On the road in Germany

A terrific time was had traveling through this beautiful country of 80 million people. I still haven't figured out how long Germany's reign as an industrial giant will last. Why do I say this? The average German puts in 1,650 working hours annually, compare that with 1,750 in France or Great Britain, 1,900 in the United States and 2,180 in Japan.

Unions are big in Germany, which explains contracted vacation time averages about six weeks, then there are the 13 to 16 official holidays and paid sick leave (up to six weeks). Add it up and we're talking two and a half months off the job. For the average American or Japanese it's three and a half weeks.

I couldn't figure out why Germany has so many "spa" owners until someone explained it to me. It seems going to a spa represents a form of medical treatment. With the backing of a doctor and health insurance a middle-aged German can take a four week "cure" every three years at around $5 a day (includes room and board). Germany has over 1,200 of these "cure" facilities. To many it's a additional free holiday and you can imagine how much their employers dislike these extended absences by otherwise healthy employees.

I also noticed in the Germans business world how they love to add their academic degrees with job titles. Several had more than one doctorate so on their business card it would read, Dr., Dr., John Smith. Met a professor at a university who had two doctorates and was introduced as Professor Doctor Doctor John Smith.

ZF Friedrichshafen AG

Leaving Switzerland to get to Friedrichshafen, Germany means making my way around Lake Constance, which serves as a natural barrier and border. It's July and Friedrichshafen, a popular lakefront resort city, is in full swing with a huge food fair on its lakefront esplanade. I'm to visit ZF Friedrichshafen and evidently it's such a big fish here it doesn't require a street address. I had addressed my advance material only with the name of the company, name of city and postal code. Several locals direct me to the place or, so I thought. I'm at a large plant about a mile from downtown and soon find out this isn't headquarters. I ride about a half-mile further from downtown to find a new, good-looking four-story brown brick and glass structure with the company's initials on the side. Dietmar Pfister, Vice President-Corporate Marketing/Public Relations, is already waiting for me outside. The reason Pfister's waiting being I got lost trying to follow the lousy directions given by the receptionist and it ended up taking me 20 minutes to go the half mile.

Built in 1990 (it looks newer), about 120 people work here which is located in a light industrial area. Checking out CEO Dr. Klaus Bleyer's office I can't describe it as a corner or middle office because the building is shaped like the number "8". Bleyer has a computer, four real plants and 11 pictures. The company's art collection is a mixture with the majority being contemporary and that's what I see in Bleyer's office. Though Bleyer isn't in, his secretary, Anita Schraff, sits in on the questions and shows me her bosses' office and the boardroom, the later containing a V-shaped table and a map of the world. ZF (Zahnradfabrik) manufactures transmissions for cars, trucks, buses, helicopters, industry robots and agricultural machinery. Also elevator equipment, rail drives, gearbox units for aircraft, marine reversing and reduction gears, steering systems and a slew of other vehicle components. Revenues in 1993 were 5.4 billion-DM.

A rather famous fellow who founded several other companies in Germany founded the company here in 1915. How famous is this guy? Well, only a month earlier a brand new museum with over 430,000 square feet of exhibit space was opened in the town's former railroad station and it's named after him; Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen. Yep, it's Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the man who developed the airship.

In 1950, majority of ZF shares (89.8%) was transferred to Zeppelin Foundation who today is run by the city of Friedrichshafen.

Haindl Paper GmbH

The not-very-enjoyable smell of pulp hangs thick in the air as I ride up to Haindl Paper's five story, red brick with light green trim headquarters. I'm about a mile from downtown Augsburg, population of 260,000. Right across the street there's a large company plant with 600 workers. Founded in 1849, Handl Paper manufactures newsprint and coated paper. Revenues in 1993 were 2 billion DM. There's a busy street separating headquarters, which has no name on the building, from the plant across the street but that's been solved by an enclosed skywalk.

Entering, one walks into a five-story atrium. Two large pieces of modern art hang on walls and there's an old linotype printing press taking up space in the lobby. There's also a large sculpture that fills up with water, then moves back and forth. The receptionist says the fresh flowers on the counter are replaced every week.

Manfred Kretschmer, company secretary, gives me a warm welcome. Built in 1986 about 200 work here. Smoking is allowed and employees eat in the cafeteria located across the street in the plant.

As Kretschmer walks me around I see plenty of real plants scattered throughout the building. I especially check the plants at lumber and paper companies to be sure they're real, after all, it would be mighty embarrassing to learn a company earning their livelihood from trees can't be bothered taking care of the real thing.

CEO Dr. Clemens Haindl has no view from his fourth floor middle office (there's another building right next door). His stand-up desk must be over 100 years old. I note the computer, four tombstones, two model airplanes, one real plant and tree, a picture of his wife and, a framed drawing of his wife hanging on a wall.

Munich Airport, 50 miles away, is the nearest airport and it's two miles to the nearest autobahn (freeway). The hexagon-shaped boardroom contains three pieces of modern art hanging on the walls and 10 black chairs encircling the table.

Walter Bau AG

It's tricky finding one's way through this light industrial area several miles from downtown Augsburg but I eventually locate Walter Bau's head office. The place is big and really sticks out due to the bright yellow and blue trim on the fat seven-story edifice. With Walter Bau being a construction company (1993 revenues 3.6 billion-DM) I'm curious as to whether they built the place. Unfortunately I never get to find out.

One enters the building and finds the receptionist sitting behind a glass wall. You communicate via a porthole in the glass (as in the kind found on ships). She doesn't speak English. I wait in the lobby for over 40 minutes until a woman who refuses to give her name informs me they received my advance material and "we aren't interested in talking to you". "Who said they don't want to talk to me", I ask and we spend the next 10 minutes conversing why I need a name. I explain to her I've come halfway around the world and I'm suppose to turn around and leave because some person, who refuses to give me her name and title, says she was told by someone, who she refuses to identify, says they aren't interested? She goes back upstairs and returns in a few minutes with the name of the person who said they didn't want to talk to me: Professor Roy Walter. From what I'm able to figure out he's the son of Chairman Ignaz Walter.

