One dealer whose business expanded from a small repair shop for East Germany’s ever-present “Trabis” to a major partner that sells a number of Group brands; one dealer who transformed the business from one of the few Volkswagen service partners in East Germany into the largest car dealership in the region; and one who started as a two-man operation and became a dealership with 190 employees: Volkswagen made history in eastern Germany both before and after the Wall fell. Five examples of future-focused car dealerships.
From the small Trabi repair shop to a major Volkswagen partner: Welcome to Auto Zellmann (Berlin)
But back then, on January 1, 1984, just 500 meters from the Wall, a dream began to take shape in East Berlin. “My father went into business for himself and opened a Professional Service Center for Body Repairs of the Trabant Brand at Rudower Street 29,” his daughter Eike Oertwig remembers. Today, she and her brother, Holger Zellmann, run the company. “For my father, this was a dream that we experienced together as a family,” she says.
Self-employment was not encouraged in East Germany’s economy, and only a few people succeeded at it. This group included Manfred Zellmann, who moved to Berlin after meeting met the love of his life. Even in his home town of Eisenach – a center of East Germany’s automotive industry – he was someone who thought outside the box. Shortly after the company opened its doors, Auto Zellmann’s team consisted of four employees and two trainees. At the time, there was no trace of the major West German brands. The company primarily repaired Trabis – that is, until the Wall fell five and one-half years later.
Since business with East German car brands then rapidly came to an end, Manfred Zellmann was forced to find a new challenge. It did not take him long: Just a few months later – even before German reunification was celebrated on October 3, 1990 – he concluded a dealership agreement with Volkswagen and Audi. It was a bold step, one that came with its own set of risks. “My ambitious goal was to sell and repair Western cars,” Manfred Zellmann said in an interview with the Berlin Tours Magazin.
Read more: Bold steps after the fall of the Wall
The sales operation and service center were adapted to the new business conditions as quickly as possible, and Auto Zellmann grew continuously in the years that followed. The biggest milestone achieved in the 1990s was the construction of a new building for the Volkswagen dealership in 1997, just a few meters from the original garage.
Developments then followed in rapid succession: The Audi Center was opened in 2000. “Immediate Car Service” was introduced in 2001. A third brand was added to the company’s portfolio in May 2004 in the form of a dealership agreement with ŠKODA. A new ŠKODA facility was opened in April 2007. Today the car dealerships with their huge glass facades stretch far down Rudower Street.
But Auto Zellmann reached a critical fork in the road at the end of the last decade. “On November 18, 2009, my father, Manfred Zellmann, celebrated his 65th birthday, and responsibility for the company was officially passed to the next generation,” Eike Oertwig says. In answer to the question whether a passion for cars runs in the Zellmann family, Manfred Zellmann says the children “learned to think like entrepreneurs very early in their lives. As early as the 1990s, they were included in major strategic decisions related to the future of the car dealership. They basically grew up with the dealership.” Eike Oertwig and her brother, Holger Zellmann, inherited their father’s entrepreneurial cleverness and have pushed ahead with the company’s expansion, from a new competence center for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to an Audi top service partnership and the construction of a paint shop in 2017.
Over the years, there has been one constant at Auto Zellmann, something that was always important to the company’s founder: first-class training for young people. He was frequently personally involved in the transfer of knowledge – often in the company’s Automobile Museum, which has its home in the former Trabant garage and is filled with classic East German cars made by Wartburg, Trabant and ŠKODA. Manfred Zellmann and the company’s trainees restored the old vehicles themselves. Eike Oertwig says: “By doing this, the trainees learn how cars once were maintained and repaired. At the same time, they also learn a thing or two about our company’s history.”
99 years of automotive history: Autohaus Stoye (Halle/Saale, Saxony-Anhalt)
For nearly 100 years and four generations, the Stoye family has been making sure that people and goods can drive safely from point A to point B in the Halle (Saale) region of eastern Germany. It all began in 1920, during the Weimar Republic. At the time, Friedrich Stoye established a “trucking enterprise,” a company whose mobility services laid the foundation for the success of Autohaus Stoye. His son Fritz Friedrich Stoye reopened the company after World War II, and it grew slowly, but surely. In 1974, a towing service was added. Fritz Stoye’s son Rolf-Peter joined the business at the end of the 1970s. “Cars are in our family’s blood,” Rolf-Peter Stoye says in looking back at the history of the family-run company.
In 1979, the trucking enterprise and the towing service were joined by a third pillar for the company’s long-range success: “We went after a service contract with the Sachsenring race track and got it on July 1, 1979.” When the trucking operation was discontinued in 1980 after his father’s death, Rolf-Peter Stoye and all the employees focused completely on the expanding the Trabant service center – and they succeeded. The small company grew strongly, and the initial workforce of three rose to 12. Toward the end of the 1980s, the Stoyes were finally able to purchase the business sites that they had been leasing.
