German pioneer of mass tourism becomes sportsman of the year at 60


Why did Josef Neckermann's right jacket pocket always contain coins? Because he used to ritually put a mark on every employee with a good idea. There are also two sons, for example, who did not like this.

They could count on a job in their father's company, but they had absolutely no chance to step out of his shadow.

The anecdote typifies the self-made entrepreneur Neckermann, who at his death in 1992 was honored as a 'symbol of the German Wirtschaftswunder.' Neckermann Macht es Möglich had been his most famous advertising slogan.

He set up the firm willfully and with great discipline and, as a champion of the free market economy, lost it again through the mechanisms of that economy. Neckermann was born in Würzburg on June 5, 1912, the son of Bavaria's largest coal merchant.

His father employed eighty men, who supplied the city with coal with twenty workhorses. Little Joseph grew up among the horses, they were his delight and his life.

One day, about six o'clock, his father got him out of bed at six o'clock in the morning to go to church together and said to him, 'I know you love horses, but you must promise me that if anything happens to me, you forget about those horses, concentrate on your studies and take over the business as soon as possible.' When he came home from school in the afternoon, his father was dead.


Josef was apprenticed to a bank, sent to England and Belgium to complete his education and then returned to Germany.

In 1933 he took over the parental firm and shortly afterwards took advantage of the Nazi Arisierung, which enabled him to buy a department store (1935) in Würzburg and a mail-order company (1938) from tired Jewish businessmen in Würzburg.

During the war he became an advisor to the Reichsstelle für Kleidung und verwandte Gebiete, which meant, among other things, that he, together with several other textile companies, was allowed to supply winter clothing for three million soldiers of the Wehrmacht.

Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers had frozen to death in the plains off Moscow in the winter of 1941-1942. The 30-year-old Neckermann designed new, revolutionary clothes for the winter of 1942-1943 and demonstrated them personally to the Führer in his Wolfsschanze.

Because the German money for the purchase of raw materials abroad had lost all value, his organization bought a large batch of diamonds from a bank with which to pay Italian suppliers. After the war, he was left with those diamonds.

Were they not stolen from Jewish property? Neckermann writes about those years in his memoirs: 'We didn't live in a history book… we lived everyday life.

I often didn't feel well either, for sure. I suspected terrible things were happening. But I didn't feel the slightest need to get into trouble. I don't like politics.

I have no talent for martyrdom.' Furthermore, he makes no attempt to distance himself from this period in his life. The takeover of several Jewish companies, the stock of diamonds, the supply of clothing to Hitler's troops: Neckermann would pay for it.

In 1946 he was sentenced to one year in prison. He served his sentence and was rehabilitated in 1947. Despite reparations to former Jewish owners, he was again sentenced to four years by the US military in 1949.

And a short time later he was acquitted on appeal.


In 1948 he moved with his family from Berlin to Frankfurt am Main where he founded his textile wholesaler 'Textilgeschäft Neckermann ag' that same year, which quickly flourished. In 1950 he started his mail order company 'Neckermann Versand kg'.

The first catalog had twelve pages and contained 133 textile offers reaching 100,000 households. He applied an old principle: buying large quantities of a product directly from the manufacturer.

As a result, he received discounts from 20 to 30% which he passed on to the customer.

From 1953 his range also included radios, refrigerators, TV sets and washing machines. His stunt offers for the little guy were unheard of at the time. A Neckermann radio, for example, cost 187 marks, half the going rate.

Because the retail trade refused to repair Neckermann items, the company was forced to set up its own customer service throughout the Federal Republic, which came to repair household appliances at home.

By 1975, he had 2,000 technicians working in 120 service branches.

Neckermann brought the status symbols of the time within reach for the average German, he put into practice Chancellor Ludwig Erhard's slogan Wohlstand für alle. In November 1954, for example, he offered the television set 'Weltblick', 300 marks below the normal price.

The first Chancellor of the Federal Republic, Konrad Adenauer, rejected the new medium: his deeply furrowed face would only frighten the people, he thought. Herr Bundeskanzler, said Neckermann, 'do you know what people will say?

