Berlin and Guang Zhou, China

One similarity between Berlin and my hometown Guangzhou struck me the moment I flew into Berlin, because it was a little unexpected—both cities have numerous orange rooftops that shine in the sun and lighten up the street. Berlin and Guangzhou are both metropolises with expansive city landscapes. Similar to Berlin, but on a smaller scale, Guangzhou’s transportation system has at least five subway lines with numerous bus routes running across the city. The downtown area in Guangzhou is always just as densely populated as the Mitte in Berlin. The huge army of shoppers and tourists on Alexanderplatz during the Father’s Day holiday weekend reminds me of Nan Jing Road—the commercial district in Guangzhou. Similar to Berlin, Guangzhou had been thought as an uncultivated city when compared with cultural centers in the north. Until recent thirty years, Guangzhou developed into a light industrial manufacturing center and exporting harbor. For me, Berlin is a combination of history and modernity, with the Berlin Dom not far away from the New TV Tower. It is the same for Guang Zhou, where the oldest building, Chen Clan Academy, has more than 130 years of history and also a new six-hundred-meter high Canton Tower completed in 2010.

There are definitely several differences between Berlin and Guang Zhou. Berlin is much more diverse, with most of immigrants from Turkey, Romania, Portugal and other EU countries. In Guang Zhou, although we have lots of short-term foreign businessman and visitors, there are not many long-term immigrants. African counties have been one of Guang Zhou’s major exporting destinations. Therefore, we have a district in downtown where African businessmen frequently gather and conduct business. The ethnicity in Guang Zhou, therefore, is not as diverse as that in Berlin. In Guang Zhou, there are mainly two ethnicities, Han and Cantonese, who speak Mandarin and Cantonese, respectively. In terms of city landscape, Berlin encourages free expression of artistic talent; for example, graffiti can be seen everywhere. Guang Zhou, however, promotes clean, order and organized exhibition. Young people’s favorite place in Berlin—Kreuzberg probably would not be as popular in Guang Zhou as it is here in Berlin. Another difference is the trust system. I was very impressed that passengers do not need to swipe in and out of stations. I like this system a lot because it is more convenient, time-saving and stress-free. Berlin’s tradition of lots of holidays and stores closing on Sundays and fairly early on weeknights is totally different from Guang Zhou. At home, I can go to a restaurant for a late night smack at 11pm and I take it for granted. Guang Zhou has the culture of families sitting and chatting in Dian Xin (small traditional Chinese dishes) places after a whole day of work, even sometimes late in night. Stores are open until 10pm and only close for Spring Festival for 2 days though out the entire year. Workers’ strikes do not usually happen in Guang Zhou, unlike here in Berlin where strikes have happened while I was here. Workers are usually not unionized in Guang Zhou.

With these many similarities as well as differences, Berlin and Guang Zhou share many interconnections. One major interconnection is through world trade. German car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes Benz are high popular in my hometown. People consider German cars as safer and more durable than others. Other electronic machineries that Guang Zhou’s factories use are imported from Germany. Sewing machines from Siemens, for example, are extensively used in our local factories that produce clothes and backpacks. Guang Zhou also has its impact on German society. Numerous light industrial goods are manufactured in Guang Zhou, such as clothing from H&M and most of the items in souvenir shops.

Reflections on Rathenau and Our Blogging Experience

Our thinking about Emil Rathenau definitely evolved with our extensive research on him and his historical background. At the very beginning, all we knew about him was his Jewish identity and his excellent career as a successful business leader. During the process of writing the blog, we came to know many other aspects of Rathenau. He not only contributed greatly to the electrical industry in Berlin, but also promoted modern capitalization and globalization. We learned about his business model and how he integrated his Jewish identity with the holistic German society. We realized that in addition to improving German people’s living standards through industrialization, Rathenau also greatly contributed to a universal and inclusive German culture through marketing champions and product designs. Through Rathenau, we realized that German companies, such as Rathenau’s, have an ambition to develop globally and how Jewish entrepreneurs had to continuously reconcile their Jewish identity with the German society. We chose to write the blog about Emil Rathenau because we were interested in German businesses and Jewish entrepreneurs’ development of modern companies. Additionally, we focused on Rathenau because we wanted to learn more about Rathenau’s leadership in AEG, which had developed into a multinational cooperation. As we learned more about Rathenau himself, we also learned more about the people he worked with/ came into contact with and how Rathenau influenced society. Two particular people stood out as important to note.

