Report of a contemporary witness
Karl Krist was the first Managing Director of the Volkswagen Bildungsinstitut from 1990 to 1994. We visited the 84-year-old in Rühe, northeast of Wolfsburg. He remembers the autumn of 1990:
“Volkswagen was one of the first and largest investors in East Germany. Very soon after the fall of communism, the decision was made to invest massively in several locations in Saxony. The then Minister of Labor and Social Affairs of the first freely elected GDR government, Regine Hildebrandt, rightly called for further training for people in the new states. Volkswagen also promised this. So, I was sent from Wolfsburg to Zwickau to explore the possibilities of setting up an educational institute. Of course, it smelled of coal and Trabi exhaust fumes. And my room from Monday to Friday was a simple student dormitory. But the people were highly motivated! I really got to know wonderful experts for training and administration, who never let themselves get down.
First, we looked for facilities in Zwickau and Chemnitz. We found what we were looking for at the University for Education in Zwickau. Because at that time it was being wound down. In just two months we had prepared our first training rooms: painted, new doors and had windows installed. At the same time, we introduced ourselves to the mayor, the city administration, the employment office, which was only just being established, and other institutions. What did we often discuss with so-called advisers from the West who had gone to the new federal states? Some always wanted a lot of bureaucratic stuff. But we just wanted to start. At Sachsenring in Zwickau, we quickly found further training rooms in the vocational school, which we also prepared quickly. In the spring of 1991, we started training the first 100 people. What an event for everyone involved!
By the end of 1991, we had trained more than 1,000 people. Training contents were advanced technical training, further training, vocational training, in addition, management training, leadership behavior and techniques. And not just for Volkswagen, but for people in the entire region. Initially, there was a great demand for orientation and information courses on German structural, organizational and legal issues.
The teachers and lecturers came from the Group: from Wolfsburg, Kassel and Braunschweig. At the time, we all gathered them together individually. I was able to convince many course leaders to come to Zwickau. By the way, Regine Hildebrandt had also insisted on training EDP (Electronic Data Processing). That was also the case in the GDR, where we could build on GDR knowledge.
Later, we also trained social and financial topics: How does the market economy work? How does the tax system work? Another highlight was the year 1993: Together with the Saxon Redevelopment and Qualification Company, we founded a welding technology training center in Zwickau in the converted former Sachsenring halls. Even Kurt Biedenkopf, then President of Saxony, attended the inauguration. Our facilities were so modern that we received praise from experts.
In the 1990s we had an incredible competition. In Saxony alone there were 200 educational institutions – most of which were founded by West Germans. Some of them arrived with a typewriter and thought they could do educational training in the East. Volkswagen quality established itself however in the long term. Even today, the educational institute is still an enormously important center when it comes to teaching people a wide range of skills.”