Working on an Intercultural Business Climate

For foreigners, making the adjustment to starting up businesses in Germany can be tough, but entrepreneurs from abroad can gain as much from Germany as the country does from them. By Daniel Stoevesandt

Foreigners starting up businesses in Germany need to be prepared to bridge a cultural divide. Making the adjustment can be tough, but entrepreneurs from abroad can gain as much from Germany as the country does from them. By Daniel Stoevesandt

Ali Haydar Berkpinar grew up in Turkey, but came to Germany while he was still in school. Today he's the director of the German branch of the Turkish carmaker Tofa. He may work in Frankfurt, but he's never forgotten his roots.

"In many respects I actually feel like I'm German," he said. "But culturally, speaking of the mental connection, I do think of Turkey."

Maximilian Jaber, a Palestinian-Jordanian businessman, similarly sees himself as wandering between two cultures. He's chairman of the Düsseldorf-based IT consultancy Comcave AG.

Both the governments of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates belong to its list of customers. But so do the state of Baden-Württemberg and Dortmund's chamber of commerce.

"On one hand, I think like a German. I also see myself as a citizen of the world. And when something is about feelings – then I'm more the emotional Arab-Palestinian," Jaber said.

"You can't cut yourself off from German society"

Berkpinar and Jaber are two immigrants who took integration for granted long ago: If you want to purse good business you can't cut yourself off from German society. Currently there are roughly 60,000 entrepreneurs of Turkish origin in Germany – and that's not just the owners of kebab shops and corner fruit and vegetable stores.

The Hamburg travel agency magnate Vural Öger and textile maker Kemal Sahin in Aachen are all about big business. Turkish bosses in Germany are responsible for around €30 billion in annual turnover. They are crucially important taxpayers, creating jobs for more than 350,000 employees.

The advantage of a mixed identity

"What I first see as a German is reliability and punctuality," said Berkinpar. "But flexibility of service is more of a Turkish trait."

Jaber also pointed out differences in mentality, saying his own multicultural identity – an Arab business man with a base in Germany – is often seen as an advantage. "I think more globally and try to bring in cultural differences with what I'm doing. You become a bit more sensitive in that respect."

There a many organizations set up to help entrepreneurs like Jaber and Berkpinar, such as the Arab-German commerce association (Ghorfa) in Berlin and the newly founded Turkish-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Cologne.

That helps cover business issues, but what about cultural difficulties?

The problem with prayers

Conservative Muslims often complain that they are not given time to pray during the day while working for German companies. Berkpinar is himself Muslim, but orthodox employees don't have an easier time working for him.

"Generally speaking, German employees don't pray at work either," he said. "If they have the need to pray they go to the church during their freetime. It has no place on the job."

Jaber views the matter differently. He believes a modern and global firm should accommodate the religious needs of the workforce. However, he also qualifies his support.

"Companies in Germany are already fighting with enough other problems," he said. "So you don't necessarily need to set up a separate room for praying. But I think the employees should be able to find a space at the company and use that for a prayer room."

Daniel Stoevesandt


Ghorfa – the Arab-German commerce association
(in Arabic and German)