Impacts of the Belt and Road Initiative in a small German town
Natalie Carney
When lawyer Dr. Jur. Yong Wu moved to Germany from China six years ago for school, he never knew it would be long term.
After a few years in Gottingen and Munich he moved to Duisburg in Western Germany's Ruhr valley to start a very important business.
Duisburg, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, has transformed itself from a declining industrial town to a logistics hub thanks, in part, to increasing trade with China.
According to the Duisburg Intermodal Terminal, while the number of the trains depends on the session, on average 18 trains from China arrive in the port weekly with everything from clothing to toys and 12 trains leave for China carrying everything from German cars to French wines.
This has all brought big business to Duisburg.
Dr. Jur. Yong Wu showed CGTN around the 10,000 square meters "Reinhausen" business center. He is the exclusive Asian partner for the site offering freshly renovated offices to new businesses in the heart of the city.
He and a partner started Trouver Consulting, a company helping Chinese businesses wishing to establish in Duisburg a year ago and in that time has helped set up 12 new companies in the city.
"The customers are approaching us, saying they want to create a start-up or a subsidiary company here in Duisburg," he says. "We help them get all the documents together. From the notary, for a bank account, for the business registration, for the commercial register application. Everything we do here. We are following the rise of a company from birth to death. Since the new Silk Road opened, there is a growing number of Chinese investments in Germany. Duisburg is the center for that."
Dr. Wu says most of his clients are in the import and export businesses so the growing number of trains along the 12,000-kilometer rail corridor through six countries points towards an exciting future for many.
A model of a train station at Duisburg's main train station. The city is rediscovering itself as the world's largest inland port, thanks in part to growing rail trade with China. /CGTN Photo

A model of a train station at Duisburg's main train station. The city is rediscovering itself as the world's largest inland port, thanks in part to growing rail trade with China. /CGTN Photo

"The railway is essential for our customers. There is an increasing number of Chinese people and other foreigners coming here. I am very impressed by it. It is a good place for Chinese investments."
On the day we visited, Dr. Wu was meeting with a potential new client, Ayline, who runs a kitchenware trading company out of Dusseldorf, another city in western Germany. However, she is seriously considering relocating her business to Duisburg.
"Duisburg is a terminus of the Belt and Road. I choose here because it links closely to China on trade by train and by sea. Really convenient. Better development could be seen here. "
Dr. Wu seconds this.
"In the past Chinese companies were focused on bigger cities like Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg, but that was the past. Duisburg is the future. It will be the new center. We grow together with Duisburg in terms of business between Duisburg and China."
The biggest challenge says Dr. Wu is the cultural differences.
"For our customers who come from China, it is difficult to adapt to the German culture. Chinese people always want to do things quickly. But in Germany, things go slowly. The German authorities, especially here in Duisburg are very friendly. They like Chinese investments. Why not? They are good for the economic upturn of Duisburg."
The Belt and Road Initiative really has helped turn Duisburg around. The city was hit hard by deindustrialization back in the 1980s and 90s. Unemployment reached twice the national average.
Today, Duisburg has restarted its economic revival through trade becoming the world's largest inland port. Jobs are growing, so too is the population and infrastructure; a nearly 300 million US dollar Chinese business center is currently under construction near the city's main train station.
"Of course this project (Belt and Road) has helped Duisburg on its economic upturn," says Dr. Wu. "More and more Chinese people come here. We pay taxes. We hire people. We have contributed a lot."
His only desire is to have more Chinese restaurants.
"The Chinese food is not very good here. Honestly. But we have a plan to open our own restaurant. If we get 50 investors and companies here, then every investor would have two percent share in it. Maybe we can realize this dream in the future."
Dr. Wu has perfected his German and has no intention of leaving Duisburg in the near future and with many other Chinese following suits, Duisburg mayor Sören Link's dream of his city becoming a "little China" could very well come true.