On the road in Luebeck and Bremen, Germany
Luebeck's an old historic city with a population of about 200,000. It's known as the city of seven towers due to the steeples of six magnificent churches which dominate the skyline (one church has two steeples). The downtown core area looks like it's situated on an island because of two rivers converging here. One of the rivers was diverted to help form a moat, which for hundreds of years protected Luebeck.
It's on the outer banks of one of these rivers where I find the headquarters complex of Draegerwerk mixed in with several of its factories and research facilities.
Getting onto the property means explaining myself to the three security guards manning the gated entrance. Shortly after, I'm greeted by several women from the public relations department who take pictures of my bike and I standing next to a company sign for their in-house employee publication.
Dr. Welf Boettcher, head of corporate communications, answers questions in the six-story headquarters building, one of about 30 buildings on the property. Afterwards, Klaus Hellwig, executive-external relations, takes over. After a quick lunch, Hellwig whisks me to a building housing a well-done exhibit of the company's product lines through the years.
Draegerwerk, with 1994 revenues of DM 1.4 billion, profit DM 7.6 million, has a fascinating history and manufactures a wide array of products for use underwater (diving equipment, underwater labs), offshore (compressed air chambers), underground (gas detection pumps, breathing and filter equipment for miners), above ground (ventilators, incubators for babies), in the air (guess who makes those breathing systems and masks which plop out above your airline seat) and in space (superpure gas supply units and sensors). Some of the more interesting company products on display includes an iron lung from 1952 and oxygen gas masks used by miners in 1903.
How's the food in the cafeteria? I give it two thumbs up. My plate containing meat loaf covered with gravy, red sauerkraut, boiled potatoes and rice pudding with red sauce on top was easily vanquished.
Hellwig walks me down to the waterfront so I can check out their claim employees have an option of getting to work via boat because Draegerwerk has a small dock on the river. Sure enough there's a dock, if an employee has his own boat he can commute.
Near the water is a large metal shed, which because of its close proximity to the water, I assumed was a boat storage shed. Wrong. Inside is a high-tech fire-training center Draegerwerk sells to fire departments. Manning an extensive array of electronic controls and instruments, the operator can put a fireman trainee through the paces. The large room can be set-up like the inside of a house or building. From a glassed-in control booth, an operator can turn the room pitch black and thanks to night vision cameras and monitors, follow the fireman's progress making his way through a maze of ladders, vents, and other obstacles.
Evident throughout the grounds are large mature trees, buildings with ivy growing up the sides and, lots of vegetation. The company prides itself on the special attention it gives these symbols of life (including mention in a company brochure). Walking by one building I notice its shape looks a little funny. Turns out instead of uprooting a pear tree, the building was built around it. Employees are allowed to pick and keep the fruit off the numerous apple and pear trees. With the company's proclaimed fondness for things green, then how come when I walk into the boardroom I find a real plant AND a fake plant?
Chairman of the Management Board (equivalent to the CEO in the USA), Dr. Christian Draeger, occupies a first floor corner office. I make note of his stand-up desk, the four REAL plants, 15 rocks and, an unusual sight here in corporate Germany-family pictures. Draeger, 61 years old, is the grandson of the founder. Though Christian Draeger's father died in 1986 at the age of 88, he doesn't have to go far to visit the grave. Why? He's buried on the property. On a site overlooking the river (near the fire training center) and marked by a big rock, lies Dr. Heinrich Draeger. (For more information: DRWB)
L. Possehl & Co. mbH
Built in 1962, the six-story building sure has a dinky reception area. A guard sits behind a desk right next to the elevator and the seating accommodations consists of two small chairs next to him. There is however, a small spiral staircase and looking up, you can see it spirals all the way to the sixth floor. There's a showroom for a BMW dealership occupying the rest of the first floor in the building.
I'm not expecting much here at L. Possehl & Co. because they're privately held but, those fears quickly fade as Klaus Leopold Heldman, vice president-corporate affairs, gives me a warm welcome.
Ludwig Possehl founded L. Possehl & Co. in 1847. When he died in 1919, he left all his assets to the Possehl Foundation, and the equity of all Possehl subsidiaries was transferred to L. Possehl & Co. mbH in 1929. The Possehl Foundation continues to remain the sole owner.
