Auf wiedersehen pet, hello Britain: German builders head for UK

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A building boom in England is drawing the German craftsmen as their homeland construction industry remains in the doldrums.

With projections of at least 30,000 homes to be built per year over the next 20 years in Britain, German builders - acknowledged to be among the world's best - are on the move to take advantage of "tremendous opportunities".

Bettina Hansmeier, a spokeswoman for a lobby representing craftsmen in the industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's biggest, said: "In addition, our craftsmen will get work through building projects for the Olympic Games to be held in London in 2012."

Last September, the German Master Craftsmen group pulled together a band of 10 trade associations to facilitate entry into the British construction market and promote German attributes, such as the quality of workmanship.

"German craftsmen have a very sound level of training. We have the Meistertitel, or Master certificate and then there are German qualities, such as punctuality, reliability, and exactness ... and the Brits know that we can be counted on," said Hansmeier.

Many Britons did manual labour jobs on German building sites in the last two decades of the last century - hence the comedy Auf Wiedersehen, Pet starring Jimmy Nail which followed the exploits of a few of them.

But now, aside from World Cup tournament renovations, the German construction trade is in crisis with many top firms facing insolvency. This month, the German Master Craftsmen will set up an exhibit at the trade fair Interbuild in Birmingham under the motto "Together, We're Stronger."

Presentations, flyers in both English and German, as well as an internet page will be set up including tips and advice on what the Germans can expect.

"We'll start with - how can I attack the market, how do I get a contract, so a joint exhibit should prove helpful. Then there are hurdles, such as customs, taxes, registration, and even cultural barriers," said Hansmeier.

Andreas Thiele, managing director of E & E Fertigteile GmbH, knows first- hand about the cultural differences, having once worked for an English firm.

"There's a different kind of honour code there. The spoken word is taken much more seriously in England. We Germans tend to be overly legal with everything spelled out in written contracts. Over there in the UK a handshake and word of honour will do," says Thiele.

Language can also be a barrier, so the craftsmen organisation offers an English course geared specifically towards the construction industry. Such phrases as "I need more cement" and "Have you measured up that wall?" are on the agenda but not "Wer wird den tee machen?" - who's going to make the tea?