On the road in Munich

Bayerische Hypotheken-und Wechsel-Bank AG (Hypo Bank)

Downtown Munich, with it's large historic old town, doesn't have a skyline. Head about five miles from the center core in any direction and you come across high-rise office and apartment buildings. I'm about five miles from downtown and I'm looking up at Munich's tallest (25-stories) and arguably spiffiest-looking building which houses the head offices of Hypo Bank . Built in 1981, the modernistic triangle-shaped structure looks much newer probably due its silver aluminum-like exterior and massive cylinders going up its sides.

Hartmut Pfeifer, Vice President-Public Relations, gives me a warm welcome and tour of the place, which is home to 2,500 employees. Established in 1835, Hypo, means "mortgage" and Hypo Bank comes in at number five on the list of biggest banks in Germany.

Usually banks having separate dining facilities for management. Here, everyone eats in the cafeteria. Meeting rooms are named after cities the company does business in. There's a marked 13th floor in the elevator and an indoor swimming pool. The company's art collection consists primarily of 18th and 19th century Masters and is international in scope.

We go up to the top floor for the view. It's a great panorama of the area and helps me get the lay of the land since I've visiting a slew of companies here. This floor contains meeting rooms and to see CEO Eberhard Martini's office we head down to the 21st floor. Martini's triangle-shaped, not very large place of work contains a number of unusual objects such as a lava rock, miniature wood raft and carved wooden ox. Since he isn't in I can't ask about their significance. Martini loves cigars and has a box on his desk-each cigar bears his name on the band. I don't see a computer, no plants, one family picture and two pieces of modern art hanging on the walls.

Revenues in 1995 were over US$15 billion. The company has over 17,000 total employees and over 265 billion in assets in 1993.

BayWa AG

Hopping on the bike and riding two blocks from Hypo Bank's offices brings me to BayWa's 17-story no-frills headquarters with it's name in green letters on the building. It's part of a hotel/office/apartment building complex built in the late 1960's and it's definitely looking its age.

BayWa, a building materials and agriculture concern with 1995 revenues of 6.5 billion DM and over 11,000 employees, operates over 100 garden center stores, gas stations, manufactures mineral oils, fertilizer, plants and seeds. Founded in 1933, three fourths of shares are held by companies belonging to the "Organization of Bavarian Cooperatives". The company's original name, one of those long combination of incredibly long German words, was shortened to Baywa in 1972.

I receive a great reception from Dr. Marion Soceanu and Lothar Schoenberger, both from public relations. Unfortunately, there's nothing worth noting about the place. The company leases the building and has 800 employees working here. Employees have to pay for parking and there's a marked 13th floor. Nothing special about CEO Wolfgang Deml's office, which has one real, plant and is sans computer and any personal effects.

Sued-Chemie AG

The street running past Sued-Chemie's headquarters in downtown Munich is all torn up with construction work and the building next door has been completely cleared and all that remains is a big hole. The fantastic-looking sculpture fountain across the street is normally alive with water so I guess I have to imagine what this area looks like when it's finished.

Dr. Franz Kahlenberg, Corporate Public Relations, says headquarters, a beautiful six-story turn-of-the-century building, has been home to Sued-Chemie since it was built. About 150 employees work here and in a nearby building. Sued-Chemie, a chemical company had revenues in 1995 of 1 billion DM.

I'm not able to see CEO Dr. Juergen Kammer's office due to "he's busy" but Kahlenberg says it's a middle office on the third floor. It's pretty much a spartan operation here as the two fake trees and fake flower arrangement in the lobby attest to that.

Siemens AG

Wow, coming upon Siemens headquarters in downtown Munich one gets the feeling it's a palace instead of a head office. The six-story pink ornate structure completely dominates Wittelsbacherplatz, THE most prestigious plaza/square in Munich. In the center of the square stands a huge statue of former King Ludwig.

Getting into Siemen's requires going through glass turnstiles. Having an access card will let you pass and I note the access system is a Siemens product. Once inside, the green and white marbled lobby definitely impresses you. This is going to quite a place to be shown around or so I thought. Peter Olfs from the press department says they hadn't received my advance material. What does that mean? For "security reasons", it means the extent of my visit consists of sitting in one of the brown leather lobby chairs with green designs on the sides and having Olfs speed through my questions in seven minutes and having me out the door by the eighth minute.

Olfs says the building, known as the "pink palace", was built in 1825 and indeed was a former royal palace. About 100 work here. In the immediate area are a total of 11 company buildings of various ages, sizes and designs which pushes to 2,000 the number of employees here.

Though I don't get to see CEO Heinrich von Pierer's office, Olfs says it's a middle office on the third floor and overlooks the plaza. Olfs assures me Pierer's computer is a Siemens-Nixdorf model.

With over 390,000 employees and 1995 revenue of US$60 billion, Siemens is one of Europe's biggest companies. Siemens operates in a wide range of fields including communications, information, energy, transportation, health care and lighting.

Isar-Amperwerke AG

I'm a mile from downtown Munich visiting Isar-Amperwerke, a utility company with 1995 revenues of 1.9 billion DM, and the building definitely has the uglies. This five-story structure was rebuilt in the late 1940's after being destroyed by bombs in 1944.

Peter Wendler from public relations says in a few months everyone will be moving out. Why? It's the start of a two and a half-year project where the whole building will be gutted and rebuilt. It needs it judging from the looks of bleak rundown hallways and Wendler's cramped linoleum floor office. About 800 people work here and in five nearby buildings. Nothing fancy about Chairman Alfred Bayer's plainly furnished middle office containing one real plant. Isar and Amper are the names of two rivers, which flow around Munich.

