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Secret Service

Photos
Ulrike Myrzik
Tobias Sagmeister

Text
Eva Backes

On the catwalk in Paris

100 automotive world premieres, 13,000 media representatives and 1.3 million visitors – the 2012 Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris is a huge stage. When the show begins here, everything on Audi’s show stand has to be absolutely spot-on. Weeks in advance, more than 300 people are working behind the scenes with passion and meticulous planning to deliver the perfect performance.

2.190
square meters is the floor
area of the Audi show
stand at the 2012 Mondial de
l’Automobile in Paris.

17
cars are positioned with
millimeter precision.

September 25, 2012, Paris, Porte de Ver­sailles, Hall 4. A black curtain shrouds the 2,190 square-meter Audi show stand. In two days’ time the eyes of the world will be on Paris – but the scene is still one of drilling and hammering; it is loud and dusty with zero trace of glitter and glamour. It smells of wood and fresh paint. Project Manager Annkatrin Hentsch is making sure that work is progressing as it should – electricians, carpenters, painters and carpet fitters are all working at the same time. “We have to stay on schedule,” says Hentsch, as she walks across the stand checking everything, “The show will open whether we’re ready or not.”

Work has been going on in Paris for two weeks now – round the clock, in three shifts. A total of twelve months of work go into a show appearance of this magnitude. Annkatrin Hentsch is at the reins from concept to realization. “But I am not fighting alone,” she stresses. “All of this can only work with a motivated team.” Internal departments and external service providers are her interfaces – there are dozens of rounds of approval and fine tuning from start of project to showtime in Paris.

600
pairs of Weißwürste are
delivered from Audi’s
in-house butcher in Ingolstadt.

25
kilograms of sweet mustard
add the right amount of spice.

20
barrels of Weißbier are on
standby for short breaks from the hustle
and bustle of the show.

So what is so special about an Audi show stand? “Nothing is off the rack. Every stand is tailor made. The form it takes here in Paris is the only time it will look like this.” The phone rings, Hentsch is needed back in the hall – par for the course on a day like this.

Meanwhile, rehearsals for the press conference are beginning on stage. The cars that drive onto the stand are still dummies at this point. A Q5 stands in for the Audi crosslane coupé show car, which will be the center of attention on the first show day. Up until the very last second, the star of the show has to remain a secret.

On the day before the show opens, the stand gradually starts to take shape. A lot has happened overnight. Now it’s the turn of the 11-strong cleaning team, which polishes and buffs the entire stand to a dazzling gloss. There are just a few hours left until the official sign-off by the board. “We go on standby at 2:00 pm,” calls Hentsch to her co-workers. Everything has to be perfect by then.

The tension is growing – for Norbert Pöchmann, too, who is responsible for vehicle preparation. He has been doing this job for almost 20 years – and he is just as enthusiastic as ever. “I simply love doing it,” he says, his eyes bright. Be it Detroit, Frank­furt or Geneva, Pöchmann is at all the big auto shows and knows exactly how to stage an Audi perfectly.

The woman with the overview –
Project Manager 
Annkatrin Hentsch.

Nothing is off-the-rack. Every stand
is made-to-measure. This particular layout is specific to
Paris for this one, single show.
Annkatrin Hentsch

And so, too, in Paris – with a team of four mechanics, he makes sure that the technology and appearance of the vehicles meet the very highest standards. “Everything on the vehicles has to be absolutely flawless,” explains Pöchmann. And that is often a matter of millimeters. Is the lighting right? Are the cars properly balanced? Are all 17 vehicles on the stand positioned exactly where they should be according to the show plan?

At 5:00 pm everything is ready. The first board members announce their arrival. Pöchmann leads the group from vehicle to vehicle. Doors are opened and closed – to clean, well-rounded tones. Just as it should be. Pöchmann strokes his hand carefully across the hood and points to the accurate shutlines and the correctly positioned tires. Then the boss pats him on the back and says, “Super job.” Sign-off accomplished.

“Now we can clock out,” joke the mechanics, who are watching the scene from a distance. But there is still a lot of work ahead for the team before the next day. An Audi S6 has to be repositioned. Plus, a stand for the show car’s space frame is missing – it is being flown in from Germany by overnight courier.

Then the big day arrives – the show opens its doors. Gerd Muthenthaller is one of the first to arrive. The Head of Catering checks the delivery of fresh produce that arrived at the Porte de Versailles at 5:30 am. A gourmet menu is going to be conjured up today in a tiny kitchen of just 25 square meters – a porcini mushroom tarte, lobster ravioli and beef fillet – haute cuisine prepared right behind the show stand, just through the wall from the expertly polished exhibits.

And not forgetting the Bavarian delicacies – Muthen­thaller’s team has brought 600 pairs of Weißwürste (white sausage) to Paris – vacuum packed and shipped directly from Audi’s in-house butcher in Ingolstadt. Add to that 25 kilograms of sweet mustard and 20 barrels of wheat beer. “The good thing about shows within the EU is that we have no problem bringing in Weiß­würste. In Geneva or Shanghai, we have to make them from scratch on site,” explains Muthethaller, “because ‘no’ is not an option. So we simply bring our own butcher and the Weißwurst machine with us.” Just like the kitchen equipment in Paris – from the refrigerators to the dishwashers, it all comes completely from Ingolstadt. “It’s the only way we can guarantee the high quality of our food and beverages,” says Muthenthaller, as he serves fresh coffee to the first guests.

Meanwhile, below on the show stand, the hostesses in their elegant outfits start to arrive. The stand is already bustling with board members, press spokespeople and journalists. What was still a big construction site just 48 hours ago is now a glittering stage for the latest models from the Audi product lineup. The car is the star. The show begins and everything is perfect for this moment. Hentsch and her colleagues breathe a sigh of relief – until the curtain falls in Paris and the planning starts for the next big show.