What does L. Possehl & Co., with revenues of DM 2.8 billion, do? Plenty. To name a few: International trade in ores, minerals and other industrial raw materials, sells steel, plumbing fixtures and heating equipment to the construction industry, insurance, produces lead frames for the electronics industry, data-processing services, exports machinery and industrial equipment and sells automobiles. You know that BMW dealership on the first floor? It's one of four the company owns.
About 45 employees work in this downtown Luebeck building we're in but, next door is a company-owned red brick structure built in 1902 (former head office) and it's home to another 150.
CEO Dr. Dietrich Schulz, occupies a corner office on the fourth floor. Nothing fancy about the computerless room except the his collection of 30 mineral rocks.
Downside to working here might be the 45-mile drive to Hamburg's airport.
On the road in Bremen
I like this city of 500,000 people which lies about 50 miles southwest of Hamburg. Not too big, not too small. Testing the food in the city's downtown open market square I wolf down the best goulash I've ever eaten. Pastries here are delicious (as they were in Hamburg). Bremen is home to Beck's beer.
Television is interesting to watch in Germany. Many familiar American shows are standard fare here. There's one BIG problem though; the German voice dubbing is horrible. The essence of Kramer on Seinfeld is lost because the voice doesn't match the character, ditto for Homer Simpson on the Simpsons. The German dubbing John Wayne's voice in one of his westerns completely takes away the mannerisms in Wayne's voice which made him so special. I also find it interesting that old reruns of Hogan's Hero and Knight Rider are popular.
The German people seem to pride themselves on being in the forefront of saving the environment and recycling. So how come in this land of heavy smokers, all the puffers just toss their cigarette butts on the ground as if it doesn't count as litter?
Eduscho Gmbh & Co. KG
In 1924 Eduard Schopf establishes the Eduscho company in Bremen and launches a mail-order service for roast coffee. In 1944 bombs destroy all facilities. Starting over again, by 1969 the company goes international and by 1991 has revenues over DM 2.5 billion thanks to its expansion into mail-order clothing and gift articles. Eduscho is currently the #3 coffee in Germany and the #1 brand in Austria.
Several miles from downtown Bremen near the railroad tracks and just down the road from a huge Kellogg cereal plant sits Eduscho's headquarters complex. After getting clearance from the guard at the gate I'm directed to the reception area. No one's manning the reception desk and after a 10-minute wait I get antsy and walk back to the guard at the gate and mention this to him. He says to go on back. Five more minutes go by before two receptionists come out of a side room where it looks like they've been washing coffee dishes. Why the heck did they keep the door closed while doing the dishes I'll never know. I count 21 black leather chairs in the lobby and there's a 10-foot tall glass mosaic of flowers.
Rolf Helmbrecht and Hartmuthe Schulze, both from public relations, invite me into a meeting room off of the lobby area where I'm told the company hadn't received my advance material. The room we're in is called the Brazil room. Conference rooms are named after countries from which the company buys their coffee beans.
About 1,000 employees work in various buildings here which includes headquarters, coffee roasting plant, warehouse and shipping facilities.
Schulze and Helmbrecht admit they're a privately held company and aren't known for divulging much information about the company so, I'm impressed with their flexibility in at least agreeing to meet with me on no advance notice. My request to see CEO Rolf Schopf's office is quickly squashed. I'm told the 67-year old Schopf, son of the founder, keeps a very low profile. Jeez, they won't even show me a picture of what he looks like.
The company has an unusual art collection that is currently on a three-year tour through Europe. Consisting of 350 exhibits, the collection reflects 300 years of coffee culture and history.
The name Eduscho is derived from the founder's name: EDUard SCHOpf. Yes, I was asked if I'd like a cup of coffee but, since I don't drink coffee I politely declined.
Bremer Vulkan Verbund AG
It's pretty tough to report on shipbuilder Bremer Vulkan Verbund's headquarters because they just moved into the place several months ago. Formerly located in one of their shipyards a dozen miles from Bremen, the executives and their staffs (over 100 employees) now lease the second, third and fifth floors of a six-story building overlooking Bremen's market square.
There's no company cafeteria here but, who needs one when they can feast at any of the dozens of vendors set-up in the square.
Axel Stamn, head of communications, answers questions and shows me around. Revenues in 1994 were DM 6.1 billion. Besides being the biggest shipbuilder in Germany, the company builds electronics & systems technology and, machine tools.
From Bremen, it's a 30-mile ride each way to the headquarters of Nordmilch, a dairy cooperative based in Zeven. With 1994 revenues of DM 1.4 billion, it's one of the biggest in Germany.
On the outskirts of this town of several thousand I find headquarters across the street from one of their dairy plants. Behind the one-story white building with brown trim sits another building and it's three-stories with red brick and green trim. The two don't exactly complement each other.
Walking into the lobby I'm greeted by the receptionist puffing away on a cigarette. As I've said many times before, the receptionist sets the tone and image for the company. I find it extremely offensive when visitors have no choice but to endure the stench created by smoking receptionists and security guards. In this particular case it's even more revolting because the company produces milk--a product associated with being healthy, wholesome and good for the whole family.
Well, as I said, the receptionist sets the tone and it isn't a good one as Willi Feldkaemper, head of public relations walks out and in an abrupt and brusque manner says its summertime and there's no one around who has time to talk to me. Standing next to him is a fellow from the marketing department. "What about you guys?, I come more than half way around the world to visit your company and you haven't 10 minutes to talk to me?" Feldkaemper says, "no" and walks away.
It's a three-hour ride back to Bremen and of course I'm more than a little upset with the shabby way I was treated. However, it quickly goes away because it's just drop-dead gorgeous riding around here. Though it's in the upper 80's and muggy, the sky is bright blue and there's a paved bike path running along side the road. The scenery is awesome with nothing but dairy farms, cornfields and other such crops growing alongside the road. Every four or five miles there's a small village with maybe a gas station or general store but, always a church.
Hamburg, Germany's second largest city with over 1.6 million people, lies about 100 miles south of Denmark's border. The city has a zillion bridges and canals. Okay, not a zillion but, did you know Hamburg has 2,123 bridges? that's more than Amsterdam, Venice, and London COMBINED. Hamburg is Europe's second largest port after Rotterdam and is home to the highest number of millionaires in Germany (2,500). Hamburg's a great city, very bicycle friendly but, it's a little frustrating dealing with the streets. Why? Streets change names every four or five blocks.
I'll be visiting companies in the northern tip of Germany before making my way over to The Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom. I'll be riding through the rest of Germany in June-September of 1996.
Volksfuersorge Holdings AG
Some of downtown Hamburg's most expensive real estate fronts the shores of beautiful Lake Alster. Insurer Volksfuersorge seven-story headquarters overlooks this lake (which in truth is simply a millpond dammed-up since the Middle Ages). Actually it's a good-sized lake: encompassing an area as large as the entire principality of Monaco.
Oh-oh, the receptionist doesn't speak English so she calls over a nearby security guard who doesn't fare any better. I take a seat in one of the four leather brown chairs while the security guard makes several calls. The coffee table contains several brochures but it doesn't do me any good since they're in German.
Ah, the security guard did the right thing by calling up Bernd Jeschonnek in Public Relations. Jeschonnek was the one who ended up with my advance material and had been expecting my arrival. Also joining in the visit is Dr. Carsten Dagefoerde, Corporate Secretary.
Volksfuersorge, Germany's third largest life insurer with revenues over DM 7 billion, has occupied the site since the 1920's. Actually, headquarters consists of three building with the other two connected behind the block long main structure.
Plying Lake Alster are dozens of white ferryboats loaded with zillions of tourists (okay, so I have this fetish for saying the word zillions). Volksfuersorge sponsors these glass-roofed boats and each boat has its own name. Conference rooms in Volksfuersorge headquarters are named after these floating billboards.
Jeschonnek nor Dagefoerde can explain why the executives are ensconced on the fourth floor but suggest it has something to do with "being in the middle of things".
I've found it's pretty standard for insurance companies to have executive dining rooms. Not here, everyone eats in the cafeteria. (For more information: VOH)
Other companies in other countries visited warned me about Germany companies being close-mouthed and secretive. Visiting Helm AG, a privately held chemical trading company, I get my first taste.
The 11-story, white with maroon-trim building with two levels of above ground parking sits about a mile from downtown Hamburg's central train station. Built in 1972, it looks more like a 300-room hotel than an office building.
Entering the building there's a bronze of a life-size man (who looks like Benjamin Franklin) standing behind a stand-up desk writing in a ledger. Called, "Hamburger Kaufmann Am Stehpult" by Leo Wirth in 1958. The security guard says the bronze depicts a Helm salesman at work during the early 1900's. Karl O. Helm founded the company in 1900.
It's an odd set-up on the ground floor. There's the security guard/receptionist manning his post near the entrance and the rest of the floor is barren except Annette Ebert, Public Relations, sitting at a desk right next to the elevators. Ebert says they're not familiar with what I'm doing and even if they were, they wouldn't talk to me.
"Do you put out an annual report"?, I ask. She says it's required of private companies but, to see it I have to go to City Hall where it's on file. "I have you down as having revenues of DM 4 billion, is that correct?". "You'll have to go to City Hall and find out for yourself", she answers.
Leaving, the security guard hands me a brochure on the company. Thumbing through, one page starts off: "HELM TODAY. The members of the HELM AG Executive board are more than a little proud of their company. After all, HELM has grown constantly over the years. 900 staff members in 1989 ensured a worldwide turnover of DM 5.1 bn and thus maintained HELM's place among the world's leading trading organizations in the fields of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, and steel."
Six miles northwest of downtown Hamburg and I'm at the seven-story headquarters of Beiersdorf, an international manufacturer and marketer of branded products in skin-care. Its NIVEA line is the biggest skin-care and body-care brand in the world. The company's also big in the adhesives field.
Entering the large lobby, I have to deal with two security guards/receptionists smoking up a storm at the reception desk.
Dr. Matthias Schatz, Presse & Public Relations, comes out to the lobby and answers questions while we sit in the lobby chairs. Over 1,500 employees work here.
It's a complex of connecting red brick buildings several blocks long, forming a V-shape. Right across the street and encircling the place are residential apartment complexes. Why is the company located in such a hemmed-in area? It wasn't like this back in 1882 when the company built its first building on this site. Back then, this whole area was barren for several miles in any direction.
I ask Schatz if I can see the CEO's office and boardroom and he laughs. "What's so funny", I ask. "We've never had anyone ask that", he answers. My request is declined.
Revenues in 1994 were DM 5.2 billion, profit DM 208 million. (For more information: BEI)
F. Reichelt AG
Riding seven miles northeast of downtown Hamburg brings me to a mixed area of light industry, railroad tracks and residential homes. F. Reichelt, a wholesale distributor of pharmaceuticals, occupies a three-story structure attached to one of their warehouses.
While waiting in the tiny reception area (two seats) I check out the glass display case containing antique mashing dishes used by pharmacists to mash and mix drugs. Next to the display sits a large antique stove-like contraption pharmacists in the old days used for cooking drugs.
Werner Harder comes to the lobby, and we quickly go through the questions. Headquarters staff totals six people, with the rest working in the warehouse part.
My regular batch of questions includes: Is smoking allowed? Harder answers "yes". I then ask, "Does the CEO smoke?". "Yes", he answers. I continue asking questions including: Can I see the CEO's office? Harder answers, "Yes" and says to follow him up the stairs to the third floor. We walk into a room and Harder says, "Here's my office". "You mean, YOU'RE the CEO?", I ask in disbelieve. "Yes", he answers. "Oh my gosh, I didn't know you were the CEO, when you handed me your business card I couldn't read the title because it was in German.", I answer.
Harder's no-frills middle office contains a computer (says he never uses it), two plants, cigarettes and, an unexciting view of homes across the street.
I ask for a company annual report in English. Harder says they don't publish an English version. "Why", I ask. "We don't do business outside of Germany", he replies. (For more information: RCH)
Five miles north of downtown Hamburg brings me to a row of turn-of-the-century office buildings overlooking the Elbe River. They were obviously former mansions of the wealthy. Occupying one of these grand structures is Wunsche, a company operating a cross-section of businesses including a bank (NordFinanz Bank), a sportswear chain (Jean Pascale), milk and dairy products, animal feedstuffs and real estate. Revenues in 1994 were DM 1.4 billion, profit DM 20.8 million.
It's an impressive lobby area with marble floors but, I note the plants are fake. There's a 10-foot long scale model of Merkur Bay, a former company cargo ship, sitting inside a display case.
My visit with Joachim Kleehn, Investor Relations, takes all of three minutes. He couldn't care less about what I'm doing and it shows in his voice and body language. I speed through the questions and my request to see the boardroom and CEO's office is declined.
Twenty-eight employees work in the white, 4-story, company-owned building. Though built in 1870, it's been home to the company only since 1989. According to Kleehn, Wunsche means "family". (For more information: WUN)
Head north of downtown about six miles and your in the Hamburg's second business center. Called "Noord City", it's home to dozens of large office buildings.