Bayerische Landesbank Girozentrale

I can't believe I'm visiting what's supposedly the head office of an international bank with over 260 billion DM in assets. Three times I stop by and three times I leave totally frustrated. The six-story big fat blue building with open courtyard which looks to have been built in the 1980's lies near Munich's downtown low-rise financial center.

Neither the receptionist nor two security speaks English and it's up to me to commandeer people passing by to find someone who can speak English who can tell the receptionist to contact the Chairman's secretary or public relations. My first visit was on a Friday afternoon and spent over 40 minutes on the lobby phone. Everybody I would get on the phone would pass me on to someone else who either didn't speak English or else not enough to understand what I'm talking about. A marketing woman comes on the line and says I'm not going to get anybody today because "it's Friday and everyone has gone home because the weather is beautiful". Monday and Tuesday I get the runaround from a variety of people including the Chairman's secretary and a woman from marketing who keeps insisting I have to "fax in" what I want. Nobody would give out their names and I constantly get disconnected when being transferred. Definitely one thoroughly disorganized company which makes my listing of Clueless Companies.

The State of Bavaria owns 50% and the Association of Bavarian Savings Banks owes the other 50%. Revenues in 1995 were US$12.6 billion.

Bayerische Vereinsbank AG

I'm in the heart of Munich's financial district who's buildings are predominately beautiful turn-of-the-century structures not more than five or six stories tall. This is where I find Bayerische Vereinsbank, with over 290 billion DM in assets and 21,000 employees, it's Germany's fourth biggest bank. Revenues in 1995 were US$17.3 billion. Unfortunately I have to go across the street and down a half block to another Vereinsbank building to meet with Thomas Pfaff, Director of Press, in his office. The day before I made an appointment for 8AM this morning and Pfaff mentioned having only a few minutes for me. Groan, just as I expected, Pfaff says it isn't possible to see the boardroom or Speaker of the Management Board Albrecht Schmidt's office because "there's a meeting going on" plus Pfaff himself has to be in a meeting shortly. Pfaff tries to describe Scmidt's middle office but to me it doesn't count unless I physically get to look for myself.

The five-story, company-owned headquarters building was built in the end of the 19th century. Pfaff doesn't know how many work in the head office but says over 4,000 work in the Munich area.

Allianz Holding AG

There's a huge park called English Garden, which passes along the downtown area. Running for 40 miles it can probably claim the distinction of being the longest city park in Europe. Besides the usual sports playing fields, playgrounds and ponds are quite a few beer gardens. We aren't talking about small quaint beer gardens either but ones, which quench the thirsts of hundreds of thirsty patrons at once.

I make mention of English Garden because that's where the backside property line of Allianz Holding stops. With 1995 revenues of US$46 billion and over 70,000 employees, Allianz Holding is far and away Europe's biggest insurance company. Being one of the world's biggest insurers I'm expecting to find an impressive mammoth-like complex or else one of those fortress-like edifices insurance companies like to build. Instead I find a low-key, four-story unimpressive structure beside a street running along the park. Tall trees hide most of the building and at first glance I think I have the wrong address.

Entering, I have to deal with security guards who don't speak English sitting behind a glass enclosure. After a few minutes wait Emilio Galli-Zugaro, Head of Corporate Communications, warmly greets me. I would have to say Galli-Zugaro, who's Italian and in his early 30's, easily ranks as one of the most impressive ‘contact persons" met on my trek. He's open, outgoing, warm, smooth, funny-- just an all around great guy.

Built in 1954, this is a listed (historic) building. It's definitely not listed because of the exterior, which has all the markings of a dull 1950's building. As far as the interior, it's the large atrium lobby, which makes it special. The walls surrounding the three-story atrium are done in mosaic tiles and there's an almost see-through skylight, which is totally unexpected to visitors. It's a great grand room for hosting receptions.

About 350 employees work here. Several miles away there's a company recreational facility with four tennis courts and swimming pool. We walk across the street to check out the cafeteria and next door there's a former house, which was turned into a company museum/archives. Not open to the public, Zugaro obtains the keys to the museum and in we go to the three-story house, which houses an impressive collection of fire marks.

Downtown, according to Zugaro, lies two subway stops away. It takes 40 minutes to get to Munich Airport with Allianz having one corporate aircraft, a Falcon. It's 10 minutes to the nearest freeway on-ramp.

Nothing impressive about the view from CEO Dr. Henry Schuffe-Noelle's top floor corner office. He can see the courtyard of this U-shaped building but can't see into the park because tall trees block the view. The courtyard grounds feature two pieces of the Berlin Wall. Schuffe-Noelle has a stand-up desk, a bowl of fresh flowers, a picture of his wife and six modern paintings by German artists hanging on the office walls.

The boardroom, with fresh flowers, features a dinky circular table seating 12. It's not as impressive as the C-shaped table in the Supervisory Boardroom.

A little side story to this visit. When riding around in downtown Auckland, New Zealand two years earlier Dr. Thomas Heinrich, who was vacationing with his wife, stopped me. He saw the Bloomberg Financial Markets logo on my bike and figured out I was the "Bloomberg biker". He worked in the finance department at Allianz and regularly read my stories on the Bloomberg system. I mentioned coming to Europe and visiting his company so he gave me his business card. After finishing up my visit with Zugaro I contact Heinrich, who's office is in this building. Walking into his office he immediately points to a picture of a small child on his desk and proudly beams "this was the result of our vacation in New Zealand".

Munich Reinsurance Company

It figures. I visit Allianz and get a great reception even though it's an unexciting headquarters then, I go across the street to visit Munich Reinsurance and get a lousy reception even though it's got a beautiful headquarters.

