KirchGruppe



I head about 15 miles north of Munich to suburban Ismaning to visit KirchGruppe, one of Europe's biggest media companies with extensive interests in television and cable. Billionaire Leo Kirch, who the print media portrays as very secretive, heads KirchGruppe.

Several miles out of Munich and I find myself riding through farmlands and can see in the distance a vast complex of buildings which just seem rise up out in the middle of wheat fields. Getting closer I can see one good-looking massive three block long office building belongs to Allianz, one of the world's biggest insurers. Across the street there's a giant construction site where some company's building something big. Going farther along I start seeing other buildings with large satellite dishes on the sides and it seems they all belong to television stations and movie companies. Jeez, it seems this place is zoned for the media. Riding around for 10 minutes I can't seem to find KirchGruppe so I ride up to the security guard at Allianz's complex and show him the address I'm looking for. The guard doesn't speak English but when he sees the name KirchGruppe, he points toward a building several blocks away.

I had passed this large building a few minutes earlier but there's no name anywhere on the outside. It looks to have been built in the late 1960's/early 1970's and was probably one of the first ones in the area. The receptionist speaks little English and after showing her Leo Kirch's name on my clipboard she makes several calls. I'm then directed to go outside and around the side to another entrance. Outside this other entrance are several gigantic satellite dishes, we're talking several stories tall. Don't have much luck here as the receptionist speaks little English and has no clue about me. Just then a man walks in and the receptionist has him speak to me. He's a nice guy and takes an interest in my project. After making a call to public relations, the man takes me outside for a talk-wanting to know what I know about the company. I tell him, "not much except I've read where Mr. Kirch is very secretive". He says there maybe some truth to it but mostly the media says that about Kirch because he just doesn't talk to the media. A woman from public relations calls back and tells the man they hadn't received my letter. The man tells the woman what I'm doing is very unique and it would be great if the company met with me. Evidently the woman asks the man if I'm on "the up and up" because I hear him say, "it's on the up and up". The man gives the public relations woman the phone number of the hotel I'm staying at and repeatedly tells the woman to make sure to get back to me. I then find out I'm not at corporate headquarters. Matter of fact, I'm not even in Ismaning but in Unterfohring, a town a half-dozen miles south of Ismaning! I thank this man for his time and help and tell him I'm riding on to Ismaning because even if nobody will meet with me I still have to physically see the head office building. Who is this helpful do-gooder? He isn't forthcoming with his name but says he's an executive in the cable section.

About an hour later I'm on the outskirts of Ismaning and find the four-story head office building. It's backside butts up to some kind of a vegetable field and there's not a single sign or nameplate to be found identifying the place as KirchGruppe. I check the front entrance doors for a name and find nothing. The helpful man had warned me not to go inside until I heard back from the public relations woman so I heed his advice. Over the years I've visited quite a few companies whose head offices have no outside markings and for some reason it always makes me think they're up to no good or have something to hide. Here's one of Europe's biggest media companies located in small town of maybe 20,000 inhabitants, in an unmarked building with cornfields a stone's throw away. Unusual? Not really. Several years earlier I visited Bertelsmann, the world's second largest media company (after Time Warner) and they too have their head office in a small town in Germany (Gutersloh) and have farmland within a stone's throw of the place.

I return later in the day to the hotel and find a message from the public relations woman. She regrets to inform me that it's not possible to meet with anyone. Gee, somehow that doesn't surprise me.