Davos diary: A walk along the Promenade — the last bastion of globalization
DAVOS: There are some people who come to Davos every year at the time of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting — and never set foot inside the Kongresszentrum where all the big official WEF events take place.
For these Davos denizens — “no badgers” in the argot — life consists mainly of a kilometer-long strip of the roadway called the Promenade. In non-WEF times it is a normal high street — shops, supermarkets and banks. But during WEF week in January, it is transformed into a shrine to cosmopolitan corporatist financial elitism — a thoroughly fascinating experience for all that.
Greta Thunberg would not approve — but I do. Join me for a stroll through the last bastion of globalization.
You get the message straight away on turning left out of the Kongress. The pretty little Free Evangelist Community Church has been taken over by the Filecoin Foundation (internet freedom outfit) and US broadcaster CNBC. Hedonistic “night cap” events — late-night parties — are held within its sanctified vaults, it is said.
A few meters further on the Saudi petrochemicals firm SABIC rubs shoulders with Guggenheim and The New York Times, just across the road from the Emirates (UAE, not airline) pavilion where a banner screams “Impossible is Possible.” It does a brisk business in “Emirati hot chocolate,” which I never knew was a thing.
Next is the Belvedere Hotel, which really is the epicenter of the Davos experience. Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, IBM and Standard Chartered all call the Belvedere home for WEF week, as well as the cream of blue-blood bankers like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. The Belvedere — “night cap” capital of Davos — really demands a column all to itself, so let us continue strolling.
Misk, the Saudi charitable foundation, has transformed a Swiss hotel into its Youth Majlis for the duration, just over the road from what used to be the Aberdeen cafe, replete with Scottish Highland piper. The pipes are gone, unfortunately, and the cafe is now occupied by IBM.
The NEOM experience is available a few doors along, including the best model of how The Line will look that I have yet seen. You get a sense of what it would be like to live in the most radical and ambitious urban development in history.
In non-WEF times it is a normal high street. But during WEF week, it is transformed into a shrine to cosmopolitan corporatist financial elitism
Continue down (the minus 10 degrees Celsius temperature is beginning to bite now) and you come across the incongruity of the Maharashtra House, garishly occupied by the Indian state for WEF week, in a Gothic timber-gabled building bearing the German slogan (I translate): “Be hopeful in adversity and remember the storm when everything is bright.”
The Blockchain Hub a few meters down always has a queue outside regardless of the time of day, while the Polish House bids a welcoming “dzien dobry” and tempts you inside with the offer of Polish delicacies.
Here you are getting to the heart of the Promenade experience, by the entrance to the Schatzalp funicular that takes Ivy League investment bankers up the Magic Mountain for a legendary farewell luncheon (no journalists), and right next door to the Hotel Europe, infamous for the bacchanalian goings-on at its Piano Bar.
Close your eyes, and you can still just hear the strains of “Uptown Girl” belted out by disgraced financier Arif Naqvi in his Davos heyday.
Then, bizarrely, you come across the Manchester United House. You might think it a clever bit of marketing as the club tries to sell itself for billions of dollars, but the welcoming receptionist (a Spurs fan!) explains that the Reds have had a place at Davos for many years, and that its owners, the Glazer family, are regular WEF attendees.
I have nearly reached the end of my stroll (very cold now!)
My destination is the Ukraine House, perhaps the most popular location on the strip, because of the deep sympathy there is for the country at Davos (Russians are banned), and the warm welcome inside from Ulyana Khromyak, executive director of the house.
The exhibits are often heart-rending, with stories of horrible suffering endured by ordinary Ukrainians since the invasion last February, but also inspiring as they remain adamant they will fight to the end for their freedom.
There is more to the Davos Promenade, but it is too cold to walk further. I head back to Kongress as snow begins to fall.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai