Opel executives go cap-in-hand to Merkel

Desperate executives from German automaker Opel turned to Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday evening for government help in case US parent company General Motors goes bankrupt and leaves it high and dry.

Opel executives go cap-in-hand to Merkel
Photo: DPA

Opel said on Friday it needed the German state to guarantee more than €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in loans, fearful that cash coming from GM headquarters in Detroit could dry up and leave it unable to pay its suppliers, creditors and 25,700 employees.

The firm accounts for nearly half of GM’s 55,600 employees in Europe, where almost one in 10 vehicles sold carries a brand owned by GM such as Opel, Vauxhall, Saab or Chevrolet.

Merkel said after meeting Opel managers in Berlin that “by Christmas” the finance and economy ministries would decide, together with representatives of the four states where Opel has plants, if it would provide such a guarantee.

“It has not been decided yet if using such a guarantee is even needed. That depends on events in the United States,” Merkel told a news conference after the talks in Berlin.

“We also agreed … that if the guarantees are needed, then the funds will stay in Germany, at Opel. To ensure this, the necessary precautions must be taken,” she said.

GM Europe chief Carl-Peter Forster said that he had asked for guarantees of just over €1 billion ($1.3 billion).

“We felt obliged to make sure that even in the worst-case scenario, including when it comes to developments in the US, the continued survival of Adam Opel GmbH is assured,” Forster said.

Earlier this year, the US Congress approved a $25-billion loan guarantee programme to help the “Big Three” – GM, Ford and Chrysler – and the firms have told lawmakers they need the same amount again.

The White House warned on Monday that car makers must make do with existing funds.

Merkel, whose country, like the United States, is highly dependent on the automobile industry for jobs and which last week officially entered recession, is not just faced with problems at Opel.

Some 750,000 people in Europe’s biggest economy work in the struggling auto sector, not just for carmakers like BMW or Volkswagen but also for parts makers such as Bosch or Continental as well as in a host of other related sectors.

With many of these companies reporting plunging sales, laying off workers, stopping production and warning on profits, Berlin is coming under pressure to help not just Opel but the sector as a whole. Most vocal have been the states where the car firms have their factories, such as North Rhine-Westphalia, home to Opel’s second biggest factory as well as a large plant owned by Ford.

Press reports said any guarantees for Opel would be covered by the federal government and by the states where the company has factories.

Ministers in Hesse, where Opel has its largest plant, on Monday approved a bill that would see €500 million made available in guarantees for firms in the auto sector. For the moment, however, ministers in Berlin are trying to hold the line against a wholesale industry rescue, with Merkel on Monday describing Opel as a “special case.”

“A wholesale economic programme for the auto industry makes no sense,” Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told the Bild daily while Economy Minister Michael Glos described Opel as a “special case.”

Merkel has unveiled some measures to help the auto industry as part of a general economic stimulus package, including making new cars exempt from road tax for a certain period, and longer for low pollution models.

The measures – and indeed the whole stimulus package with Germany now officially in recession – have been widely criticised by economists and employers as being too little, too late.


‘A megacity on a smaller scale’: An insiders’ guide to Frankfurt

Our readers in Frankfurt shared their insights into what life in the city and surroundings is really like, and revealed their top tips.

'A megacity on a smaller scale': An insiders' guide to Frankfurt

Known as Mainhattan thanks to its impressive skyscraper skyline, and with a bustling jobs scene, it’s no wonder that Frankfurt am Main is a city that many foreigners consider moving to. 

But aside from business, we wanted to find out what else makes Frankfurt – and the area around it – tick. And who better to ask than The Local readers who live there?

International feel, good connections and great nature

Maybe it has something to do with the many flight connections to the rest of the world from the airport, or perhaps it’s the thriving jobs scene. Whatever the case, readers said something special about Frankfurt is that it’s an international city with a small-town feel. 

“Frankfurt really offers the best aspects of a large megacity like NYC, London or Paris on a much smaller scale – so it offers world-class shopping, cuisine and amenities without overwhelming crowds,” said Michael Schacht, 31. “It’s super multinational as a result.”

Richard Davison, 45, who lives in the Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt, said: “In my opinion Frankfurt is a special city as it is very international. As people come for work, it seems that it is very welcoming as many people are new, or have not lived in the city for a long time.

“There is a wide variety of affordable cuisine, bars and hospitality. It is a big city feel in a small city. What makes it special is the green spaces and surrounding nature: Taunus, Spessart, Odenwald and the Rhine and vineyards. Trains and flights are also so easy from Frankfurt.”