The first person of whom Rathenau’s influence should be noted is his son, Walther Rathenau, who was also born in Berlin. Walther Rathenau was a famous industrialist, economists, writer and Weimar-era politician. He joined the board of AEG in 1899 and led the company as chairman after his father’s death in 1915. Influential in politics, Walther Rathenau was a statesman and served as Foreign Minister of Germany during Weimar Republic. He interacted actively in AEG’s management and collaborated with Peter Behrens, the designer and architect for AEG. Because of Walther Rathenau’s Jewish background and his father’s prominent reputation and immense wealth, he acquired a deeply divisive and disputed reputation in the political world. Walther was one of the founders of the German Democratic Party (DDP), with his moderate liberal view. By negotiating on Germany’s behalf to end World War I, Walther infuriated German nationalists when he insisted that German should follow Treaty of Versailles and fulfill all the obligations he negotiated for. Under the anti-Semitism backdrop, the Nazi Party declared him part of a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy”. On June 24th, 1922, Walther Rathenau was assassinated, two month after signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, a treaty which renounced all territorial and financial claims between Germany and Russia after WWI. Through research, we found that, although there had been some struggles with his Jewish heritage, Emil Rathenau was not deterred by his Jewish identity when pursuing business expansion. He was still able to lead AEG from a small company to prosperity despite anti-Jewish sentiments. But Walther Rathenau faced a completely different political and social environment, where anti-Semitism was overwhelmingly prevalent. Walther was a continuation of Emil by working with his father and leading AEG. At the same time, however, the comparison of Walther’s life experiences with that of Emil shows the prevalence of anti-Semitism and how German society was distressed by economic woes, which in hindsight led to the rise of Nazi Germany.

The second person we learned about when researching Rathenau’s life was Rathenau’s business partner in AEG, Werner von Siemens. Originally, Rathenau and Siemens were competitors, however, despite that and contrasting business styles, they joined forces to create a monopoly on electricity. Siemens’ business style was highlighted as being different from Rathenau’s. Siemens desired to run the company in a family-based style. His style was against taking risks in business and relied on its own knowledge in new markets to analyze risks. This contrasted with Rathenau’s risk-taking “Manager Entrepreneur” style. It was this difference in business management style that led to the dissolution of their partnership and the end of the relationship between Rathenau and Siemens. However, without working together, neither Rathenau or Siemens would have been able to succeed and build a business a prosperous and influential as AEG would become.

Rathenau’s Role and Influence in German Society

Since the 1890s, Berlin developed into an industrial city, manufacturing wool, worked iron and steel, heavy machinerz, sewing machines, bicycles and so on. More than 50 percent of old Berlin’s working population were employed by industry. Most importantly, Berlin became the center of electrical industry, producing light electrical equipment for Germany and the rest of the world. AEG along with Seimens & Halske became two leading manufacturers of electrical machinery in the world, together employing about 50 percent of the personnel of Germany’s electrical industry until World War II.

During this process, Rathenau played an essential role in developing AEG into a multinational corperation and propeling the industrialization of Berlin. He significantly influenced the society by developing AEG into the largest manufacturer of electrical machinerz and apparatus by 1900, surpassing Siemens. AEG had 17,300 employees and 60 million marks in share capital, compared to Seimens’ 13,600 and 54.5 million. In 1911, AEG supplied 31 percent of the total connected electric load in Germany and extensively influenced German utilities through stock ownership.

Rathenau became famous for his business achievements of successfully leading AEG. Nothworthyly, he expanded AEG outside of Germany and initiated a wave of globalization. For example, Rathenau established Aluminum-Industrie A.G. in Neuhausen, Switzerland. In 1903, Rathenau reached an agreement with General Electric in America to continue preeminent in Europe, while GE in North America. The two companies also cooperated to jointly develop the Riedler-Stumpf and Curtis steam-turbine.

