The Road to Success

Signing the Biebelried Declaration of Intent

Initial steps towards reconciliation between East and West - The history of the Declaration of Biebelried

When the Berlin Wall fell, it became clear to many Zeissians in East and West that Carl Zeiss would also undergo numerous changes. Indeed, nearly two years elapsed before the companies were reunited. In particular, the intense debate on the future status of the Carl Zeiss Foundation complicated the negotiations. The Declaration of Biebelried, signed in May 1990, was a milestone in the history of the reunification of Carl Zeiss. Shortly before the currency union took effect, the two parties declared their intent to merge.

Image above: Wolfgang Adolphs (CEO at SCHOTT Glaswerke), Dr. Klaus-Dieter Gattnar (General Director of VEB Carl Zeiss, Jena), Dr. Horst Skoludek (CEO at Carl Zeiss, Oberkochen) and Dr. Dieter Altmann (COO at VEB Jenaer Glaswerk; from left to right)
Photographer: Hans-Werner Kreidner│Source: Carl Zeiss Archives]

The first tentative steps toward reconciliation were cautiously initiated by the executive management on both sides. The relationship between the two companies had been hostile for so long that open and unbiased encounters between the corporate leaders were not immediately possible. Still, the Zeissians in East and West German were willing to work towards reconciliation. After all, they shared common roots. The initial contact was made by the legal departments, as the staff already knew each other. They had met regularly since 1971 to clarify complicated issues in conjunction with the London agreement.

First meeting in Jena

First Meeting in Jena

The first visit of the Oberkochen works council to Jena in January of 1990 showed just how difficult the initial attempt at rapprochement was: the executive management in Oberkochen wanted to forbid this project entirely, so that the works council members traveled as private persons. The executive management in Jena likewise prohibited any official contact. Thus, the meeting was held outside the plant.

Image above: Dr. Horst Skoludek (third from left) and Dr. Jobst Hermann (second from left) visit the G plant of VEB Carl Zeiss Jena in February 1990. They are welcomed by Dr. Klaus-Dieter Gattnar (left) and Bernhard Kammerer (right), plant manager. [Source: Carl Zeiss Archives]

Then on 2 and 3 February 1990, an official delegation from Oberkochen visited Jena. led by CEO Dr. Horst Skoludek, who had studied in Jena. He wanted to talk with the new General Director, Dr. Klaus-Dieter Gattnar. Numerous instances showed that it was difficult for both sides to strike the right balance between openness and restraint.

Thus, Gattnar revealed to the visitors that representatives from the Carl Zeiss Foundation in Jena, VEB Carl Zeiss Jena and VEB Jenaer Glaswerk had already petitioned the East German government to return ownership of Carl Zeiss and Schott to the Carl Zeiss Foundation, despite knowing that the issue of the Carl Zeiss Foundation was one of the thorniest in the reunification negotiations. On the other hand, Gattnar “did not show the visitors from Oberkochen the military technology […] during their first visit to Jena on February 2, 1990,” as he explained in an interview.

A toast after the signing of the Biebelried Declaration

The Biebelried Declaration

Further intensive discussions followed, during which the corporate management representatives worked out a common focus.

On May 29, 1990, the declaration of intent was signed in the small town of Biebelried, in Lower Franconia.

Gattner described the negotiations:

“Mr. Skoludek and I literally went into an enclave until we were able to send up white smoke.” The agreement contained the following points:

Image above: A toast after the signing of the Biebelried Declaration: Wolfgang Adolphs (CEO of SCHOTT Glaswerke), Dr. Horst Skoludek (CEO of Carl Zeiss, Oberkochen), Dr. Dieter Altmann (COO at VEB Jenaer Glaswerk) and Dr. Klaus-Dieter Gattnar (General Director of VEB Carl Zeiss, Jena; from left). Photographer: Hans-Werner Kreidner│Source: Carl Zeiss Archives]

  • The companies would work towards merging into a joint foundation “as soon as this is possible and feasible in the view of the companies involved, taking into account economic and social aspects”.
  • During the transitional period, the companies would reciprocally respect their legal autonomy and work to the mutual advantage of both parties whenever possible.
  • The use of the company logos and trademarks would be renegotiated
  • An understanding was reached in September 1990 in the form of the Auerbach Agreement.
  • With the privatization of the companies based in Jena, the East German government was expected to create conditions that would facilitate economic survival as well as the fulfillment of socioeconomic obligations.
  • Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen and Schott Glaswerke in Mainz were prepared to invest in privatized stock corporations of the former combine VEB Carl Zeiss during the transitional period.