HEW AG, a utility company, helped established the area when it built a 13-story, 480,000 square foot, black reflective glass edifice here back in 1967. The slim, block-long building is home to 2,000 employees. Revenues in 1993 were DM 2.7 billion, profit DM 75 million.
My meeting with Johannes Altmeppen, Public Relations, is swift and the extent of my visit consists of getting to see the four orange leather chairs in the lobby. When I ask to see the CEO's office boardroom and boardroom Altmeppen starts to laugh. Why is he laughing? It's the same answer as the guy from Beiersdorf gave me: "Nobody's ever asked that before". My request is declined. (For more information: HEW)
Norddeutsche Affinerie AG
I'm on the banks of the Peute River only several miles from downtown Hamburg taking in the view of Norddeutsche Affinerie's headquarters/plant and it's MASSIVE! Riding my bike around the perimeter logs four miles on the odometer.
Norddeutsche Affinerie, with 1993-94 revenues of DM 2 billion, profit DM 5.1 million, is one of Europe's largest copper producers. This smelter is the largest in Western Europe, covering nine million square feet of land. How huge is this place? Big enough to have a six-story tall control tower in the middle of the complex to oversee the place.
The company's Public Relation/Corporate Communications department consists of Dr. Cornelia Goeksu and Bettina Westermeier, and I receive a warm welcome from both of them.
The company was founded in 1866 and is the oldest public limited company in Germany. The smelter has been on the site since 1910 but, the six-story headquarters building was built in the 1930's and looks it.
It's a very hot day today (almost 90 degrees) and of course I'm wearing my usual standard attire (rugby shorts, Bloomberg T-shirt and topsiders). That's no good here though if I want a tour of the plant so, I put on long pants, am issued a white smock, a hard hat and protective glasses and off we go on a two-hour bus/walking tour of the place. The most impressive part is the giant three football-fields long tankhouse. It's here where copper is separated from stainless steel sheets after soaking in water.
Lunch in the cafeteria isn't bad. The breaded pork is tasty and the French fries are pretty good-even with the strange sauce they pour over them.
I'm given a little street map of downtown Hamburg to help me get around. So? Well, besides the usual standard fare of listing main streets, it lists the addresses of structures having copper roofs or other unusual copper ornaments. (For more information: NRDD)
Though it fronts a prestigious street overlooking the lake, the outside of Hapag-Lloyd's turn-of-the century six-story headquarters in downtown Hamburg gives no indication as to the magnificent grandeur of its inside entry.
After passing through revolving doors and climbing several steps your eyes feast upon a huge marbled room fit for a king. The room, easily 80 feet long and a ceiling three-stories high, has an inscription in German above the entry "Mein Feld Ist Die Welt". Loosely translated by the receptionist its "The whole world is my field to work on".
My contact person, Hans-Juergen Capell-Public Relations, has been with the company over 40 years. That alone would make him the ideal person to talk with. However, he's also in charge of the company's archives. Before walking into his cramped and file cabinet-filled office I notice the "no smoking" sign outside the door. It's not that he's against smoking but, smoke is hazardous to the hundreds of photos, documents and memorabilia stored in his office.
My first question: "So, are you the one responsible for the collection of over 600 matchbox-size vessels on display in lobby?". He answers, "yes". Off to the side of the marbled entry is a fascinating glass display collection of every ship the company's owned since 1848. This includes sailing ships, luxury cruise ships, tugboats, oil tankers, cargo liners and LPG transporters. Hapag-Lloyd, with 1994 revenues of DM 4.2 billion, profit DM 63 million, is a biggie in the transportation business. Besides ships, the company operates a charter airline (six Airbus A310's and 12 Boeing 737's) and the largest travel agency chain in Germany.
Headquarters actually consists of two connecting buildings with over 800 employees working here an another 400 in two nearby buildings.
The rotunda room housing the cafeteria dining area is large and very opulent. Painted on one of the walls is a huge map of the world. Dated 1905, it's kind of fun looking at the map to see how the names of countries and their boundaries have changed. "Why is this room so big", I ask. Back around the turn-of-the-century when the company's luxury liners left Hamburg for the USA, passengers would come here (to the present cafeteria area) and go through various tables set up to insure passports, tickets and other items were in order.
