Germany needs more than exports

Marketplace Staff May 29, 2009

Germany needs more than exports

Marketplace Staff May 29, 2009


Bill Radke: This week, Germany announced its biggest GDP drop
since it started keeping track. The country famous for making great stuff
can’t seem to sell it. Brett Neely reports from Berlin.

Brett Neely: At the Menzel Electric Motor works in Berlin, a worker hand-drills parts that will go into a custom-made electric motor. Eighty 80 percent of the company’s products are exported and last fall, sales collapsed.

Mathis Menzel: We were running at about 130 percent in the first nine months of the planned sales. And in the last three months, we did about 50 percent of the planned.

Twenty-nine-year-old Mathis Menzel is the third generation to run this 82-year-old family firm. He had to cut the working hours for 30 of his 100 employees to stay afloat.

It’s a story being repeated all over Germany. This country of 80 million people shipped out $1.3 trillion worth of goods last year. More than China.

Economist Irwin Collier says Germany did plenty of things right:

Irwin Collier: But the collapse in international demand hits a nation like Germany particularly hard.

Unemployment is on the rise, and some Germans question whether the export-based model of the past 60 years still works. Among them Axel Weber, the president of Germany’s central bank:

At a recent speech in Hamburg, he said Germany needs to get into services and not just stick to manufacturing. That means more hairdressers, doctors, photographers — anyone who doesn’t build stuff. But Weber acknowledges that that won’t happen fast.

Company owner Mathis Menzel says he’s not worried about being too dependent on exports.
Sales have already started to bounce back, and he’s gotten some important advice from his family about crises:

Menzel: My grandmother started to work in the company in 1942 and she’s still alive. When I talk to her these days, she’s completely relaxed and says, “oh we had so much more difficult times, don’t worry about that.

Though the company wasn’t part of the Nazi war effort, the family’s factory was bombed a dozen times. Compared to the wartime devastation, Menzel says the current recession is just a hiccup.

In Berlin, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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