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Davos 2017

Davos for beginners - an outsider's diary

The mighty, the rich and the mighty rich meet on Davos' peaks each year to look at the world below. Only a select few belong to the World Economic Forum's inner circle. A first-hand account from a newcomer who wants in.

Davos - what's the big fuss all about? Fat cats, grandstanders and many of the world's one percent meet in tiny a Swiss mountain village. Why? To find the cure to world poverty or something? Unlikely. So why all the excitement around the “World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting” (the exhaustingly long full title of the mountaintop affair)?

“The WEF is THE place in the world where the microcosm of the world's elite comes together,” Sandra Navidi told me over the phone, days before the forum.

I called her to get an idea of the WEF ahead of time. As a regular in the world of finance, she has insight into its inner workings. She had also just finished a book, "$uper-Hubs", on these power centers of the world.

According to Navidi, it's the one place where the world's CEOs have a chance to speak to financial ministers and network with other decision makers that can set the course for their business.

"And like every power platform, it has created lofty barriers. So the keyword is 'access'," she said.

Access (or lack thereof) upon arrival

The access barriers start with travel. While the select take their helicopters to nearby St. Moritz at night - there just aren't enough five star hotels to go around in Davos - we lowly masses have to take the train from Zurich.

Paul-Christian Britz DW Journalist

Paul-Christian Britz DW Journalist

Tagging along with my boss turned out to be a great and bad idea at once. Great because she met up with other media leaders (yay, access), bad because eventually the train broke down. The replacement had no heater. It was -10°C out.

Access is traded among those who have it

The train ride was a lesson in access acquisition and stereo listening, an initiation into Davos:

“Can you send me a link to the Telegram group?”
“Please add me to the WhatsApp conversation!”
“We've got this dinner on Wednesday and then the big party is on Saturday.”
“Hey, why wasn't I invited?”
“I've got an invite with Turkey's Prime Minister.”
“Oh that's not fair. Here, I'll give you one of mine if you give me one of yours.”

Back and forth it went between the veteran journalists in the freezing train. They were like kids on a playground trading Magic character cards. Some have been coming to Davos for decades.

Access comes to those who prepare

I played the newbie card (the only one I had) and asked around for advice.
“Have a goal!", one veteran journalist said to me.

"You have to know what you want. If you just go there to see what will happen, you'll walk away thinking…” she trailed off, shrugging.

Another journalist sitting in the coach - in Davos for the second time - had similar advice.

“After the first year, I'm now much better prepared,” he said.

Location, location, location makes for access

The fun ended abruptly, as I had to get off - around 20 kilometers from Davos in Klosters, another tiny Swiss village. It's a "typical newbie place to stay", I'm told.

Although much more picturesque, Klosters is like Davos for minions. The lower you rank among the WEF attendees, the further away your accommodations are located.

Being "in" Davos can actually mean spending a good hour and a half on public trains or waiting for them before you reach the center of power.

Some even travel for three hours. Especially at night, it's hard to get around.

But the travel time at least that gives me time to think about my goals for #wef16 and about how to get closer to the inner workings of Davos.