Petersburgers Work Best With Hamburgers
Published: June 11, 2013 (Issue # 1763)
The Hamburg, Germany Chamber of Commerce in St. Petersburg celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gala dinner at Konstantinovsky Palace at the end of May, marking the continuation of commercial partnership between the two cities.
Business ties between Hamburg and Russia began in the 13th century, and Russia launched its first German diplomatic mission to Hamburg in 1719. In 1957 the two cities were officially designated “twin cities.”
“That demanded a certain amount of courage, as no other city suffered so much in the hands of the Germans as did Leningrad. At the same time there are hardly any other cities with such similar economies as Leningrad and Hamburg,” said Dr. Gabriele Kotschau, head of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce in St. Petersburg.
In 1991, a project for German-speaking young Russian professionals was launched in St. Petersburg, allowing them to take part in a three-month internship in Hamburg.
“When our Chamber of Commerce opened its branch office in St. Petersburg, the community of Hamburg businessmen, with their extensive experience, began to contact the budding Petersburg commercial community. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, everything was unstable,” said Kotschau.
“The tasks of the office are to encourage interest, to overcome fear of the unknown and to promote business partnerships. Among our duties are assistance and consultation with both Russian and German firms that are eager to cooperate with each other. We provide them with information about current market conditions, commercial activity, customs law, any peculiarities of local legislation and the procedure of opening a branch abroad,” she said.
Today, more than 50 Hamburg firms maintain representative offices in St.Petersburg, while more than 160 Russian companies have opened in Hamburg.
“Hamburg is a city with a long business history. One can see it in the appearance of the city. If the Hermitage Museum is the main sight of St. Petersburg, in Hamburg it is the Chamber of Commerce. One can feel the spirit of free business activity there,” said Andrei Shamrai, head of the local branch of the Russian company MediaUnion, who visited Hamburg by the Chamber’s invitation.
“Membership in the Chamber of Commerce is necessary for every Russian enterprise in Hamburg. They are all equal members of the business community. In Hamburg there is a good business climate, while in St. Petersburg we clash with bureaucracy, high taxes and high lending rates that hinder the development of commercial activity,” he said.
Hamburg investors also face those problems in St. Petersburg. According to research by the Chamber of Commerce, the main problems are the lack of customer service procedures, bureaucracy, corruption and the lack of qualified staff. Professional staff training, including business education, is one of the Chamber’s priorities in St.Petersburg.
The Hamburg city-sponsored internship program began 20 years ago. In addition to its own courses, it now cooperates with the newly-established St. Petersburg State University of Economics.
“Hamburg can also learn from St. Petersburg. We want to offer our youth training in Petersburg. The transfer of knowledge should no longer be just one way,” said Kötschau.
“Hamburg and St. Petersburg have a lot in common: Both have important ports, airports and tourist attractions. But in St. Petersburg this potential is not fully realized, so we can learn a lot from Hamburg’s example. They have good experience in turning their old port into a fashionable district. 20 years ago these were neglected areas, but they have now been transformed into Hafencity, a residential, commercial and cultural center. We could use their experience,” said Shamrai.
Another priority trend of Hamburg’s development is the “green economy.” In the energy sector and “green technologies” Hamburg takes the leading positions in Germany; its sphere annually sees 11 billion euros in turnover, which may be of interest to St.Petersburg as it is also a northern city.
“Hamburg does not possess the same touristic sights as St. Petersburg, but annually welcomes 5 million guests, which is comparable to St. Petersburg in tourism volume. An especially popular branch is medical tourism. People come to Hamburg especially for treatment,” said Shamrai.
Cooperation in medical education between the two cities is already developing.
“The Chamber of Commerce is a commercial enterprise. As it tries to extend cooperation with St. Petersburg, it means Germans see the potential of a developing market there. Our city is a good client for Hamburg.”
“As for the St. Petersburg representative office in Hamburg, however, its activity is low and needs to be further developed.” he said.