It seems Munich Reinsurance, the world's largest reinsurance company, has sloppy in-house mail service. Rainer Kueppers, head of information and public relations, says they never received my advance material. I tell Kueppers that seems mighty strange since I just left Allianz, which was well prepared for my visit. I guess I'm being whining and cynical because it's that reason of not getting my advance material that Kueppers declines to take me past the lobby area. So what's the big deal? The yellow, four-story turn-of-the-century-structure is a real beauty. Combine the wood carvings around the exterior windows and doors, the marbled pillars gracing the outside entrance, life size figurines atop the pillars and the clock cupola on top--you've got a neo-classic building which looks like a former royal palace of some kind. Though it never was, if the rest of the place looks like the exterior or reception area--then the executives here must think they ARE royalty.

I enjoyed my wait in the lobby area before Kueppers arrived. Why? It feels like you're in a private club. Relaxing in one of the comfy 11 brown leather chairs I had my pick on the coffee table of the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine and several local Munich papers to thumb through. Between every two chairs there's a small, nicely built-in wooden case filled with a variety of bottled fruit and soft drinks you can serve yourself. I helped myself to several bottles of cherry juice but, could have chosen orange, grape, grapefruit or two kinds of mineral water.

Though Kueppers had no inkling of my arrival I'm impressed with his flexibility in taking time to answer my questions. There're six company buildings in the immediate area including a brand new five story structure, all connected via underground passageways which go under several public streets. A total of 1,900 employees work in the various buildings. I can't see the boardroom or CEO's office or anything past the lobby area due to "security reasons". The rear of the headquarters building contains a large very well maintained garden with lots of colorful flowers. How do I know? No thanks to Kueppers, I peeked over the wall. A block away, inside the new office building there's a Japanese garden, which I get to see via a picture in a booklet Kueppers hands me. I particularly like this paragraph from the booklet " Walking through the underground passage-ways connecting the individual buildings, one experiences works of art "in passing". These act as visual landmarks, remaining firmly fixed in the memories of staff and visitors alike". Yeah, what's firmly fixed in my memories is coming half way around the world to visit this company and having to peer over a wall to see a garden.

Established in 1880, the company has over 16,000 employees and 199 revenues of

US$23.1 billion.

Viag AG

I'm on Nymphenburger Strasse about three miles from downtown Munich and it's an odd place to find one of Germany's largest companies. It's a neighborhood street lined with small retail and mom & pop shops, restaurants and mixed in with homes and small apartment complexes. Initially I mistakenly pass Viag's low-key six-story building tucked away behind an iron gate. I count three buildings inside the fenced in complex with the biggest being for Bayernwerk. I had sent advance letters to both Viag and Bayerwerk and didn't know until I talked to the security guard/receptionist at Bayernwerk that this company (Germany's largest producer of hydro electricity) is a subsidiary of Viag. I dismiss visiting Bayernwerk and walk next door to Viag. With over US$29.2 billion in revenues in 1995 and over 84,000 employees, Viag operates in a variety of fields including chemicals, packaging, logistics (transportation) and energy. The state of Bavaria (Germany is divided into states) has 25% equity interest in the company.

Actually, I end up having to visit this place three times before hooking up with a very reluctant Mathias Caspari, who's from the President's office of Bayernwerk and is in charge of political affairs. Caspari isn't keen on answering my questions for "security reasons". I ask what he means by "security reasons" and Caspari says the company operates nuclear power plants and it's a very sensitive issue in Germany.

Caspari says headquarters consists of seven different buildings in the immediate area. I say headquarters is where Chairman Dr. Georg Obermeier hangs his hat and so Caspairi says 96 people work here. "Here" means the new six-story structure where I'm sitting in the small lobby. I never get past the lobby because Caspari says every place else is a "restricted area".

MAN AG

I'm five miles from downtown Munich visiting MAN in its six-story blue-trimmed glass building and as mentioned earlier, it's around five miles from city center when the large modern office buildings start to crop up. Though MAN owns the building (built in 1985) there're other tenants. For such a big company I'm surprised at the small size of the place.

MAN, which manufactures trucks, diesel engines, is the world's second largest maker of printing machines and also operates in the chemical, telecommunications, plastics, construction and steel trading fields, has over 60,000 employees and revenues in 1995 of US$12.4 billion.

I previously stopped by here on three occasions trying to find someone to meet with. This time Dieter Gratzel from the information department spends a few minutes with me in the lobby. The lobby seems to be as far as I'm getting lately with these German companies. About 200 employees work here. MAN was founded way back in 1758 and MAN stands for Machinery Augsburg Nuremberg (two cities in southern Germany).

I don't get to see Chairman Klaus Goelte's top floor end office or the boardroom due to "security reasons". I do however know what Goelte sees when he looks out his window. Directly across the street there's a shop selling cemetery headstones and the whole front yard is chock full of brand new, waiting to be used headstones.

BMW

Headquarters for car maker BMW lies a half dozen miles north of downtown Munich and it's distinctive 22-story edifice is a famous landmark structure. Why? It's shape. The building's comprised of four giant glass cylinders coming together to look like a four cylinder engine. Giant BMW logos sits atop. Diagonally across the street lies Olympic Park, site of the 1972 summer Olympics. This place wasn't finished being built until 1973 so most Olympic visitors didn't get to see the finished product, which includes the BMW car museum.

The lobby area is immense. Hanging on lobby walls are three 12 foot by 25 foot paintings done by Gerhard Richter in 1973. Titled "Landschafen", each one is basically a big blob of a single color of paint with one yellowish, one reddish and the other bluish. Interesting enough, there 're no cars on display in the lobby and as I mentioned earlier the lobby is immense so it's not like they don't have the room. While the security guard/receptionist makes several calls I settle in on one of the large comfy U-shaped leather sofas.

After a twenty minute wait, Joerg-Dieter Huebner from the Public Relations department greets me and says they never received my advance material. I ask him if he'd check around to see if another department or person might have the material but he pretty much says he's the best I'm going to get and that I'll have to make do with him. Huebner doesn't seem to be much interested in my project and I can tell the lobby is as far as I'll be getting.

