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Opel workers protest against General Motors

Tens of thousands of angry German auto workers protested on Thursday against General Motors' decision to keep its Opel unit – a move called a slap in the face for Chancellor Angela Merkel by the country's media.

Opel workers protest against General Motors
Photo: DPA

Around 10,000 Opel employees gathered in Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt with banners and a fake coffin to express their rage at General Motors, which torpedoed the planned sale of its European operations to Canadian auto parts manufacturer Magna earlier this week.

“We want to show that we workers won’t simply take this and accept it,” said Alfred Klingel, the head of the workers’ council at the Rüsselsheim plant.

But Uwe Raubert, who has worked at Opel for 33 years, said he is not expecting to have a job much longer.

“I’m going to laugh myself sick if GM restructures us. It’s not going to work, it’s all going to go down the drain,” he said. “Everything is up in the air. There is huge scepticism among workers about GM’s plans.”

Thousands of his colleagues took part in other protests at Opel plants in Bochum, Eisenach and Kaiserslautern

The US carmaker’s shock announcement late on Tuesday stunned Germany and came just hours after Merkel gave a historic speech before a joint session of the US Congress. Accordingly, the German media has been scathing in its commentary on the turn of events.

“Opel – the big piss-take,” screamed the front-page headline of the mass-selling Bild newspaper on Thursday. “The Americans duped everyone.”

“It is truly tragic,” wrote the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, calling the decision a “stinging slap in the face” for the chancellor.

“On the same day Merkel enjoyed her great triumph she also experienced her worst embarrassment. It’s a disaster for German-US relations.”

Merkel’s government had invested major financial and political capital in saving Opel from insolvency before a September general election which she handily won. About half the company’s employees work in Germany.

Beyond pledging €4.5 billion ($6.6 billion) in German state aid for the ailing company, Berlin spent months shepherding a rescue deal.

Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle fumed that GM’s U-turn was “totally unacceptable” while North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Jürgen Rüttgers said the move showed “the ugly face of turbo-capitalism.”

But General Motors, which was struggling with a bankruptcy reorganisation backed by the US and Canadian governments, said it was abandoning the agreed plan to sell Opel to Canadian auto parts manufacturer Magna and state-owned Russian bank Sberbank, and would restructure the unit itself.

GM also warned employees and unions that it could still allow Opel to flounder if the workforce upholds its threat to refuse wage concessions – a move blasted as “blackmail” Thursday by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The company also estimated it would need €3 billion in state aid, and was confident it could secure the sum from the German government and other European countries where Opel and the British Vauxhall division have plants.

US President Barack Obama’s spokesman insisted his government had nothing to do with the about-face.

“Business decisions by GM are made by the corporate leadership at GM and not by anybody at the White House,” spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

But the Süddeutsche newspaper was sceptical.

“Perhaps (US President Barack) Obama genuinely wasn’t in the picture when he received Merkel in the White House (on Tuesday), although this doesn’t say much for him,” it said.

“Perhaps he did know something, and that would put him in an even worse light. In any case, with their inconstancy the GM managers have caused serious damage to German-US relations.”

GM vice president John Smith acknowledged that “the German government had a very strong appetite for the Magna proposal, so I can well imagine and well understand” the German reaction. “I am hopeful they will find merit in our plan.”

Smith contended that there had been very little difference between the offers put forward by Magna and a rival bidder, the Belgian investment firm RHJI, and what GM has in mind for Opel.

But he added: “We continue to believe that we can restructure Opel with less money than any other investor.”

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READER INSIGHTS

‘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.

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