CEO Berd Wrede has a stand-up desk in his computerless fourth floor office and the boardroom table is round but, the neatest item in the whole place is the continuous-moving elevator. I saw several of these in Scandinavia but, this is the first one where I get to jump on it while going up and ride it all the way to the top as it does its loop going down the other side.
No, there wasn't a Mr. Hapag or Mr. Lloyd. Hapag is derived from the first letters in: Hamburg-Amerikanische-Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft. Lloyd comes from Norddeutscher Lloyd, the result of a merger between several smaller companies. Hapag and Lloyd merged in 1970. (For more information: HPL)
Though it's only suppose to be three miles northwest of downtown, thanks to Hamburg's ever changing streets I'm having trouble finding Holsten-Brauerei's headquarters. Hmmm, why don't I just let my nose lead the way. Sure enough, the unorthodox method works because just as I suspected, offices are situated on the site of the company's first brewery.
The lobby area contains what looks to be a two-foot tall, ornate silver and gold-trimmed drinking mug in a glass case. Lining the walls are nine framed pictures of antique drinking steins. The tall pictures windows in the lobby/waiting area have those magnetic birds on the windows to keep real birds (the not-so-bright kind) from crashing into the windows. In the corner stands a bronze bust of Dr. Johannes Eisenbeiss (1913-1987), who was instrumental in the company's growth. Holsten, one of Germany's largest beverage manufacturers with 1994 revenue of DM 1.4 billion, derives about half its revenues from beer and the other half from non-alcoholic drinks.
I have a fun visit thanks to Udo Franke, who's head of public relations. Why is there only pictures of antique drinking steins instead of the real thing in the lobby? Franke says the real ones are on a traveling exhibit. The company has been brewing beer on this site since its founding in 1879.
I confess to Franke that I've never heard of their beer let alone tried it (Holsten's the largest exporter of German beer) so, guess where we go. Yep, up to the company bar where I sample several of their beers. Though the beers taste great, it's only 11 A.M. and I still have companies to visit plus, I sure as heck wouldn't want to show up with beer breath.
It turns out the building next to the brewery (where I'm drinking beers) isn't where the executives hang their hats. There's a brand new seven-story building across the street where the company occupies about one third of the space. An enclosed walkway over a busy public street connects the old with the new.
Dr. Klaus Asche, Chairman (CEO) is on vacation but, Franke calls him at home to get permission for me to have a look-see into his office. Asche says it's okay and I'm put on the line so Asche can explain why there's a six-foot tall oil portrait of Wilhelm the First, King of Prussia hanging prominently on one of the walls. Asche's a history buff and is a great fan of Wilhelm.
I'd assumed Asche's seventh floor corner office would have a great view of the brewery across the street. Nope, he faces the other way and overlooks railroad tracks. Lining shelves in Asche's office are dozens and dozens of volumes of books labeled "NJW". The initials stand for" Neue Juristische Wochenschrift" which turn out to be German law books. No beer memorabilia to be seen but, he has one real plant.
An employee perk here includes two liters of free beer per working day however, the beer has to be picked up at a location across town. (For more information HST)
Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken GmbH
Oh no! yesterday I dropped by Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken's headquarters 10 miles west of downtown and scheduled an appointment at 12 noon today to meet with Dr. Walther, head of corporate communications. It's now 11:55 am and I'm just leaving Holsten's offices. It's seven miles from Holsten and I HATE being late so I pedal like the wind and arrive at Reemtsma's 20 minutes past noon. Calling up Walther's secretary from the reception desk in a trailer I apologize profusely for my tardiness only to find out my appointment had been canceled earlier in the day because something came up for Walther. So Walther's secretary ends up apologizing to me because they had no way of knowing how to get in touch.
So, did you catch the part where I mentioned calling from a trailer? Here's the story. Corporate offices for Reemtsma occupy a site in Othmarschen, Hamburg's wealthiest residential suburb. Homes here are huge, the yards big and most aren't visible from the street because they're shrouded in dense vegetation and protected by high walls and iron gates.
Before entering the company grounds I have to past muster with the guard at the gate. I'm then directed to a two-story brown building which looks like it was built in the 1950's and who's entrance is all torn up because the reception/lobby area is being gutted and renovated--which explains the trailer being used as a temporary reception room. I'm surprised when receptionist Frau V. Larsen says she doesn't smoke. A wooden cigar-size box with a see-through glass cover sits atop each of the two coffee tables in the waiting area. Inside each box are three packs of cigarettes and matches. A glass display nearby shows the company's product line (I count 78 packs of smokes in the display).