There're two main reasons BMW has it's head offices on this site. The company was founded in Munich back in 1916 and was originally a manufacturer of airplane engines. Since this area was the location of Munich's first airport in 1922, it made sense to have the plant here. The second reason has to do with what's behind the headquarters building: a massive BMW car factory complex with over 12,000 employees.

Hours of work here are from 8AM to 3:30 PM. Workers in the factory work 32 hour weeks and get six weeks paid vacation a year. Jeez, and the Germans wonder why their companies are moving plants elsewhere. Huebner says he knows of two corporate aircraft, a Gulfstream IV and MD-95.

I ask if I could check the executive’s parking lot to see if they drive BMW's but Huebner nixes that idea. I can't see anything past the lobby area due to "security reasons" which means I don't get see if Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder has any model cars in his office. What a disappointing visit. Huebner says to mention his name and I'll get in free in the BMW museum next door. Big deal. The museum is only so-so but evidently, going by the number of people inside, it's a big stop for tourists and car enthusiasts.

Before leaving I wander around the big multi-level employee and visitor parking garage adjacent to the building. I like the section reserved for bicycles and, note a vast number of employee’s cars aren't Beemers. That means either the company doesn't give a big enough employee discount or else they don't believe in their products.

BMW has over 70,000 employees and revenues in 1995 of US$32.2 billion.

Dyckerhoff & Widmann AG and Escada

The street address I have for construction company Dyckerhoff & Widmann is Erdinger Landstrasse 1. Not being able to locate it on a map I make the big mistake of asking a hotel concierge where it's located. He says it's about 25 miles east of Munich in the town of Erdinger. I spend several hours pedaling my way out to this idyllic little town only to be told by the locals there's no such street.

It's late Friday afternoon as I fervently pedal my way back toward Munich in hopes of making it to suburban Aschheim before 5 PM to visit clothier Escada. Headquarters is a four-story blue trim building in a new light industrial office park but since it's Friday and it's now 5:30 PM I'm pretty much resigned to finding no one around. However, there's a faint ray of hope as I find the front doors still open and a receptionist around. She says most everyone has gone home but tries phoning the Public Relations department. Eureka! Turns out Marita Gottinger from the PR department is still here AND she received my advance material.

I tell Gottinger of my lousy day of making a futile ride out to Erdinger looking for Dyckerhoff & Widmann's office. She then pulls a stunner by walking me to a window, pointing to a large building several blocks away and saying that's Dyckerhoff & Widmann's headquarters.

Escada's headquarters consists of this building (which has its name in large letters above the front doors) and two others across the street, the later two being where clothing is designed and some of it knitted and manufactured. I confess to Gottinger of not being familiar with Escada and ask her if it's similar to Ann Taylor. She says competitors would be more like Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. Escada has 150 boutiques in 35 countries plus quite a few Cerruti 1881 stores.

Chairman & CEO Wolfgang Ley founded Escada in 1974. The company is name after Escada, an Irish race horse. Revenues in 1993 were 1.1 billion DM. I ask Gottinger why this upscale clothier has such a low-scale head office location. Having the head office above their flagship store would seem to be the norm rather than the exception. Gottinger answers, "plenty of space". The company has leased space here for the last 15 years. About 1,000 employees work in various buildings in the area (the three headquarters buildings are included in that figure).

I can't see CEO Ley's top floor office because he's still in there working. Nothing special about the boardroom except it's loaded with boxes containing thousands and thousands of company catalogs getting ready to be mailed out. Before leaving I check the labels on Gottinger and an associate's outfits. Yep, they're both wearing Escada. Gottinger doesn't let me leave empty-handed as I'm given a bottle of their new men's cologne, which I gracefully accept even though I don't like the smell..

Passing by Dyckerhoff & Widmann's large five-story concrete and glass structure with green trim around the windows I note the railroad tracks running along one side of the building and on the other side there's a huge gravel/maintenance yard. Won't have time next week to make a return stop.

Sixt AG

Visiting Sixt, which rents motor vehicles and has the Budget franchise for Germany, requires riding 15 miles south of Munich to Pullach. Looking at a map I see it's alongside the Isar River so I elect to follow a bike trail. Big mistake. The river itself isn't wide but the riverbed is and weaves along in several directions. It's a very heavily wooded unpopulated area with bike trails going in different directions. My biggest problem being I can't read the bike trail signs which are in German which leads me to several times riding several miles down unpaved, bumpy trails only to come to an abrupt dead end. Some sections of the river have isolated rocky beaches and I come upon quite a few nude sunbathers (it is the middle of summer). So what should have been a quick one hour ride down a road turns into a three hour fiasco when I arrive at Sixt's headquarters.

The three-story headquarters looks like it was a former turn-of-the-century home. A plot of tall trees prevents the place from having a view of the river several hundred yards away. Right across the street stands the town's train station. Locking my bike alongside the building I see a man looking out his window watching me.

Walking into the place is like walking into a car rental office with the two receptionists wearing uniforms and sitting behind a counter. Neither one is very friendly.

One makes a call to find out who ended up with my advance material and then announces "everyone's busy and has no time for you". Being a little bit on the irritated side after having just spent several extra hours getting here I ask her if she could tell me who told her that. She said Robet Lohaus who's head of marketing and the press department. I ask to speak to him. Lohaus gets on the phone and says he received the advance material but says he's "very busy". "I've come halfway around the world to visit your company, would anybody have a few minutes to meet with me?", I ask. "No", he answers. I then ask for an annual report and his business card. A minute later he's in the lobby with the requested items. Turns out Lohaus was the "very busy" guy looking out the window watching me lock up the bike. Revenues in 1995 were 1.6 billion DM for this company founded in 1912 and controlled (73%) by Erich Sixt.

Diehl GmbH & Co.

Nuernberg, a city of 200,000, lies about a 100 miles north of Munich. My only previous knowledge of this city being it's where the trials were held for Nazi war criminals after World War II. Most of the city was severely damaged from Allied bombings but, the city has a large, well preserved and rebuilt old town area.

