Wuestenrot Holding AG

Riding 20 miles due north of Stuttgart brings me to Ludwigsburg, home to 70,000 people and Wuestenrot Holding, Germany's first and biggest Bausparkasse. Haven't a clue as to what a Bausparkasse is? Neither do I.

On the edge of town within a stone's throw of swaying cornfields, stands the 18-story tower of Wuestenrot. However, this tower (which looks to have been built in the 1970's) is only one of several buildings which makes up mammoth headquarters complex employing over 4,000 persons. Things aren't looking good as I check in with the two receptionists manning the recently renovated lobby. After checking around they can't find anyone who knows about my letter. Lucky for me however that receptionist Bernd Fischer doesn't give up easily as he spends 35 MINUTES on the phone trying to find someone to meet with me. Finally after what seems like an eternity (its lunchtime and I haven't had lunch), Fischer proudly announces that someone will be out shortly to meet with me.

Hmm, there's something wrong with this picture as Ronny Gloss comes out to the lobby and greets me. Normally I'm the one who's under-dressed with my shorts and Polo-type shirt. Gloss however, in his wrinkled shirt and shorts makes me look like Fred Astaire in a tux. I ask Gloss what his job is at the company and he says it hard to translate but essentially it's in accounting. "What the heck is a Bauspakasse?" I ask. It seems financing for property ownership (i.e. home ownership) is pretty much served by the following groups of institutions: mortgage banks, savings banks, Bausparkassen, commercial banks, cooperative banks and life insurance companies. Bausparkassen, is essentially a collective system of saving for housing (Bausparen). There are at present 34 German Bausparkassen (special banks offering "Bausparen"). In 1926 Georg Kropp set up the first German Bausparkasse in the nearby town of Wuestenrot and in 1930 moved the headquarters to Ludwigsburg.

Considering the fact Gloss is more underdressed than I am and being reasonably low on the hierarchy totem pole, I'm impressed at the length and depth of the tour we embark on. We check out the huge cafeteria, walk around the executive floor, check out meeting rooms, the two tennis courts plus, take a quarter mile walk underground to a company parking structure.

Earlier while going through my questions I asked Gloss if the headquarters complex contained anything unusual. I mentioned visiting three insurance companies in London which have ghosts in their head offices or the fact three companies in Germany have former CEO's buried on the premises. Several times Gloss mentioned company employees parking in an auto Kino. Each time he mentioned it I shrugged a "so what" look. I knew "Kino" in German means "movie theatre" and what's the big deal? It wasn't until we took the quarter mile underground walk to the parking structure that I saw what he was talking about: next to the company's large parking lot is a 1960's American-style drive-in movie theatre. Wuestenrot worked out an arrangement where during the day employee cars fill up the lot and at night, the five bucks a carload crowd takes over.

I'm appreciative of nice guy Gloss taking the time to show me around but he lost a slew of points for the elevator incident. Gloss is one of many Germans (and Europeans) who can't seem to function without a cigarette every 15 minutes. I mention this because he started to light up in an ELEVATOR and thankfully heeded my request to refrain. Just my luck I'd be stuck in a broken elevator with him as opposed to someone like model Kathy Ireland.