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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Eastern Germany Looks West for Sales

DUESSELDORF, Germany -- Eastern Germany, still trying to shake off an old image of a place of dirty smokestacks and chugging Trabant cars, on Monday went on the offensive to sell its products to the western Germany.

"It is difficult to catch up after 40 years," Chancellor Helmut Kohl told journalists as he opened a trade fair to showcase eastern German goods ranging from condoms to cuddly toys. "But it is important we create a fair chance for eastern German products."

Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt said at the start of the three-day fair in the western city of Duesseldorf that only 5 percent of the goods in western shops came from the east, while western products took up almost 20 percent of the shelf space in the east.

"The eastern German consumer products sector has invested in modern production," he said.

"Both quality and price are right," Rexrodt said, "So that people in Stuttgart and Kassel [in western Germany] know that, we have come here today."

"Unfortunately there are still not enough eastern German products on shelves in the west," said Eugen Viehof, President of the Association of Chain Firms and Self-service Warehouses.

"It's not a question of quality. But these products must be supported by suitable marketing and advertising," said Viehof.

Kohl, long criticized for overly optimistic pledges that unification would bring "flourishing landscapes" to the former communist east, said easterners should now be feeling the benefits of seven years of market economics.

"The gift of German unity is a gift for all Germans," he said.

"You have nothing to fear from competition both at home and abroad," he said.

"Eastern Germany is well prepared in terms of quality, design and price."

Kohl said boosting the consumer goods sector was essential to reduce persistently high unemployment in the region.

But many business people at the fair said the western German market was effectively still closed to them because supermarkets and other chain stores had been slow to adopt new products after German unification in 1990.

"We want to get a foot in the door of the big shops," Helmut Schache, head of the Koesen soft-toy company, said after he presented Chancellor Kohl with a furry stuffed lynx.

"Our product is very detailed -- the face of this lynx is made up of 21 pieces, and quality is improving all the time. Our prices are still about 20 percent lower than in the west and it's a real 'Made in Germany' toy," Schache said.

Christell Zlotos, representative of the state Finance Ministry of Brandenburg, agreed it was difficult to gain access to the west, but said eastern companies had learned a lot.

"Seven years on from unification, companies have learned how to sell, but their products are simply not known and not in the shops," she said.

"They are just as good as western products and normally cheaper because wages are lower."

Juergen Fleischer, head of the Schmalkalden meat and sausage company in Thuringia, said the only way to break into western markets was to offer something new.

"The western German market is bound up with long-term relationships and deals. We can only break in with innovation and introducing new products," Fleischer said.

Fleischer's firm, which was a state-run enterprise until 1991, was completely restructured and has since expanded its staff from 200 to 315. He now produces sausages fit for the 1990s.

"We've added vegetables, broccoli and spinach. Health is so important to customers, so we added vegetables to reduce fat."