A boat sails across the Main river in Frankfurt.

A boat sails across the Main river in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

READ ALSO: 10 facts you probably didn’t know about Frankfurt (even if you live there)

Tom Boon, 26, who lives in central Frankfurt, said “the diversity” is the best part of life in the Hesse city that’s home to about 753,000 people. 

“It’s also a great place for English speakers to feel comfortable as you can always bump into somebody you can talk to,” he added. 

Laura, 42, from Sweden, said the best thing about Frankfurt is the “diversity” and that it “feels like a village in some parts”.

Angeeka Biswas, 34, said Frankfurt’s positive points include it being “accessible by public transport in almost all parts of the town” as well as the different cuisine available, and the large expat population. 

“Frankfurt has lots to offer and is full of many different shops, restaurants and bars,” said Frankfurt resident Cara Schaeffer.

“Frankfurt is also surrounded by the Taunus mountain range,” said Schaeffer. “However the most special thing about Frankfurt are the people that live there.

“You’ll meet people from all over the world from different cultures, regions and backgrounds. It’s an extremely international city, where more than 25 percent of the residents don’t have a German passport.”

People at Frankfurt's main station on June 1st, the start of Germany's €9 monthly travel ticket offer.

People at Frankfurt’s main station on June 1st, the start of Germany’s €9 monthly travel ticket offer. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Lots of people said the surrounding nature was a real draw of Frankfurt.

Nichola, 64, said the “proximity to the Main River, access to the Großer Feldberg region with the possibility of cycling in the summer and skiing in the winter,” were some of the best things about Frankfurt.

She also said the airport is “one of the hubs for Lufthansa so it’s easy to fly almost anywhere”.

Where are the best places to go?

Lots of people talked about the food and drink offering in the Hesse city, as well as the landscape. 

Natalie, who lives in Taunus, said: “Explore the Taunus, walk the river, shop on the Zeil (street), eat in Saschenhausen or in Bornheim or Nordend.” 

“Go for brunch,” said Angeeka Biswas. “Bike beside the Main river, exercise or just sit beside the river. It feels so calm inside the chaos of the city.”

READ ALSO: Hesse – 7 maps that explain the home of Germany’s financial hub

Smruthi Panyam said his top tip is to grab a steak at M Steakhouse in Feuerbachstraße.

Simon Slade, 70, in Wehrheim, recommends “the English Theatre, walking or cycling along the river Main” as well renting a car and driving north west to “the Hintertaunus and the river Lahn – you will find stunningly beautiful countryside”.

Slade also said Frankfurt has “numerous organic veggie and vegan restaurants, especially along the Bergerstrasse”.

“If you want real authentic high quality traditional German inexpensive food at half the price of Frankfurt, try the Taunus restaurant in Obernhain.” he added.

READ ALSO: Three German cities ranked in the top 10 places to live

Cara Schaefer’s top tips include going to the top of the Main Tower to view the city, taking a boat tour, and enjoying the nightlife “especially at 22nd lounge, a cocktail bar on the 22nd floor of a sky scraper”.

Schaefer’s top restaurant tips are Saravanaa Bhavan, a vegetarian Indian restaurant near the main station and Ristorante Arte – an Italian in the Bockenheim district.

People toast an Apfelwein on the banks of the river Main.

People toast an Apfelwein on the banks of the river Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Tom Boon recommends that visitors “take the Ebbelwei Expreß, a tourist tram that loops around the city every half hour or so”.

“The ticket includes a drink and pretzels,” he added. Meanwhile, Boon says the best pizza in Frankfurt “can be found at Giulio’s on Wittelsbacherallee”.

Lots of our readers said Apfelwein – known colloquially as Ebbelwoi, is the drink to try out in Frankfurt. 

Boon said: “Apfelwein arguably trumps beer in Frankfurt. I prefer to drink it mixed with cola (it’s much better than it sounds, and popular enough that it is sold premixed in cans), though some traditional Apfelwein pubs will refuse to serve this combination based on tradition.

“I would recommend avoiding the big chain-eque bars in favour of the smaller pubs and beer gardens dotted around the city.”

Others flagged up the architecture and buildings. 

I really love going to the Dom Romer district to see the old city hall and rebuilt square which is really eye-catching,” said Michael Schacht.

“The New Altstadt is also really beautiful. I also like walking along the river bank when the weather is nice, visiting Old Sachsenhausen and Bornheim for a cozier small town vibe. Though a bit on the outskirts, Hochst has a traditional medieval Altstadt that’s worth a stop to see.”

Keep a lookout for our second feature on Frankfurt coming soon.