Business and the economy in German-speaking Europe

German, Austrian, and Swiss business concerns are known throughout the world. Volkswagen AG is the largest manufacturer of automobiles in Europe and one of the biggest firms in Germany. Adidas AG, founded by a German, is one of the most important makers of sportswear in Europe. Nestle AG, most famous for chocolate, is Switzerland’s best-known food and beverage concern, and next to Swiss (the airline) and Rolex, one of the corporate names most readily associated with Switzerland. But well-known giants like these make up less than one percent of the companies in the German-speaking business world.


McDonald’s in Germany competes against Starbucks with their McCafé coffee houses. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Der Mittelstand
Most German firms are small to medium-sized concerns, known in German as the Mittelstand. There is no direct English equivalent for Mittelstand, but the German term refers to small and medium-sized businesses, and a common work ethic. The Mittelstand employs about 78 percent of the German work force and makes up 53 percent of Germany’s GDP. There are 3.5 million Mittelstand companies in Germany. Eighty percent of these firms have fewer than ten employees. In most Mittelstand companies, the manager is also the owner.

German Business Abbreviations
The following abbreviations are found in business and commercial contexts. Each is listed with its nearest English/American equivalent.
AG (Aktiengesellschaft) – Inc., stock company
EZB (Europäische Zentralbank) – ECB, European Central Bank
Gebr. (Gebrüder) – Bros., brothers
GmbH (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung) – Inc., Ltd. (limited liability co.)
KG (Kommanditgesellschaft) – limited partnership
Wz (Warenzeichen) – trademark

Strictly speaking, a Mittelstand firm has fewer than 500 employees and turnover of less than 50 million euros ($65 million), but the term can also refer to slightly larger firms. Most Mittelstand concerns are in manufacturing. It is something unique to the German-speaking countries. France, for instance, only began to imitate it after 2000, finally naming it ETI (entreprises de taille intermédiaire) in 2008. But the Mittelstand is difficult to recreate. Ludwig Erhard, the economics minister who crafted West Germany’s post-war “economic miracle,” said that the Mittelstand “…is more an expression of a state of mind and a specific attitude.” Mittelstand companies, which tend to be very export-oriented, are one reason that Austria, Switzerland and Germany in particular have had much stronger economies than most other European nations during the euro crisis years.

Apple Store - Hamburg Jungfernstieg

The Jungfernstieg Apple Store, seen here, is one of two Apple Stores in Hamburg, Germany. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Of course, Germany is also home to some of the largest and best-known firms in the world. SAP is a giant in the field of business software. Luthansa is Europe’s largest airline and the world’s fourth-largest in terms of passengers carried. Deutsche Bank AG (the e is not silent), headquartered in Germany’s financial capital of Frankfurt, employs more than 100,000 people in over 70 countries, and is one of the world’s largest banks.

Germany is where the automobile was invented, and its auto industry is a key element of the German economy. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkwagen are brands known and respected all around the world.

American Brands in Germany
From Apple to Starbucks, many US firms have a major presence in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Selected companies, listed alphabetically:

  • 3M
  • Abbott Laboratories Inc.
  • Inc. (
  • American Airlines
  • Apple
  • Burger King
  • Caterpillar Inc.
  • Celanese Corp.
  • Cisco Systems Inc.
  • Coca-Cola
  • Conoco Philllips
  • Deere & Company
  • Dell Computer Corp.
  • Delta Airlines
  • Dow Chemical
  • E.I. du Pont de Nemours
  • ExxonMobil
  • Ford Motor Co.
  • GE
  • GM (Adam Opel)
  • Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • IBM
  • Intel Corp.
  • Johnson & Johnson Inc.
  • KFC
  • Kraft Foods Inc.
  • Mars Inc.
  • McDonald’s Corp.
  • Microsoft
  • Motorola
  • Nike Inc.
  • Phillip Morris
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • Starbucks
  • Subway
  • Texas Instruments
  • TRW Automotive
  • United Airlines
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)

German Companies
Selected companies listed alphabetically:

  • Adidas – sports shoes, attire
  • Air Berlin (LTU) – international airline
  • Aldi – groceries, retail
  • Allianz – insurance
  • Audi (Volkswagen AG)
  • BASF – chemicals and household products
  • Bauhaus – home improvement
  • Bayer – chemicals, pharmaceuticals
  • Beiersdorf AG – cosmetics, perfume
  • Bertelsmann – book and music publishing
  • Birkenstock – sandals, shoes
  • Bosch – Blaupunkt – automotive electronics
  • BMW
  • C&A – clothing, fashions
  • Carl Zeiss – lenses, optics
  • Commerzbank – banking
  • Continental AG – tires, rubber, automotive products
  • Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz) – autos, trucks
  • Deutsche Lufthansa – international airline, cargo
  • DPD (Deutscher Paketdienst) – package delivery
  • Deutsche Bahn AG – railroad
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Deutsche Telekom AG
  • DHL (Deutsche Post AG) – international shipping
  • Douglas Holding AG – drugstores, cosmetics, perfume, jewelry
  • Edeka – groceries, retail
  • eon – energy
  • e-plus Mobilfunk GmbH & Co. KG (KPN) – telecommunications
  • Fraport AG – airport management
  • Grüner + Jahr AG – publishing
  • Hapag Lloyd AG – cargo shipping
  • Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG – printing machines
  • Hochtief AG – construction
  • Hugo Boss AG – fashion house
  • Jil Sander AG – fashion house
  • Kaiser’s Tengelmann AG – groceries, retail
  • Karstadt Quelle – department stores, catalog sales
  • Krupp (see ThyssenKrupp)
  • Langenscheidt – publishing (maps, books)
  • Leica Camera AG
  • MAN – trucks, buses, heavy equipment
  • Mannesmann – industry
  • Miele & Cie GmbH – appliances
  • NUR Touristic – travel, tourism
  • Opel (Adam Opel AG, General Motors)
  • Porsche AG
  • NUR Touristic – travel, tourism
  • ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG – sat TV, media, broadcasting
  • Rewe – groceries, retail
  • RWE Energy AG – energy
  • SAP – business software
  • Siemens AG – electronics, business solutions
  • Sixt – auto rental
  • ThyssenKrupp – chemicals, steel, industry
  • T-Mobile (DT) – telecommunications
  • TUI AG (Touristik Union International) – travel, tourism
  • Volkswagen AG
  • Wacker Chemie – chemicals
  • Wella AG (P&G) – cosmetics

ALSO SEE: Germany vs USA – Cultural Differences: Miscellaneous

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