Read more: A total commitment to Volkswagen
Then, the Berlin Wall fell. “I don’t know whether it was a coincidence or not, but it happened right when the Trabant finally launched a variant with a four-cycle Volkswagen engine,” Rolf-Peter Stoye says. The family sat down together and thought over and over again about what they would do next. “And then we made a decision,” Stoye says in remembering the critical weeks when the company’s future weighed in the balance: “We would commit completely to Volkswagen.”
To this day, the Stoye family has not regretted its decision for a single minute. In fact, the opposite is true: “We have more than 100 employees today,” says Jens Stoye, Rolf-Peter’s son. Jens and his brother Sven have been running the company with their father since 2003. The three oversee the business together. The father keeps “his eye on everything,” and the two sons focus on sales and service. Jens Stoye: “What did we learn from our father? Running a car dealership is a major responsibility and a lot of work. Our father showed us what that was like. When we were children, he was hardly ever at home – he was at the dealership from early in the morning until late in the evening. The 1990s were a tremendous challenge in particular.”
Things moved in rapid-fire succession after the Trabant service center was converted into a car dealership with sales and service for the Volkswagen and Audi brands: construction of a new showroom facility in 1991; construction of a parts warehouse in 1992; opening of the Audi showroom in 1993. Just about every year had its own very special highlight. “But some years, tough decisions had to be made as well,” Jens Stoye says. “Audi was once one of our brands. But we had to give it up as part of a restructuring plan initiated by Audi in the region. That was hard for all of us. But after we got over the heartbreak, we focused completely on Volkswagen.”
With passion and courage - Autohaus Kittel (Weißenfels, Saxony)
An early start – with long-lasting success! Andreas Kittel was just 29 when he established his Volkswagen dealership on October 1, 1990, in Weißenfels, a city located 50 kilometers southwest of Leipzig. “It was a really special feeling to be the youngest Volkswagen dealer at the time and to open the dealership’s doors just two days before German unification was official,” Kittel says. “What was even more important was the feeling that it was absolutely the right step to go into business for myself.”
Anyone who knows Andreas Kittel, even slightly, knows one thing about him: The decision to establish his own car dealership reflects his personality completely. Even as a teenager, cars were his thing – despite all of the opposition he faced. “My father was really disappointed,” Andreas Kittel says. “He was a doctor, and he really wanted me to study medicine, too. He even got me into medical school. But it was horsepower that captured my imagination.”
Against his parents’ wishes, Andreas Kittel began a training program at a production cooperative for automotive mechanics in Weißenfels. “The boss there sent me to get a degree in automotive technology in Zwickau. That was in 1981,” he says. Andreas Kittel returned in 1985 to the cooperative, an operation that primarily worked on Russian Moskvitch and Volga cars, ŠKODA vehicles from what was then Czechoslovakia, Trabants from Zwickau and Robur trucks from Zittau. He became the technical director in 1987. And then the Berlin Wall fell, an event that was both euphoric and dispiriting.
Read more: Three sleepless nights
“We lost all of our work overnight after the currency union took effect,” Andreas Kittel says in remembering that day in July 1990. “People stopped bringing their cars in for repairs, and we realized: We could be turning out the lights for good pretty soon.” This was when he decided to go into business for himself. “I had a choice between Renault and Volkswagen – and I didn’t sleep for three nights before I selected the right brand. Volkswagen.”
The company went into business with six employees whom Andreas Kittel knew from the cooperative. A motivated team – and despite competition from another Volkswagen dealer in a city of just 30,000 residents, Andreas Kittel’s strategic decisions produced long-term success. In 2001, Kittel’s Volkswagen competitor sold his business – to Kittel.
“Today we are proud to be the largest Volkswagen, Audi and, since 2015, ŠKODA partner in the county,” he says. In numbers: In 2019, Auto Kittel had about 110 employees, including trainees, distributed across three locations. Is there a secret to his success? “People should do what their hearts tell them to do,” he says. “For me and my team, this means: We are always determined to satisfy customers to the highest degree possible. Our customers can rest assured that they will receive the very best in sales and service. We are professionals – and we have been so for nearly 30 years now.”
Known well beyond Dresden – Autohaus Jörg Pattusch (Dresden, Saxony)
Life, as we all know, writes the best stories – just like the success story of a visionary and his garage. On January 2, 1969, Jörg Pattusch laid the foundation for one of the largest and most well-known car dealerships in Dresden and the surrounding region: Autohaus Pattusch.
The new company was something of a novelty in East Germany at the time. Instead of being a Trabant or Wartburg garage, Pattusch specialized in Volkswagens from the very beginning and was a “SERVICE PARTNER OF VOLKSWAGEN AG.” That sounds big, but at the beginning of the 1970s it was naturally very small: Using the simplest of means and lots of improvisational talent, he had to keep the vehicles of 3,000 customers on the road. In East Germany, replacement parts were only provided by a government distribution system and were bought in advance.
