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GERMAN OF THE WEEK

METRO

‘A pioneer and legend in the German retail world’

The man who transformed shopping in Germany died this week aged 89 and worth nearly €3 billion. Otto Beisheim, founder of Metro Group, home of names such as Real and Saturn, is The Local's German of the week.

'A pioneer and legend in the German retail world'
Otto Beisheim with a picture of his late wife at the Beisheim Centre. Photo: DPA

Beisheim was one of the country’s wealthiest people, owning at his death on Monday, ten percent of the group he founded.

Yet his fortune could not save him from illness and he committed suicide at his home near Frankfurt, a spokesman for the Otto-Beisheim Group confirmed.

“He was suffering from an incurable disease and departed this life due to the hopelessness of his health situation,” she said.

Born in 1924, he served as a private in a Waffen-SS division during World War II, and then trained to work in the leather industry, but then moved into retail. Working with partners the Haniel and Schmidt-Ruthenbeck families, he brought the concept of cash-and-carry wholesaling to Germany.

The idea was quickly spread after he set up his first such shop in Mülheim an der Ruhr in western Germany in 1964.

He exported the idea first in Europe, then worldwide, establishing the “Cash and Carry,” “Media Markt” and “Real” chains in countries from China to France.

“Otto Beisheim was a pioneer and a legend in the German and international retail world … with innovation, courage and ambition, he founded one of the world’s leading retail firms,” Metro said in a statement.

He also established the Beisheim Centre in the centre of Berlin which includes the Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels near Potsdamer Platz at a cost of more than €450 million – which he named after his late wife Inge. The couple did not have children.

Through his charitable foundation, he supported schools and set up sports clubs and play areas for children.

He moved to Switzerland, becoming a Swiss citizen in 1988 and has left his entire fortune to be split between youth and sport foundations in Germany and Switzerland.

The Local/DAPD/hc

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RETAIL

German Amazon workers strike on ‘Black Friday’

Amazon workers in Germany started a three-day strike Thursday timed to disrupt the online retailer's "Black Friday" sales bonanza.

German Amazon workers strike on 'Black Friday'
Signs for the Amazon strike in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

The strike, called by the powerful Verdi union, is set to last until Saturday and marks the latest escalation in a years-long battle with Amazon for better pay and working conditions.

“We estimate that around 2,500 people went on strike today, a higher number than in similar actions in the past and given the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic, it's a big success,” a Verdi spokesman told AFP.

To limit the risk of Covid-19 infections, the union said it was not staging any rallies during the strike.

Amazon in a statement said the walkouts were not affecting customer deliveries since “the majority of employees are working as normal”.

The stoppage affected Amazon distribution facilities in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Augsburg, Rheinberg, Werne and Koblenz.

Verdi has long wanted Amazon to sign on to regional wage agreements covering retail and e-commerce, and has organised numerous walkouts in recent years.

It also wants Amazon to improve health and safety at work, accusing the retail giant of not doing enough to protect staff from the coronavirus at some of its German sites.

Amazon defended its policies, saying it offered “excellent” wages, benefits and career opportunities in a “modern, safe” work environment.

The company employs more than 16,000 people in Germany and has taken on an additional 10,000 seasonal employees to cope with a boom in online shopping triggered by the pandemic.

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