For anyone who wants to trace the decline of the German Rhine metropolis Duisburg as a former mining town, the site of former Krupp steelworks in Rheinhausen is the wrong place. Since the late 1990s, the site has been telling the story of the difficult structural transformation from coal and steel metropolis to a global logistics center. The problems, however, such as high unemployment and debt, are far from over. Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of it, Rasmus C. Beck took over as managing director of Duisburg Business Innovation, this spring.
Beck is well aware of the challenge: “Everyone knows Marxloh because the chancellor was here.” In 2015, Angela Merkel was booed during her visit to the area. At the same time, Beck thinks that the city’s potential is completely undervalued: “There is still the last industrial core in the Ruhr region here, and this is where the transformation of steel production towards climate neutrality will take place.” There is also another important partner to help with the city’s resurgence: China.
The Silk Road project forms an important building block in the concept with which Beck wants to move the city forward: “I don’t know of any success story in economic development that is not embedded internationally.” The two other cornerstones are a good university that develops know-how and city-owned land that can be made available to business. Beck sees the fact that the endpoint of the new Silk Road is at the port of Duisburg as a gift. However, it is not a coincidence, says Beck: “It fits in well with the competencies we have as a trade city. Trade has defined the city ever since it was founded.”
Good academic infrastructure in Duisburg
The 41-year-old is not afraid of being taken over by Chinese investors; Duisburg is too broadly positioned for that. At the same time, cooperation with China and participation in the new Silk Road is also a cultural project, Beck believes: “Ideas and know-how don’t come in containers. But these containers are a good basis for us to start a cultural exchange as well.” Beck welcomes the work of the Confucius Institute at the University of Duisburg-Essen, as well as the Institute of East Asian Studies; he also points out that Duisburg was the first German city to establish a city partnership with a major Chinese city.
During his last visit to China, Beck stayed in Shenzhen in 2019. During his visits to China, he is particularly impressed by the speed of the country’s development. “By that, I mean in particular also the rate at which the standard of living has improved for the poorer population,” says Beck. He also says that the Chinese are already further ahead in terms of openness to digital solutions in everyday life – whether it’s autonomous driving or 5G technology.
In the end, Beck is convinced that the differences between Germany and China are actually not as great as often assumed. “Of course, China has a different political system and is a huge country with different development needs,” says Beck. The authoritarian structures in China do help to speed up processes, but the quality of development in the country is now on a par with the West. This is the case in the construction industry, for example. Now, Germany can learn from China when it comes to future topics such as smart cities. “I think we should use mutual admiration to engage in exchange. Also about the critical issues, but above all about the common opportunities.” David Renke