IBA shown up by 'arty' early opening

The IBA Conference opening, with guest Roman Herzog, has become the talking point of the event

More than 4,000 lawyers watched an unusual mixture of shadow dancing, music and lighting effects that formed the grand opening ceremony for the 26th biennial International Bar Association Conference in Berlin.

The display, performed before and after a series of speeches by German president Roman Herzog, IBA president Ross Harper, the mayor of Berlin, and several other IBA officials, surprised many lawyers.

Harper had written to delegates asking them to make an effort to get up early and attend the 8.50am morning opening because it promised to be something different and exciting.

Traditionally the opening ceremony takes place the evening before.

But many lawyers were disappointed with the performance and it was the favourite topic of discussion at many cocktail parties and dinners during the week.

One US lawyer said: “I'm afraid I left before the end of the show. Lawyers aren't interested in that sort of thing. It was an attempt to be arty which didn't really work.”

Another commented: “The show was confusing, nobody could work out what it was supposed to signify.”

Last year's IBA business section conference in Paris opened with an opera which was widely praised.

In Berlin, technical problems did not help. During the speeches, IBA officials were praised and thanked, but a technical fault meant that their pictures were flashed up at the wrong time.

Harper said the show had been held in the morning this year because it had to be fitted around Roman Herzog's tight schedule.

Herzog told delegates that “A free society cannot live without an independent legal profession – citizens need competent advisors who are able to defend their rights against the authorities.”

President of the German Bar Felix Busse told how he escaped from East Germany in the 1960s and thus appreciated democracy and the need for lawyers to uphold it.

The mayor of Berlin, Christina Bergmann, said that since the wall came down the number of lawyers in East Berlin had increased from just 100 for 1.1 million people to 4,450. She said: “This indicates the changes taking place and the important role Berlin is taking.”