He got all those wrinkles out of concern for us.' Adenauer laughed softly. "You should have become a Jesuit," he said. But Adenauer became one of the great advocates of the new medium.

mass tourism

When Neckermann lost his lead over competing mail order companies such as Quelle and Otto-Versand in the early 1960s, he came up with 'Neckermann und Reisen' (nur), the impetus for air tourism with which he made a name for himself throughout Western Europe. made.

In 1963, the first year, he booked 18,000 flights. Five years later, he was responsible for 30% of all booked flights in Germany. Since then Neckermann has been regarded as the 'inventor' of German mass tourism.
Neckermann was proud of it.

In 1974 he told the Dutch writer Michel van der Plas in Elseviers Weekblad: 'Where the ability to compare is lacking, the ability to judge is lacking, because judgment is based on experience.

What great mistakes have been made in politics because leaders never looked beyond the borders of their own country? Think of Hitler, think of Stalin.

I fear that for generations to come we will suffer from ignorance and misunderstanding of other countries and the people who live there.'

According to economists, Neckermann suffered his first blow in 1963 when the financier Friedrich Flick unexpectedly withdrew his capital from the group and he himself fell victim to the free market in 1976 when spending fell under the influence of the oil crisis.

Neckermann's profit margins turned out to have been very tight. He stepped down and allowed competitor Karstadt to take a stake in the family business. Afterwards his company became wholly owned by Karstadt.

In his memoirs Neckermann shows himself very bitter about that episode.

Especially since Karstadt deliberately left uncertainty surrounding the takeover for months, causing Neckermann's situation to make headlines, keep customers away, credit stall and his thriving business collapse.

Neckermann had to choose between saving his company with 21,000 employees or his own capital. He chose the former. In 1976, he was 64 years old and financially broke.


The promise to his father had not extinguished his true passion, horse riding. In 1952 he took up the thread again. Initially he tried as a show jumping rider, from 1956 as a dressage rider. He quickly reached the top of the world.

At the Olympic Games in Rome (1960), Tokyo (1964), Mexico (1968) and Munich (1972) he won a total of six medals: two gold, two silver and two bronze. He won the world title twice, the European four times, the German four times.

In 1972, at the age of 60, he was named sportsman of the year in Germany. In his memoirs he sketches the life and character of his beloved horses as if they were people. "Horse riding," he wrote, "teaches a man humility that also does good in everyday life."

Real life From 1977 the old man entered an era that he would later call das wirkliche Leben, real life.

In 1967 he had become chairman of the 'Deutsche Sporthilfe', an organization that raises funds to support German athletes, the West German answer to the success of the state-paid GDR athletes.

Neckermann, called 'Necko' by his sports friends, turned out to be a champion in this too.

When he stepped down as chairman in 1988, aged 76, "the beggar of the nation," as he once called himself, had collected 250 million marks in sports aid. Some athletes were personally so grateful to him for this that they gave him their Olympic medal as a gift.

Neckermann was an avid sportsman who had been riding for more than two hours by eight o'clock when his employees arrived.

He had boundless energy. 'Necko is doing well,' his wife once wrote in a Christmas letter to friends and acquaintances, 'but he does not know a theatre, a cinema or a concert hall. He takes time from his sleep.'

He used to work until the middle of the night and fry himself two more eggs before going to sleep. Once he fell asleep with his head on the counter while the whole kitchen burned out. He also experienced great setbacks in his family.

Worst of all was the suicide of his 21-year-old grandson who jumped off a bridge in 1984 while the whole family was together to celebrate the Neckermanns' golden wedding.

He remained strong and young at heart into old age. The penultimate paragraph of his 1990 memoir read: 'My fingers are itching to be young one more time, to be able to mingle once more in this life.

These are such exciting times in which we live.' He couldn't stop smoking cigarettes. In 1979 he had a pacemaker implanted. As a matter of admission, he cut the horseback riding by an hour, but he didn't stop smoking.

He died on January 13, 1992, nearly 80, of lung cancer. He wanted neither flowers nor wreaths on his grave.

He asked to make one more collection for the 'Deutsche Sporthilfe' on the occasion of his funeral. He wrote his obituary himself.

It bore a motto of Goethe: 'I have been a human being and that is to say: to be a warrior.' He is buried in the Hauptfriedhof in Frankfurt, where Alois Alzheimer (of Alzheimer's disease) and the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer also found their final resting place.