up our luggage.  This is usually the point where someone asks for that Customs form, but oddly there was nobody doing that.  So, we just went right though and out the door without anyone ever checking anybody's customs info.  Strange - don't think I've ever seen that happen.  As a result, I can't report on how the process went with them because it didn't happen at all.  Maybe next time there will be someone collecting the forms and I can update this with more info.

The only thing that caused some confusion were the airport x-ray machines.  Apparently when solid rock goes through one of those it doesn't look like much on the monitor, and this almost always causes a bag search.   We had several security screenings on our return trip, and one time they asked me if I had ceramics in the bag, and another time they just dove in and pulled a box out, partially unwrapped it and then she says, "Yeah, that feels like a rock."  Luckily, we didn't have anything particularly fragile, but they do kinda manhandle the things, so be careful about that.

Show Photos from 2018

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