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Essen steels itself for a brighter future

Germany's industrial heartland, the Ruhr, is adapting well to a world after steel and coal. But when the country's top bankers met there in Essen last month they wondered long and hard about the ability of the rest of Germany to cope with economic change

Not long after futuristic airport architecture has given way to monotonous autobahn scenery on the drive from Düsseldorf to Essen, the traffic begins to slow. One lane of the bridge across the river Ruhr is closed for repairs. "The structure of the bridge is steel," explains the taxi driver. "For 40 years they have done nothing about corrosion."

Essen is the ancestral home of the Krupp industrial dynasty, and the Ruhr was once one of Europe's biggest steel-producing regions. But when the bridge is repaired, it won't be with German metal. "The steel comes from China or India," says the driver. "It's still from German companies, but it is made by cheaper workers."

Germany's place in this world of low-wage workers is top of its political and economic agenda. On June 16, representatives of German finance gathered in a corner of the cavernous Messe Essen conference centre for Hypothekenbank's fourth biannual capital markets conference to discuss the country's future competitiveness, among other things.

Herman-Josef Lamberti from Deutsche Bank's board of managing directors was there.

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