But Jörg Pattusch was something more than a garage owner and businessman. He was primarily a rally driver and enthusiastic car lover. In 1980, he even won the East German rally championship in his blue-and-yellow racing Beetle. But instead of celebrations of Pattusch and his driving finesse, the victory had political consequences: The Volkswagen Beetle, a product of the “capitalistic West,” was not permitted to beat East German socialism, and so after winning the championship, the car was never permitted to race again.
Read more: Political stumbling blocks
The garage had grown to a 10-employee operation shortly before the Berlin Wall fell. More employees weren’t permitted; otherwise, the business would have nationalized. With his company, Jörg Pattusch quickly made a name for himself – one that extended well beyond Dresden.
Once the Wall fell, government restrictions vanished, and Pattusch gained new momentum. Naturally, there was only one vehicle brand for him, and he entered a new era in 1991 by concluding dealership agreements with Volkswagen and Audi. At the time, customers stood in line at the dealership when a new shipment of Volkswagens arrived: After all, the vehicles had been sold even before they were unloaded.
The company had strong sales owing to its high level of acceptance in the Dresden market, and it grew continuously in terms of facilities and personnel. “Things moved forward,” many employees recall. “It was a time of emotion, energy and optimism about the future.” The two highlights of subsequent years were definitely the opening of a new Volkswagen building in 1999 and the opening of the Audi Terminal, one of the largest in the region, in April 2013.
“Since the company’s establishment in 1969, innovation, quality and commitment as well as individual customer demands have been the key factors behind our success story – and they still shape our work today,” says Markus Richter, the company’s current director. “Thanks to state-of-the-art technologies, the talents of skilled workers and a high commitment to service, our car dealership has grown from a two-man shop to a company with more than 190 employees.”
Six brands reflect the strength of a region - Autohaus Fischer (Jena, Thuringia)
Der 14. November 1990 hat seinen festen Platz in Familienchronik der Fischers aus Jena: Es ist der Tag der Gründung ihres Autohauses im Norden der Stadt. Der Tag, an dem Rolf Fischer den Händlervertrag für Volkswagen und Audi unterschreibt. „Es war der Tag, an dem für meinen Vater Rolf ein großer Wunsch in Erfüllung gegangen ist. Der Wunsch, selbständig zu sein“, sagt Holger Fischer, Sohn des Firmengründers. „Sein Ziel war es, die Produktionsgenossenschaft, bei der er vorher als Mechaniker, dann Kfz-Meister und dann ab 1986 Vorsitzender war, in ein funktionierendes, zukunftfähiges Unternehmen zu überführen. Und dafür brauchte er einen Händlervertrag.“
Holger Fischer war damals knapp 20 Jahre alt und arbeitete an der Friedrich-Schiller- Universität Jena – und er entschied sich 1991, seinen Vater beim Aufbau des Geschäfts zu unterstützen. „Ein Familienbetrieb hat etliche Vorteile, die ein anderer Betrieb nicht hat – aber auch Verpflichtungen.“
Readmore: Adventurous dynamics in the car market
The dynamics of the car market at the beginning of the 1990s were powerful. At the start, Trabants and Wartburgs were parked bumper to bumper at the dealership – but they were soon replaced by Volkswagens and Audis in particular. “Demand was huge. But that’s not surprising when you consider that before reunification, people had to wait up to 18 years (!) for a Trabant,” Holger Fischer explains. “There was simply no used-car market. That was pretty odd.”
Autohaus Fischer developed further with each new and used car it sold. The two Group brands Audi and Volkswagen soon became four: In 1995, a dealership contract with SEAT was signed. It was followed in 1997 by a dealership contract for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. In 1999, the Volkswagen and Audi brands were physically separated. The Volkswagen building was expanded, and the “Audi Hangar” was opened.
The success story picked up more speed in the 2000s with the acquisition of another car dealership and, in 2002, expansion into a new business region located 17 kilometers northwest of Jena in Apolda. “A Volkswagen partner located there had gone bankrupt and we decided we would not surrender the region to the competition,” Fischer says. It was tough going at the start, but the success proved that the dealership team had been right. “We are quite popular in the region.”
In 2005, Autohaus Fischer began to represent the fifth largest Group brand – ŠKODA, initially as a service center and then with a dealership contract. “The combination of Volkswagen and ŠKODA is really a very good one. You can cover many needs with both brands and achieve good market share in a region,” Holger Fischer says. It was the right decision at the right time, and it gave the company fresh momentum. The family-run business was now well positioned with five brands. New and renovated buildings enhanced the company’s success in subsequent years.
By the time the company celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016, it employed about 350 people at three locations. A sixth brand was added to the portfolio in 2019: In March, the company’s management team signed a dealership contract with the sports car brand CUPRA, a subsidiary of the Spanish automaker SEAT.