In the Ruhr, Duisburg Scrambles to Replace Industrial Base

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DUISBURG is Germany's Pittsburgh, where about 40 percent of German steel is produced.

The structural change occurring here and elsewhere in the industrial Ruhr Valley is "bigger" than that experienced in cities like Pittsburgh or Manchester, says Hans Heinrich Blotevogel, a professor at the University of Duisburg.

"We're experiencing a collapse in the industrial base," says this specialist on the Ruhr Valley, whose history as Germany's industrial center stretches back to 1850.

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Professor Blotevogel says that about two-thirds of the shift away from a coal- and steel-based economy has already occurred.

The last stage appears to be kicking in now. In December steel producer Klockner Werke, based here, became the largest German company in more than a decade to file for protection from its creditors. Steelmakers Krupp and Thyssen plan to eliminate about 13,000 jobs, half in Duisburg. In all, the city's steel-related work force has shrunk by a third since 1980.

"What can a mayor do about this? Little," says Duisburg Mayor Josef Krings. He's turned to Pittsburgh for some ideas, though. After a 1984 visit to that city, he tried to implement the Pittsburgh model of cooperation among government, business, and higher education to rebuild Duisburg.

With government help, he succeeded in making Duisburg's harbor on the Rhine River customs free. That harbor, the largest inland harbor in Europe, is now full. Mayor Krings hopes to establish a second customs-free harbor across the river in Rheinhausen if Krupp shuts its steelworks as planned.

The university has started a research institute for microelectronics. Step by step, new businesses are coming to Duisburg. The service sector overtook the manufacturing sector for the first time in 1990. But job growth is not keeping up with job losses and 28,000 jobless are competing for a mere 1,120 openings. Many of those openings are in the service sector, and, as Heinz Albert, a crane driver at the Rheinhausen steelworks harbor says, "We're steelworkers. You can't put us behind a computer."

Many in the Ruhr Valley are under the "illusion" that a new industry will replace the old one, says Professor Blotevogel. "That's a mistake."

It's easy, however, to see where this attitude comes from. In Rheinhausen streets, the hospital, and neighborhoods are named for Friedrich Albert Krupp, his wife, and his mother, and housing is Krupp-owned.

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