German exports to Poland rose by 17 percent last year and an increasing number of German business people are heading across the border in search of customers. Considering Germany's past, sensitivity is called for.
Chances are he's heading to Poland
In 2005, Poles bought almost three billion euros ($3.6 billion) worth of machines from Germany.
"'Made in Germany' still has a good reputation in Poland," said Marko Walde of the German-Polish Trade Chamber in Warsaw, adding that German machines were especially popular.
Chemical products and everything that has to do with cars also do well. Altogether, German exports amounted to almost 22 billion euros last year -- an unprecedented amount.
Manipulating Polish traffic signals
Günter Busch is among those who benefit from the Polish demand for German goods. His company produces lamp posts, electricity boxes and pipelines needed by many Polish towns. He said he sold goods "in the high five figures" last year, adding that systems that allow pedestrians to request a green signal at a traffic light are bestsellers.
Busch is helping Poles to get the green light
"These things didn't exist in Poland -- people had to wait at traffic lights forever," he said.
Busch began exporting to Poland five years ago after visiting the country as part of a tour organized by the chamber of commerce in his hometown of Chemnitz in eastern Germany. He met Polish business partners and soon realized that the neighboring country had a huge, untapped market.
Learning to do business in Poland
Dealing with his Polish counterparts was a little difficult at first, he said.
Germans invading Poland in 1939
"If you want to do business in Poland, you cannot employ the German tactic of pushing people," he said. "You have to show a lot of sensitivity, especially when it comes to Germany's past, to the war. You'll do well if you let people finish their thoughts without cutting them off."
Others are following suit. Walde of the Warsaw trade chamber said that 4,300 people inquired about setting up business contacts in Poland last year. He added that even more people are likely to express an interest this year.
"It's mainly medium-sized businesses that want to buy and sell in Poland," he said.
Lowering the inhibition threshold
EU membership has made it easier to cross the German-Polish border
Poland's EU membership, which took effect in May 2004, has made it even easier for Germans to establish business ties.
"The inhibition threshold for business people fell," Walde said. "In the past, people became uncomfortable the closer they got to the Polish border. Long lines and bureaucracy at the border didn't help. Today, you can easily reach Warsaw with discount airlines."
Busch, who employs several Poles in his factory, still prefers his car to a plane ride, however: It only takes him about 90 minutes to reach Poland with it.
In 2004, he opened an office in Poland to make it easier to contact potential customers.
"Poles now want high quality products and no longer cheap things," he said. "That's a big opportunity for German companies."