Several miles from downtown I come upon Diehl's five-story red brick headquarters encompassing a whole city block. Located in an old industrial area I'm sure this was once a manufacturing plant. In big letters on the lower front of the building I see the company's name.

Dirk-Michael Zahn, head of communications, gives me a warm welcome and says I'm correct in assuming this was formerly a manufacturing plant. Built in 1916 over 400 employees work here.

Zahn says Diehl is 100% owned by Diehl family members, has 12,00 employees and is one of Germany's 100 largest industrial companies. Zahn won't, however, divulge the company's revenues. According to my research Diehl had revenues in 1993 of 3 billion DM.

Diehl walks me through a large company product display room and I'm amazed at the number of different products made including parts for Lockheed Martin's Sidewinder missiles, processing machines, electronic systems, clocks, watches, fireworks and non-ferrous products from copper alloys. As a momento of my visit I'm given one of the company's newest Junghans watches. You never have to set the watch's time. Why? It's the world's first radio-controlled solar wrist watch with integrated antenna in the ceramic case. Zahn says it will work anywhere in Europe.

I can't see CEO Thomas Diehl's first floor corner office because "he's in". I do pass Karl Diehl's office though. Who's he? He's the 89-year old former CEO and father of the current CEO. Karl Diehl, who still regularly comes into the office, is the son of founder Heinrich Diehl (1878-1938) who established the company in 1902.

Quelle Schickedanz AG & Co.

Nuernberg and Fuerth, are twin cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul. Fuerth, with a population of 120,000, is the smaller of the two. I'm near downtown Fuerth and trying to find the offices of Quelle Schickedanz. I don't have in my notes what the company makes or does but I'm sure it has to do with bottled water. How do I know? Well, you see I like to drink club soda and in Europe I've been having a heck of a time finding it. Going into a supermarket one finds a wide variety of waters and when you don't speak or read the language it's tough to figure out if it's plain water or "with gas". In Germany quite a few companies like to put the name "quelle" on their brands of water which I learned means "the source". So, that's why I know the company makes bottled water.

Headquarters is a large fortress-like six-story structure on a not very-well-to-do street lined with small shops and businesses. The only name on the outside is a tiny plaque. I try and open the large front doors but evidently they're permanently locked so I go around the corner to the guard manning the parking lot entrance. He doesn't speak English and after a few calls to who knows who he points me to go to the building.

Entering the lobby one passes two large pictures hanging on a wall of a man and woman with no names underneath. Manfred Gawlas, head of communications, greets me and though says they never received my advance material, ends up giving me a great reception. I tell Gawlas I know nothing about the company but assume they make bottled water. He starts to laugh and wants to know what gave me that idea. I tell him and he laughs again. What does this company with over 28,000 employees and revenues of almost 15 billion DM do? Quelle is Europe's largest mail order company and the second biggest in the world after Otto Versand, the Hamburg-based company which owns Spiegel, Eddie Bauer and gave me a horrible reception. Quelle owns travel agencies, photo stores, hardware and electrical stores but as Gawlas points out, doesn't have anything to do with bottled water. Quelle, as Gawlas points out means "the source" as in "the source for all your needs". Matter of fact, Gawlas points out the company's logo, which is the name in blue letters with a person's hand going through the letter "Q", is Germany's third most recognizable logo after VW's and Mercedes-Beinz.

How big is Quelle in Germany? It's private label sewing machines, washing machines, microwaves and refrigerators hold the number one ranking in each category in terms of sales.

So, who were two people in the lobby pictures? The man is Gustav Schickedanz (1895-1977) and his wife Grete (1912-1994) who founded the company in Fuerth back in 1927--starting out as a mail order company. This building was built in the late 1920's and is home to 700 employees, with a total of 10,000 employees in the Nuernberg/Fuerth area.

The "AG & Co." after the name means this is a limited partnership in which the general partner is a public limited company. The company's art collection consists primarily of 16th and 17th Dutch artists. Employees get 10% discount on goods in catalogs. It's 20 minutes to the nearest airport and the company owns two Lear jets.

CEO Dr. Steffen Stremme occupies a second floor middle office with a not very impressive view of the courtyard parking lot. I note the two pictures of his kids, the laptop computer, one real plant, real flowers and the stand up desk. I count five company catalogs (which are the big bulky Sears-type) and an oil painting of soccer. The later coming from Stremme's previous stint at Adidas.

Walking me down a hallway we turn right but I look left and see some interesting items on the walls. Gawlas isn't keen on showing me but I persist. Gawlas says a former CEO in the 1960's was a hunter and had a fondness for displaying his "trophies". These include the head of a huge brown bear and heads and antlers of deer. Hey, maybe they should think about putting them in one of their catalogs!

A meeting room gets used as the boardroom and the walls are lined with seven pencil drawings of old Nuernberg city scenes. .

Grundig AG

Though I know television maker Grundig is a subsidiary of Philips, the giant Dutch conglomerate, I thought it might be fun to visit this big subsidiary which has over 114,000 employees and revenues of 3.4 billion DM in 1993. Grundig must be the market leader in furnishing hotels with their televisions because they seem to be in every hotel room I stay in Europe.

I'm several miles from downtown Fuerth and it isn't difficult to pick out Grundig's head office from a distance. It's an old six-story aluminum and glass relic from the 1950's. On top and on the sides of the building one finds the company's name in big blue lettering. Entering the plain lobby one encounters a giant 50 inch television (it's a Grundig of course) turned on to a local station. There's also a bronze bust of Max Grundig (1908-1989) that I assume with the company being established in 1948, just might be the founder.

