The Whole Wide World in Davos – A Personal View of WEF
By Ludmila Mitula
Ludmila Mitula visited Davos last week during the World Economic Forum and here are some of her impresssions…
Until last Tuesday, I didn’t know much about the pretty small town of Davos in the middle of Graubünden. I knew that it was one of most popular ski resorts in Switzerland, but as I’m not a great skier, I prefer to stick to the smaller, easier slopes closer to Zurich.
I also knew that German novelist Thomas Mann famously fell in love with this Alpine jewel and wrote ‘The Magic Mountain” about Davos. Just like Mann, I spent one of my Summers in Davos staying in an Alpine clinic with my little daughter who was suffering from bronchitis. It’s a shame that the clinic no longer exists, but the air in Davos still has that pure Alpine quality, helping people to breath better and recover faster. Another fact I ascertained, was that according to Lonely Planet, Davos is the most elevated city in the whole of Europe, which is maybe why it has this special reputation for healing.
However, on Tuesday, I saw Davos from a completely different perspective. As soon as I arrived I felt as if I was in the middle of an American action movie. I was stopped by the Swiss police three times and then twice more by the local traffic security. Luckily, I was prepared. I had my Swiss ID, EU passport, insurance, and all my valid car documents. However, what I didn’t have were snow chains for my tyres. I totally completely forgotten. Having bought my car in Texas, it had all-year tyres rather than Winter tyres. After the record snow fall in Davos and the constant reminders of avalanches threats and road closures blasting from the radio, I should have been better prepared.
Record Snow in Davos
Apparently Davos hasn’t had so much snow right before the WEF for about 20 years! I was thinking about stopping at the petrol station and purchasing a sturdy metal shovel just in case I got stuck somewhere. The city was covered in a powdery white snow blanket reaching up to 2 metres. I saw black limousines skidding across the icy streets of Davos. All the drivers looked stressed, but tried to stay positive by smiling at each other as they passed by.
International Media and Glitz
After parking my car, I went for a stroll through the town. It was vibrant everywhere – on the street, in front of the hotels, coffee shops, at the entrance to the Congress Building. I couldn’t believe that I was in the same Davos! Only one main road was open and hardly any shops; instead dozens of international offices, pavilions and stands had transplanted themselves into the town, turning the street between Davos Dorf and Davos Platz into a cross between Silicon Valley and a finance district in Manhattan.
Many buildings and shop fronts had been rented out to large corporations for huge sums of money for WEF and the big brash signage displaying names of well known multinationals, was everywhere to be seen. This annual business and political fest brings more money to the local community than the rest of the year put together. The local shops had given way to international brands and it seemed the only thing you could still buy were Swiss watches, and of course Swiss chocolate. Hotel rooms had been booked out months ago and there was not a single available bed left in town. Even if you could get a room, the prices were over three times their usual price. According to the newspapers, some Airbnbs were advertising rooms for over CHF 1,000 per night!
High Fashion Instead of Après Ski
During WEF the whole place looked chic and elegant. No après-ski ensembles, moon boots or UGGs in sight but a completely different sense of fashion on the streets. People looked like they were walking down Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich instead of an alpine ski resort with record snow. High heels from Jimmy Choo, skirts and suits from Hugo Boss, designer dresses, moccasins, pumps, Furla bags and iPhone cases from Karl Lagerfeld. There was a colourful, international crowd dressed up to the nines – but not necessarily for the weather conditions.
I loved seeing Davos full of banners, screens, advertisements and outside broadcasting. This normally very quiet and reserved ski resort was now buzzing, noisy and colourful. What really surprised me was that Davos felt like the most cosmopolitan and international place you can imagine. I didn’t hear a single word of German or Swiss German in the streets. Everybody spoke English. There was English on the phone, on the screens, in the coffee shops, in the cars, on the tablets and laptops. Even the waiter serving tomato soup in the cafe only spoke English.
It was the first time that I had felt Switzerland so open to foreigners and so international. I was happy to be a foreigner and not to have to apologise for my bad German! Many local Swiss people vacate the town for the duration of WEF, seeking peace and quiet elsewhere as once a year Davos takes centre stage in the world. The only people who seemed to be speaking the local dialect were the policemen and the one shop assistant in the only pharmacy I could find open. She had been waiting all day to catch a glimpse of her favourite actress Cate Blanchett who was giving a speech that day at WEF. Instead of seeing the Australian actress, she sold me a lip balm to protect my lips from the severe cold.
I continued braving the chilly temperatures to see some of the many events which were taking place in the vicinity. There was a pavilion where you could check out your ski proficiency using virtual reality glasses and maybe afterwards take the gondola to Parsenn and the nearby slopes to work on your technique.
During WEF, Davos is very different, but still magical. For one week of the year the clean mountain air is filled with private jets and helicopters ferrying the rich, famous and powerful. However, you can be sure that straight away after, Thomas Mann’s vision of peace and harmony will soon return to this beautiful mountain resort.
Article written by Ludmila Mitula
Photos by Ludmila Mitula and Christina Fryer