The Continental View by Theo Rebergen - Why I have a crush on Angela Merkle!

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I’m the blunt Dutchman trying to tell how the continentals see England and how we get on with life in these troublesome days. If you missed the introduction last time, you can meet me on www.doylebizzlink.com

I had the urge to visit Germany as I needed some positive news for the economic future.

I do not have to book Channel crossings, the Eurotunnel recognizes my car automatically; I have spent € 7K+ on crossings in the last 4 years, so I should own at least the first 4 miles of the tunnel.

Arriving in Düsseldorf, I headed straight to my local bar.

Although I had not been there for a year, the manager, bartender, all the waitresses and the dishwasher greeted me as if I was now the prime minister of England.

They still address me as “Mr. Rebergen” in spite of the fact that we know each other for 8 years and that I spend half my wages there.

No “mate”, “darling” or other unwanted “friendly” attacks and no kisses. I hate it when people that I hardly know press there sticky lips on my clean cheeks.

Even the French do not kiss people they meet for the 1st time. Germans keep their distance and have 2 versions of “YOU”; a formal version called “SIE” and an informal version called “DU”. Only when you get officially invited to change to DU you are allowed to do so.

German people could work together for 25 years and still converse in the SIE style; they do go out for drinks, celebrate wild birthday parties at home and attend company Xmas orgies where managers and secretaries are clinging on to each other as if they were on the sinking Titanic.

However the next day it is back to Mr. Müller and Mrs. Mayer.

My bar, “The Victorian” (name speaks for itself) is super nostalgic with loads of mirrors, a shiny teak wooden bar with a polished copper rail to hold on to when you’re plastered.

The staff wear long white aprons and carry an aureole of importance and pride around their head; do not dear to treat them as servants, they will correct you in a very sophisticated but teutonic way. Their work is considered as a profession, not as a job and it takes a 2/3 year apprentership to learn the ethics of working in the restaurant industry.

I always sit in front the silver bowl with an ice cold bottle of bubbly and a dish of salted cashew nuts; sitting there relaxes me and my life feels in order again.

In Düsseldorf I met up a young German entrepreneur called Michael who I got to know when I was setting up a branch for a Dutch IT company.

He is a typical Germanic ambitious businessman, totally focussed on constantly developing his highly professional IT mission.

He is on the road from 6 AM till 8PM clocking up 4000 miles+ a week in his 300 HP Audi, connecting Hamburg to Munich and Dortmund to Zürich. (I know that’s in Switzerland)

All he lives for is to promote and demonstrate his product to potential clients; he does not get distracted by anything as you can see in my last question about the Olympics.

The answers on the few questions I asked him, will tell you what mentally is different in the land of beer fests and what used to be sweet wines (Nowadays the German wine industry is producing fantastic wines, but they drink it all themselves); Michael’s views shows you clearly how straight forward the Germans are getting on with their business. Here his uncut comments: (the answers might be a bit technical)

1.Did the turnover of your company grow in the last 24 months?

By focussing on special market segment, listening with great attention to our customers and produce exactly what they need, we were able to score a 25% increase in TO during the last 2 years.

Especially in the IT, sales methods have changed dramatically; features and functions are not a priority anymore, it is all about added value. Customers only invest in specific values, they do not spend a penny anymore on “Nice To Have” products.

2.Is the development in your trade typical for the entire German industry?

Also German executives are moaning and predict doom-and-gloom; but in many sectors sales are rather good. Especially luxury goods sell well, for example there is still a 12 months waiting period before you get your € 150.000 Porsche delivered to your doorstep. (Yes, life is hard).

3.Does your branch have a filled order portfolio?

Orders come on a short notice but the expectations for the next 2 years are positive. (No doom and gloom) However our biggest problem is to find qualified staff; the service industry has a back log of 250 days due to a shortage of trained personnel. In Switzerland it is almost impossible to find staff with the necessary expertise<

4. Did Germany got hit less hard by the economic down turn because of the cuts introduced under Harz IV (will explain this later) 15 years ago? Are the austerity measures from that period comparable with the cuts of today in the rest of Europe?

There are still cuts in Germany but as we have reduced costs all over the country and society many years ago, the impact of the down turn is milder than elsewhere in Europe. However, having worked with people in England and other countries, I noticed that work rate and efficiency of the German work force is significant higher as in some other countries; especially of Greece and Spain.

6.  Should Germany keep bailing out Greece and how does the majority think?

I am convinced most of the Germans do not want to waste their taxes on rescuing the Hellenics. We face enough challenges and problems in our own country; we have a shortage of education funds and are in desperate need of money for the maintenance of roads, schools, public swimming pools and other sports facilities. There is no way that the Germans want to subsidies other countries and anyhow, our courts will sort this out soon.<

7. With the exception of cars, Germany does not have a great export to the UK. Do the Brits not have enough quality thinking?

No doubt. For example, the software industry in the UK has adapted the US way of thinking. They emphasize too much numerous functions and features; quality and avoiding failures and mistakes seem to be of no concern. Having said this, the service level of the UK IT industry is very high, which has led to the fact that the English support departments have an excellent image.

(Some Brits think quality as they bought 382.000 cars “Made in Germany” in 2011 with a value of 6,8 billion Euros.)

8. Would you work in the UK?

No! Views and methods of many UK managers are in strong contrast with what we in Germany have worked out as good and functional. The UK market as a whole does not function in a European (yes, we are not doing great at the moment) or even cosmopolitan way; however London has developed much more into an international trading place, the rest of the UK has not followed yet. That’s a pity.

9.  Did you follow the London 2012 Olympics and what did you think of the organisation? 

I am afraid to belong to the minority did not watch a minute. (It confirms how much he focusses on his job and that nothing can distract him. A shame, it might have changed his opinion of about the British capability of doing great things!)<

Explanation Harz IV! In the late 90ties Germany was almost bankrupt due to the unification cost; they had to introduce drastic cuts in public spending and social pay outs and increased taxes.

Working hours went back up to 48 hrs./week and wages were frozen for several years. People on the dole had to accept almost any job. Industry and unions agreed on packages that kept the Germans being competitive with the rest of the world. That’s why they were better prepared for the crisis.

Please let me emphasise that I do not want to glorify the Germans and their attitude to work ; I know a whole load of Brits that work their socks off and are very successful.

However it seems that many British companies suffer from inferior management and invest insufficient time in training which hinders a nationwide success story. Exception? In 2011, Vauxhall in England adapted German conditions and therefore GM decided to increase production in the UK

Unfortunately I ran out of time to go on to Berlin to see Angela,; anyhow she was on tour again, waving her Teutonic magic wand and laying her high quality German towels on the unstable chairs of other European leaders in France, Spain and Italy.

She probably will go to Greece but only to buy the Greek Isles in exchange for bail out cash. I also heard a rumour that she has offered them, in case of a Euro disqualification, a few billions of old Deutschmarks so they do not have to re-print their worthless Drachma’s.

I am exhausted so I will pour a glass of German Grey Burgundy from the Stuttgart area which Porsche has send me as a compensation for the long waiting time for my next new motor. And dream of The Victorian in Düsseldorf. As I said, life is hard.

See you, Au revoir, Hasta La Vista, Auf Wiedersehen, Arrivederci, Tot Ziens!

Stop Press ! More good news for South-East Sussex. Eastbourne finally has a contempory, continental style seaside lounge bar/café/restaurant called The Beach Deck; attached to Treasure Island.

It has the potential to become a very comforting place to meet, dine and drink and we have started a sort of fan club to support the place during an always tricky starting up period. Cheers!