Because of Rathenau’s role in industrialization and his strategy of financing customers to expand the market, Rathenau was known as “the inventor of the principle of market creation through investment financing.” Although Rathenau’s fame was tied closely with the electrical industry, Rathenau was quite different from Seimens, who represented invention, engineering and industrial science. Rathenau was the spirit of industrial enterprise, who mastered the powerful and whidely influential interaction of investment capital.

Rathenau also deeply influenced the business world as well as German society through his highly organiyed marketing. In reconciling his Jewish identity with German culture, Rathenau required Berhrens to depersonlize AEG’s corporate image. He managed AEG to represent not him as a Jewish owner, but a “collective self-portraits” of all stakeholders, including consumers, workers and stockholders. Thus, Rathenau was praised by many art critics for synchronizing the industry and art, and constributing to the German culture as a whole.

In addition, Rathenau brought the concept of efficiency into German culture under the indutrialization backdrop. He was among the very first people to introduce assemly line production to Germany. Rathenau worked 15 hours a day himself and contributed to the fast industrializing of Berlin.

In conclusion, Rathenau was not only an influencial business leader in electrical industry but also a great contributor to German culture and identity. He was not constrained by his Jewish ethinicty, but he saw himself belonged to Germany and the world. His practical style, embracing of German culture, promoting of capital investment and financing and global awareness will continue to live in German culture, influcing generations after generations.



Rathenau’s Footprints in Berlin

Although Emil Rathenau passed away before the start of WWI, he is still commemorated by Germans. We find three streets that are named after him, Emil-Rathenau-Straße. Tow of them are in two southern German cities, Crailsheim and Backnang and one in a northern Austrian city, Linz. Rathenau worked for a short period of time in August Borsig locomotive factory in Berlin. The Berlin Technology Museum exhibits several locomotives that are produced in that factory. The Technology Museum also displays televisions produced by Telefunken, which Rathenau established by partnering with his competitor, Werner von Siemens, noted German engineer in 1903. AEG’s adds are also displayed in the Jewish History Museum. The Deutsches Historisches Museum has collected an oil on canvas portrait (115 x 90 cm) of Rathenau painted by Otto Rasch in 1895. His two original photographs are also among the The Deutsches Historisches Museum’s collections.

Technology Development in 19th and Early 20th Century

Industrial revolution and engineering were the backbones of the 19th century, both in Europe and in United States. During this time, many advancements in many fields were made and new inventions were constantly being dream of and produced by people all over the world, including Germany. In 1835, English engineer George Stephenson introduced the 1435 mm gauge on the first German line between Nuremberg and Turth in Bavaria. In 1838, the first Prussian railway line opened, running from Berlin to Potsdam. In 1841, August Borsig, a young engineer from the Industry School under Beuth, built his first locomotive following an American model and designed his own locomotive in 1844. In 1848, Siemens & Halske, the company founded by Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske, built 500 km telegraph line from Berlin to Frankfurt am Main, the first long-distance telegraph line in Europe. In 1858, Hamilton Smith invented and patented the rotary washing machine and less than a decade later, Christopher Scholes invented the first modern typewriter in 1867. In 1884, Charles Parson patented the steam turbine while Hubert Booth invented the first compact and modern vacuum cleaner in 1901. As an electronic appliances giant, AEG produced all the above-mentioned products in the consecutive years. During the same decades, Berlin developed into the center north German railway network. By the 1890s, Berlin was shaped by long-distance passenger and goods railways stations, the Ringbahn (Circle Line) and the U-Bahn, which was the newly developed electric underground railway. Machines represented progress and significantly improved German people’s living standards as the 20th century progressed.

Rathenau stayed at the front line of technology development through extensive traveling across different continents. He visited Philadelphia in 1876 to attend World Exhibition and was inspired by the newest inventions of the day. The most important American inventions that significantly changed the world were light bulb, electricity, and transmission systems. Rathenau was particularly inspired by the light bulb. In 1878, Edison started working on the improvement of electrical illumination to replace gas and oil based lighting.  Later that same year, Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City. After exploring numerous possible materials and going through endless trials, Edison obtained the patent of the first commercially practical incandescent light in 1880. In 1892, Thomas Edison’s Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady and Charles Coffin’s Thomason-Houston Electric Company of Lynn merged together and formed General Electric in New York. Rathenau later obtained the exclusive rights to use Edison’s light bulb in Europe. Machines and inventions defined the age.