Flag Factory Scores at the World Cup | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 22.06.2006
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Flag Factory Scores at the World Cup

A historical flag factory in Bonn is top on a market inundated by cheap imports. DW-WORLD.DE visited the factory to find out how it all began, how the flags are made, and what the World Cup means for business.

The World Cup means high demand for national flags

The World Cup means high demand for national flags

Black, red and gold is everywhere in Germany these days -- waving from car windows, draped outside buildings and breezing from café awnings. Not to mention the 31 other national colors flying in Germany. Everyone is getting in on the World Cup spirit.

Who would have thought that a good portion of these flags come from a 140-year-old family-run factory in the middle of Germany's former capital Bonn. The "Bonner Fahnenfabrik" (Bonn Flag Factory) is housed in what used to be military barracks and employs nearly 100 people. Each year, they produce two million square meters (21.53 square feet) of flags and banners, enough to span between Bonn and Berlin four times over.

It all began with the Prussian eagle

As Prussian troops were returning victorious from the war with Austria in 1866, Josef Meyer was thinking business. The king, the military and all those who cheered the Prussian victory needed flags. So, naturally, he founded a flag factory.

Bonner Fahnenfabrik

Screen printing, shown here, is a tedious process where each color must be applied separately

By the time the German "Reich" came into existence in 1871, Wilhelm I ascended the throne and the black-red-and-white flag was introduced, Meyer's factory in Bonn was well-positioned on the flag market. Back then as now, the market included more than just German flags: Fraternities, amateur choirs and volunteer fire fighters were all among the customers.

Over the next decade, the flag factory dabbled in other textiles like theater costumes and stage scenery, but also focused on developing their textile printing methods.

Keeping up with modern techniques

Today, the Bonner Fahnenfabrik relies on two primary methods: digital printing and screen printing. The latter is much slower and requires more steps, but produces truer colors.

Manager Paula Vieth said the company "is following the demands of the market and has observed a shift toward digital printing" due to its expediency and because technology is improving.

Bonner Fahnenfabrik

City emblems are among the factory's standards, like this one waiting to be stitched

"We're technically capable of printing photo-quality images," said Vieth. In principle, digital printers function exactly like the common laser printers found in many homes and offices.

For the more time consuming screen printing, each color is applied to the fabric through a separate screen. No matter which method is used, the flag isn't finished until the dye sets, the strips of fabric are washed and cut, and the edges sown. Then it's put into a special folding machine, packaged and shipped.

If not destined for a location in Germany, the Bonn flags are most likely sent off to Scandinavia, Austria, Switzerland or one of the neighboring Benelux countries.

Maintaining the handcrafted tradition

However, not everything at the Bonner Fahnenfabrik is so modern. It's also possible to order a hand-printed flag -- made according to the very same method used when the factory opened in 1866.

The American flag, for instance, presents a technical challenge because the 50 white stars are supposed to be embroidered individually on the material. Since this isn't possible at the factory, the stars are printed instead when the Stars and Stripes are called for -- such as during the World Cup.

Top quality and speedy service

Though the German tricolor is among the most noticed of the factory's products, national flags make up only about 20 percent of their business. The remaining 80 percent comes from indoor and outdoor advertising banners ordered by car-makers, breweries, hardware stores, department stores, gas stations, and other companies.

Bonner Fahnenfabrik

With the World Cup, the flag factory is counting on a 5 percent revenue increase this year

Due to its location in the former capital, the German government and army are naturally also important customers.

Manager Paula Vieth noted that the factory hasn't been particularly disadvantaged by the government's move to Berlin in the mid-1990s. On the contrary, Bonn is conveniently located in the middle of Europe, she said, which facilitates access to customers both to the west and the east.

And location contributes to the factory's success, despite relatively high labor costs in Germany and tight competition, both foreign and domestic.

"We can compete with producers in China and the Middle East for two reasons," said Vieth. "We separate ourselves from the competition by offering extremely high quality and fast delivery."

Coming to grips with the colors

The Bonner Fahnenfabrik enjoys a strong reputation, which earns them large contracts. They produced, for example, banners for the city of Hanover to welcome spectators to the games and for the city of Bonn to welcome the Japanese national team, which is headquartered there.

Without a doubt, the black-red-and-gold stripes are top sellers. The factory learned from the last World Cup in 2002 to be prepared for extra high demand. Vieth said she believes "it will be easier for the Germans to show national pride in the future. They are shedding their feelings of guilt over the past and that's a good thing."

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