Via the lobby phone I speak to a women in public relations who acknowledges receiving the advance material but, says to come back tomorrow due to Thomas Mikelei, head of public relations being out of the office today and he's the only one authorized to talk to me. Unfortunately my tight schedule doesn't enable a return visit so, I guess I'll never get to complain to someone about some of the absolutely worthless remote control units used with televisions. Those of you who travel a lot and stay in hotel rooms know what I'm talking about. One Grundig remote control unit had over 50 bewildering buttons to push and it took ten minutes just to figure out how to turn the TV on, let alone changing the stations. I've had units with as little as four (on/off button, volume up, volume down, channel changer). There's been several instances where upon turning in for the night I couldn't figure out how to turn the darn television off via the remote OR by pushing the buttons ON the TV itself and had to resort to pulling the cord out of the wall.

Koenig & Bauer-Albert AG

Wurzburg, population around 100,000, is one of those cities which is neither too big nor too small. In the middle of city center sits a huge magnificent former royal residence and up on a nearby hill guarding the river and town stands a splendid-looking medieval fortress. Toss in a couple of magnificent old churches and a well preserved old town and you've got yourself quite a nice place.

I have to head four miles out of town to find the offices of Koenig & Bauer's but that's no problem as the bike path along the river takes me practically to the front doors. Built in 1988, it's a good looking seven-story building. A huge manufacturing facility several blocks long butts up to the rear and along the sides of the red brick building.

Even though it's pouring rain I note the four flags flying outside the front entrance (Wurzburg, company, German and EU). In the lobby there's a beautiful 10-foot tall cabinet and according to the placard the fellows residing in a monastery which sits up on a hill across the river built it in 1760. There's a bronze bust of Hans-Bolza (1889-1986) great, great, grandson of Friedrich Koenig (1774-1833) who founded the company back in 1817. The large lobby also contains seven large printing presses, which might have something to do with the company manufacturing newspaper web presses, web offset presses for printing and web presses for security products. Matter of fact, Koenig & Bauer established the world's first press manufacturing company in 1817 and is now the world's fourth largest press manufacturer and holds 95% of the world market for banknote machines (with Japan being the one place the company hasn't penetrated). All the printing presses displayed in the lobby are of models from the 1800's/early 1900's with several being originals and the rest reproductions. An original is the 1847 toggle press. There's a half-size scale model reproduction of the first mechanized printing press in 1803 (which was built by Koenig & Bauer). It's interesting to note that several of the giant presses are scale model reproductions which means the originals must have been massive pieces of equipment.

An unusual item in the lobby are the 150 wooden slats lined up in nice rows. Each one is stamped with the name of a newspaper that uses the company's printing presses.

I meet with German Stuis (yep, that's his first name), Assistant to the Executive Vice President-Finance, and when he hands me his business card I note it reads Koenig & Bauer-Albert AG which differs from the Koenig & Bauer AG I have down for their name. The company recently changed it's name to include it's acquisition of Albert-Frankenthal AG.

About 400 employees work here with over 2,200 working in various plants in the Wurzburg area. The company has been on this 25-acre site since 1901 and managed to rebuild after being bombed and destroyed in 1945. Rooms in the executive dining area are named after family members.

Hanging on the seventh floor boardroom walls are two oil paintings, one of founder Friedrich Koenig and the other Andreas Bauer (1783-1860). Two real plants compliment the long oval-shaped cherry wood table.

I can't see Chairman & CEO Heinz Bolza-Schuenemann's sixth floor corner office because it's "a busy Monday" but, from my earlier visit to the boardroom on the seventh floor, I can see he has a great view up the river. An interesting note about the current CEO's father. In 1959 Dr. Hans Bolza, who's sons died at an early age, formerly adopted Dr. Hans Bernhard-Schuenemann to carry on the family tradition and preserve the continuity of the business, which explains how current CEO Bolza-Schuenemann obtained his name. The founding family evidently believes strongly in keeping an eye on the business, which explains the family’s cemetery plot on the hill directly across the river overlooking the headquarters, complex. The company has a total of 6,500 employees and revenues in 1995 were 1.9 billion DM. Bolza family members control majority of common shares.

HUK-Coburg Insurance Group

I'm in Coburg (population 40,000) visiting insurer HUK-Coburg (1995 revenues 5.8 billion DM and over 5,000 employees) and this is another one of those super neat towns in central Germany. Like nearby Wurzburg (60 miles away), Coburg has a huge magnificent several hundred room former royal residence in its town center and like Wurzburg, has a fortress/castle up on a hill except Coburg's is perched on a much higher hill/mountain and looks more formidable. I have this hankering for visiting old churches, castles, fortresses and palaces and in Germany I'm finding there's plenty of each.

The address I have for HUK-Coburg is simply; Bahnhofplatz, which translates into "train station plaza" which isn't hard to find in this small community. Yep sure enough, right across from the train station sits HUK-Coburg's large five-story head office. Several other company buildings seem to be connected.

The security guard/receptionist doesn't speak English but between the two of us we muddle through and eventually I hook up with Stefan Eichhorn from the press department. Going back to his office I spot my news clippings sent with the introductory letter tacked up on a bulletin board. Eichhorn was given the task of meeting with me due to his being an avid mountain biker. I kid Eichhorn about being the first male contact person I've met with in a company who was wearing an earring (actually he's wearing two) which is even more unusual with this being an insurance company who are by and large VERY conservative. I did see male employees wearing earrings in the workplace when visiting Greenpeace in Amsterdam and Levi Strauss in San Francisco.

HUK-Coburg, one of Germany's biggest car insurers, was originally established in 1933 in the eastern part of Germany. After the end of World War II when the Wall went up the company moved to Coburg, which lies only a few miles west of the former boundary lines between former East and West Germany.

Built in the 1970's, the lobby of the head office contains a scale model of a new company complex being built several miles away. Currently about 3,500 employees work in this and four other nearby buildings. It's 60 miles to the nearest airport (Nuremberg) and 25 miles to the nearest freeway and literally only a hop, skip and a jump to the train station.

