Düsseldorf - chic, not chichi

INTERVIEW Management consultant Gerd Kerkhoff about the "dorf" in Düsseldorf – dorf meaning village or hamlet; also about the municipal campaign against the city's chichi image, its advantages versus Berlin and the lively community of Düsseldorf's business scene.

Mr. Kerkhoff, you are from Essen, but your management consultancy is in Düsseldorf. Why?
Kerkhoff Düsseldorf used to be primarily the city of advertising, of creative people, of large agencies. Grey, for example, is domiciled here; as a young man, I had applied for a job with them. Today, Düsseldorf is the city of consultants. There is hardly any other city with as many management consultancies. So I'm also here. It's especially Düsseldorf's location right in the economic heart of Germany. My clients are scattered all over the country. And from Düsseldorf's airport, I can get everywhere non-stop.

Cologne is by far the larger city. Why didn't you go there?
Kerkhoff Cologne had not been a choice for me. As a child of the industrial Ruhr Valley, Düsseldorf had always symbolized the big city for me. When my parents drove from Essen to do their serious shopping, we went there. That had been a formative influence for me. It's predominantly a personal matter. Even when I was still a bachelor, I rather went out in Düsseldorf than in Cologne. Whenever I come back from New York or London, I get a real home feeling when I land here.

Those are all soft factors…
Kerkhoff No, they are not. Düsseldorf's quality of life, the beauty of the city close to the green outdoors and the countryside – that's tremendously important to hire the best brains. Düsseldorf is a recruiting location.
We tried it: You just can't lure top consultants to Eastern Westphalia.

But is Düsseldorf really as attractive as Munich or Hamburg?
Kerkhoff Definitively. Düsseldorf is on a par with Hamburg and Munich when it comes to quality of life. Only Berlin is more attractive for some young people. But Berlin or London are cities which have less charm already because of their sheer size. Düsseldorf remained manageable.

Smaller size or manageability of a city – critics might mockingly call it provincialism?
Kerkhoff The "dorf" in Düsseldorf is quite definitely something positive. Because "Dorf“, i.e. village, also means a functioning community. People know each other in town, and that's important for one's private life and for the job. In the summer time, young people will go "auf die Ratinger" – to Ratinger Strasse – to meet their friends right in the street without making a date beforehand. I'll go to my favorite Italian restaurant in the old part of town, or even to the Ständehaus-Treff or to the Industrieclub. Düsseldorf's community is working excellently.

Many people nonetheless consider Düsseldorf as chichi. What's to it?
Kerkhoff Whether Düsseldorf is chichi or not entirely depends on where you come from. For people from Ruhr Valley towns like Bochum, Essen, Herne or Recklinghausen, the typical Düsseldorf people seem that way when they move over Königsallee in their luxury cars and their expensive clothes. But when you come from a metropolis like London or New York, Düsseldorf no longer seems so chichi as sometimes assumed. And Düsseldorf is not chichi, Düsseldorf is chic. One might even say, it's the chicest city of the Ruhr Valley although Düsseldorf is in the Rhineland, of course.

The city tries to counter the negative image – with a major image campaign and the slogan "Düsseldorf ist schicki-micki_Düsseldorf ist mehr"– saying the city is not chichi but rather more than that. Is that correct?
Kerkhoff In some cities of the Ruhr Valley with their distinctive industrial character, the image of people from Düsseldorf is really not the best. When you park your car and your license plate shows you are from Düsseldorf, you'll be eyed askance. I welcome very much a campaign which puts that reputation into perspective.

But wouldn't it be an option to handle the chichi image self-confidently or to advertise it?
Kerkhoff That is an option! Because Königsallee and its noble luxury shops attract people from the entire region. Just look at the license plates of cars parked on the Kö – the Königsallee – on Saturdays. There's hardly a car from Düsseldorf. Customers come from Bochum, Essen, Dortmund and elsewhere. People from the Ruhr Valley rather go shopping on the Rhine than to a shopping center in a minor city like Recklinghausen.

The Wehrhahn line is supposed to make the city more attractive. Your company's headquarters are at Elisabethstrasse, so you have the construction site for the subway right in front of you. Does that bother you?
Kerkhoff I'm not the type to be bothered by something like that. And it had been Düsseldorf's good infrastructure – including its new Wehrhahn line – why I had established my company here.

Do you also profit from clients coming from the state capital itself?
Kerkhoff We already had several clients on location, among others, the Stadtsparkasse, the Lindner hotel group and the printing company Druckerei Bagel. And our consultants are pleased when, for once, they don't need to sleep in hotels but can work close to home.

What must Düsseldorf do to remain attractive as a business location?
Kerkhoff Many people abroad know the city of Düsseldorf because many business people come from here. But they don't have any image of the city in their heads. That's why I think Düsseldorf needs to sharpen its international profile so that it will not fall behind Germany's big four cities of over a million inhabitants. A national image campaign like "Dein.Düsseldorf" will not be enough: Düsseldorf's presence abroad must be significantly strengthened. Think big! Düsseldorf is a match for all others.

Thorsten Breitkopf talked with Gerd Kerkhoff