(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Germany has long established itself as the industrial powerhouse of Europe, and any product with a stamp Made in Germany' is a hallmark of superior quality and exquisite craftsmanship.
Although the country boasts of behemoths like Siemens, Volkswagen, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Allianz Worldwide to name a few, it is the small and medium enterprises that form the backbone of the economy.
Against the global trend towards mass production, the country boasts of numerous small-scale manufacturing units whose products enjoy high reputation and exclusiveness as they cater to a niche market within Germany and abroad.
From the super high-end audio components manufacturer Burmester Audiosysteme, which finds the pride of a place on Bugatti and Porsche cars and very soon on Mercedes S Class, to the uber-luxurious Royal Porcelain Factory/KPM, one of the oldest factories in Berlin dating back as early as 1751, which had the privilege to supply porcelain tableware for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said with the sultanate's logo embossed a couple of years back, Germany's small-scale manufacturing units have a long list of super rich patrons world over. A few of these companies came together and founded the German Manufactory Initiative - Handmade in Germany' in 2010 with a goal to combine the common interests and accentuate the positive input of manufactories' (from the Latin words manus, i e hand', and factura, i e work' or creation' ) or hand-made product manufacturing units, to the image of Germany abroad.
The members represent the variety of Germany's manufactory character “ from the small one-man company to companies that have been passed down to fourth and fifth-generation family members. But the string that attaches each to one another is the drive to excel and provide custom made products of outstanding value and quality.
A common thread that runs through the majority of these enterprises is that they operate with a small number of people, ranging from ten to 30, but as they thrive on individual enquiries and custom-made products for a select few, the business is ever increasing, and they are exploring newer markets.
Take for example the Welter Wallpaper Manufacturer (Welter Manufaktur fr Wandunikate) in Berlin that equipped the main stage at the Oscars for three years in a row, from 2010-12, as well as designed the Golden Globe Awards stage in 2011 and 2012. The company employs only 18 workers, of which six are designers.
Ulrich Welter, the founder and brain behind the enterprise, says that he prefers a close-knit family of workers. The company mainly exports to the US, France, Spain, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and has a turnover of about ‚1mn. ''We don't want many partners, but the right ones who understand our product line,'' said Welter.
The materials for the coatings range from noble metals and alloys, like gold, silver and steel, to glass and marble powder. Initial worldwide recognition came Welter's way when he produced a new variety of wall covering that made use of different sized glass-beads or sterling silver coated glass crystals. And since then, his company has been producing unique wall claddings like gold leaf and precious metal wallpapers and three-dimensional design surfaces. The price range for Welter product varies from ‚150-‚1,000 per sq m. ''An American company has shown interest in using our products in making phone covers,'' said Welter enthusiastically.
Burmester Audiosysteme, a name synonymous with high-end audio components, is another company in Berlin that believes in quality over quantity. The company, with just 50 employees, has been manufacturing audio components since 1977 and currently distributes products in around 50 countries, with just over 1,500 units sold annually. Although any Burmester product can make you poorer by thousands of euros as their range varies between ‚1,500 and ‚150,000, the sound quality leaves no doubt that it is worth the splurge.
Dieter Burmester got into the business of manufacturing high-end audio-systems accidentally. ''I never planned to become a producer of audio equipment, but when I couldn't find a replacement for my audio system I built my own,'' said Burmester, an engineer and also a musician, who till very recently played with the band Past Perfect. ''My mission as a musician and an engineer is to let music lovers forget that they are listening to electrical appliances. The highest level of sound reproduction is achieved when one stops thinking about where it is coming from.''
Then there is the bronze-casting foundry Hermann Noack “ a Berlin family enterprise handled by fourth-generation Hermann Noack IV. Since 1897, they have been creating extraordinary objects designed by famous international artists like Kate Kollwitz, Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys or Jonathan Meese. And for the last 60 years, has been casting the golden, silver and bronze bear of the Berlin International Film Festival.
The company simply casted' the history of Berlin. Prominent monuments of the imperial time and Weimar Republic as well as the reconstruction of historical statues like the Quadriga (chariot drawn by four horses) on top of the Brandenburg Gate were done by the company. A tour around the factory by Noack IV gave a glimpse of the elaborate manufacturing process and also the 14 huge bulls under construction for the energy drink company Red Bull. ''This is one of our biggest projects where more than 20 tonnes of bronze will be used to make 14 bulls, which will find their place at Red Bull headquarters in Austria, scheduled to open on August 15,'' said Noack IV.
It is not only big cities like Berlin that host these 'manufactories', but there are various smaller towns and cities which have been bastion of German manufacturing. Like Kempen, a town in the district of Viersen, in North Rhine-Westphalia, situated approximately 30km northwest of Dsseldorf. The picture-perfect town, with cobblestone pathways, windmills and churches, hosts Joh's Stbben, a producer of high-quality saddles, tacks and harnesses.
Founded in 1894, the company plans to celebrate 120 years of business in 2014. Ralf Stbben, president of the company, says that he employs only 25 workers in his factory in Kempen, while a total of 120 employees work for the company, which has manufacturing units in Switzerland and Spain as well.
Products from Stbben are available in more than 50 countries, successfully establishing itself as the world brand in equestrian sports. Products can be custom-made according to the needs of riders and their horses. ''Our products are handmade with great precision, and a simple saddle requires a hundred steps to be completed, which is why it doesn't come cheap,'' he says, adding that price for a saddle may vary from ‚1,500-‚5,000.
A hundred kilometres away from Dusseldorf is the city of Ludenscheid, which is dominated by the small and medium sized metal and plastics industry. Here Duemer has been making the finest badges and medals since 1863. For a little over hundred years, the company forayed into making cufflinks, money clips, tie pins and high-quality corporate gifts. And it boasts of clients like Porshce, Bugati, and Burj Al Arab.
Johan Conze, sixth-generation owner and CEO of Duemer, says he can only do small orders as most of the work is done by hand. ''It is possible for us to design and cater to individual tastes, but it comes at a price,'' he said. Duemer products sell at price points between ‚100 and ‚1800.
Less than an hour's drive from Dusseldorf is Bonn, the provisional capital of West Germany, where Johannes Klais Orgelbau has been manufacturing pipe organs since 1882. The company has produced church and concert hall organs in some of the finest architectural buildings, like the Beijing National Theatre, Auckland Town Hall, Cologne Cathedral, St Peter's Church in New York and Muscat's very own Royal Opera House.
The company proudly looks back on a tradition of four generations of passionate organ builders. Philipp Klais, the current owner, tells about the history of pipe organs and its introduction into churches some 1,100 years ago. ''Before that it was used in Roman Olympic stadiums and arenas,'' he said.
As it takes a minimum of three years from inception to installation of a pipe organ, and Klais says that he produces and restores about two to three organs in a year. ''The Muscat project also took us about three years, and I consider it one of the most complex and fascinating projects we have done.''
The whole structure is so heavy, close to 500 tonnes, with the organ alone weighing about 40 tonnes, that it has been set up on rails to be moved in and out for concerts, tells Klais. ''It was a complex project logistically as well as design and musicality wise. But certainly it is one of the be