The company doesn't have a CEO instead, has nine chairmen and one gets the title of Speaker so, I ask to see Speaker Rolf-Peter Hoenen's office. Hoenen occupies a top floor corner office with gray furniture, wood paneling and blue rug. There's a computer, fresh flowers on his desk, two plants and an outside deck. The deck affords him a great view of the spiffy fortress on the nearby mountaintop. Other items in his office includes two toy model cars: a Mercedes-Benz and a Ferrari plus, a small somba. A somba here in the middle of Germany? Eichhorn says the city stages a big music fest in the summer and HUK-Coburg is a big sponsor.

Nothing special about the wood paneled boardroom with its U-shaped table and two real plants. Oh yeah, I ask Eichhorn what the letters HUK stands for: H(Haftpflicht) U(Unterstuetzungs) K(Kasse). The company is fully-owned by its policyholders.

Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Oberkochen is a company town. Set in a beautiful valley 60 miles east of Stuttgart it's home to 8,000 inhabitants. From the town center one can gaze up to picturesque farms on the nearby hillsides. From the same spot one can also see some of the 22 Zeiss buildings of varying shapes and sizes doting the downtown landscape. The buildings are easy to identify thanks to the large distinctive company logos etched on each building, which is the name "Zeiss" in white letters on a blue background. My knowledge of the company consists of it's well known reputation as one of the world's premier makers of binoculars.

With all these buildings to choose from I head for the tallest, figuring that's where the head honchos are most likely to be ensconced, that is, assuming they're like most who like to be able to oversee their kingdom. Yep I 'm right, the 11-story 1960's building is the place. The lobby area contains a six-foot tall telescope from Expo 92 in Seville, Spain and I quickly learn it's not your average telescope. Peering into the eyepiece one sees the various planets passing by. The lobby area also contains bonze busts of Carl Zeiss (1816-1888), Otto Schott (1851-1935) and Ernest Abbe (1840-1905).

I had addressed my advance material to Managing Director Helmut Fahlbusch and the receptionist, who does her best considering she doesn't speak English, finally gets it across to me that his office is in Stuttgart. It gets very confusing when she calls Stuttgart and puts Fahlbusch on the phone with me. You see, I don't speak German and he doesn't speak English so after several minutes of neither one of us getting anywhere I hang up.

I don't know how I did it but the receptionist figures out I want to talk to someone in public relations. Dr. Hansjoachim Hinkelmann from the scientific press department answers the phone and says everyone's on vacation except him and he's tied up running the company's optical museum (The Optisches Museum Oberkochen) down the street. He suggests I meet him there.

Boy do I luck out. Besides getting to check out the neat museum, I get Hinkelmann, who runs the museum and is pretty much the company's historian. First, he sets me straight on several items. Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung is a foundation and has two independently managed enterprises Carl Zeiss (opticals) and Schott Group (glass maker). Combined, the companies have over 5 billion DM in revenues and 34,000 employees. Turns out Fahlbusch, the guy I hung up on, is the big boss of Schott (oops!).

Founded in 1846, the company moved to Oberkochen in 1945 from its former East Germany location. Now, over 3,000 employees work in the 22 buildings.

The optical museum contains a fascinating array of historical spectacles, dozens of microscopes, rifle scopes, telescopes, binoculars, reading glasses and paintings. For instance there's the "Tax Collector" an oil painting by Marinus van Roymerswaele (around 1550) showing first form of the spectacles, rivet spectacles, 14th century. There's a collection of enameled opera glasses from the 1850's, ornately decorated hand telescopes from the 19th century and even a pair of reading glasses used by Napolean in 1811.

After touring the museum Hinkelmann calls up the secretary to Dr. Grassmann, who's Chairman of the management board, and arranges for me to go back over to the head office and see the boardroom and Grassmann's office.

Grassmann's corner office on the ninth floor affords him a marvelous view of the picturesque valley. His office contains a laptop computer, one real plant and one picture, that of him shaking hands with a Japanese executive. What's more interesting is what his office DOESN"T contain: no company products. Jeez, his company is one of the world 's biggest and best makers of telescopes and binoculars plus Grassmann's in the valley's tallest structure. Wondering if he'd have a telescope and binoculars in his office would have been a sure "no brainer".

Nothing special about the boardroom which doubles as a meeting room. The table's black, there's a TV/VCR but nary a company product in sight.

Paul Hartmann AG

Heidenheim, population 50,000, lies about 60 miles eat of Stuttgart and is another one of those small-townish towns located in a picturesque valley. It's also home base to Paul Hartmann, manufacturer of surgical dressings, cosmetic and feminine hygiene products, diapers and first aid kits with revenues in 1993 of 1.3 billion DM and over 5,000 employees.

Company headquarters consists of two buildings about a mile from the city center. No problem finding the place because it's on a main street through town named Paul Hartmann Strasse. One's a brand spanking new five-story structure built in 1995 and the other, built in 1912, rises two-stories. Around 400 employees work here. On the other side of the road are two big company manufacturing facilities employing around 800. Hey, here's something I don't see very often in Europe, on the entrance door is a sign saying "we thank you for not smoking on the premises". It gets better. Beside the two receptionists being friendly and helpful I receive a plate full of cookies to munch on while waiting for my contact person. The waiting room contains fruit drinks so I help myself to a bottle of Johannisbeer nectar.

Hans Kahlich, Executive Vice President, along with several assistants give me a warm welcome and tour of the place which is overwhelming done in white. Then again, white conjures up images of cleanliness and hospitals which is what the company's business is all about.

The history of Hartmann's logo is quite interesting. Originally the company used the red cross symbol embellished with staffs of Aesculapius. Though it was registered in 1883, the symbol was changed in 1906 due to a law protecting the Red Cross symbol. Now it's a blue oval with the company's name spelled out in white letters inside the oval and on the fringe of the oval is a tiny blue octagon with the red letter "H" inside.

Nothing special about the offices here though CEO Dr. Reinhard Bauer's office contains two pictures of his family. The boardroom contains an oak table that seats 15.

I don't leave empty-handed as I'm given two small first aid kits especially designed for bicyclists.