Knowing I won't have a chance to return, I leave the grounds and decide to ride around the perimeter of the property. Turns out on the other side of the brown building is a new-looking three-story white structure and past that is a large park-like area with a lake. I come across several wooden signs identifying the area as Reemtsma Park. I spot several employees walking around the grounds and ask if this is a public park. It's a quasi-public park, owned by Reemtsma but the public has limited access to it.
Riding past the front entrance one final time, I stop to take a photo and it's then I notice IT. I double check, then triple check to make sure I'm not seeing things. Just to be sure I walk over and touch IT. Unbelievable! Here in Hamburg's most exclusive area where there's absolutely no stores, restaurants or commercial activity for several miles in any direction (except for Reemtsma) the company has an ugly brown cigarette vending machine hanging on a pole outside its entrance only a few feet from the street! Talk about tacky.
Reemtsma sells its cigarettes in more than 50 countries. Revenues in 1993 were DM 2.5 billion, profit DM 152 million. (For more information: REEM)
Otto Versand GmbH
I'm about five miles northeast of downtown Hamburg and the seven and eight story massive concrete and glass headquarter buildings for mail-order giant Otto Versand (over US$9 billion in revenues) engulfs a whole city block. The name "Otto" in big letters sits atop the structures.
Everything seems to come in one size here: big. The lobby and reception areas are expansive with various displays set-up like you'd find in a department store. One display shows a kid's bed with kids clothes and comforters. Another shows washing machines and televisions. One, setup to show a summer vacation scene even contains a map of California (my home state). I count 30 leather chairs for visitors to sit in.
I visit the company on two separate occasions and both times have nasty run-ins with absolutely unhelpful receptionists and security guard personnel. Rather than go into details, let me just say it makes my top 10 list of worst receptions of all time. They refused to make any calls to find out who received my advance materials, refused to give me the name and/or number of anybody in the company so I could make my own calls. I spend 10 minutes arguing (to no avail) with the smug receptionist to give me her name.
This is the same company which owns the USA mail order company Spiegel Inc. (revenues of US$ 2.7 billion), which in turn owns clothier Eddie Bauer.
Steamed at the totally unprofessional treatment received I ride three blocks to find a public pay phone so I can call the chairman's secretary. Jeez, it's one of those which only takes those phone cards you buy from the telephone company. I ride several blocks only to find another which only takes phone cards. Ditto for the third public pay phone I find. Now, I've forgotten how mad I was at the surly receptionist and I'm steamed at the lousy German phone company for not having any coin-operated pay phones! It's now 4:40 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and I leave town tomorrow so, the company lucks out in not having to deal with what would have been one very unhappy biker. (For more information: OTVR)
Though the company uses a Hamburg address, headquarters for Phoenix AG, a rubber and plastics manufacturer, is actually 13 miles south of Hamburg in a city with an almost similar spelling: Harburg.
Phoenix's six-story, red brick head office buildings lies on the edge of its main factory, a large sprawling complex of red brick structures only several blocks from Harburg's downtown.
Not much to do while waiting in the spartan reception area so, I count the chairs: 50, and check out the bronze busts of two former employees Dr. Albert Schafer and Dr. Otto Friedrich.
A woman who says she's a secretary for one of the executives walks out and informs me the company doesn't wish to participate. I then ask for her name. She asks why I want it and I answer, "So I can say I physically visited your headquarters and was told by such and such a person that the company didn't want to talk to me". She says, "If I give you my name you'll write in your book that I was the one who told you the company didn't want to meet with you. Just say it was a secretary to one of the vice presidents". "No, that's not good enough", I reply. Over the weekend I had write-ups in two of Germany's biggest newspapers. Though I don't know what the articles said (they're in German and I hadn't found anyone to translate them for me) I handed her the articles. They must say something interesting because she disappears and returns several minutes later with word that Meinhard Liebing, Director-Personnel, will meet with me. I thank her for the help and still don't obtain her name.
Well, I should have left after the initial rejection because Liebing isn't too thrilled to be meeting with me and his couldn't-care-less attitude has no trouble coming across. The questions are answered in robot-like fashion and we're through in four minutes. My requests to see the boardroom and CEO's office are quickly quashed.
Revenues in 1994 were DM 1.1 billion, loss DM 5.7 million. (For more information: PHO)