Back from the Edge

Like many regions, northern Bavaria faced challenging changes after German reunification. However, the traditional ceramics industry survived by playing to its strengths and is now attracting investors from America and Japan.

April 2020

Before German reunification, the region around Hof in the north of Bavaria suffered from being isolated on the border between West Germany and the Eastern Bloc. But after 1990, the region suddenly found itself at the heart of a unified Europe, and in recent years it has moved further toward the center economically.

Many long-established industrial companies in the Hof area did not survive the waves of rapid change during the 1990s. However, the companies who have managed to adapt their goods and services to the digital world are still successful, including a number of porcelain manufacturers with a long tradition in the region. Today, they produce technical ceramics which are an indispensable component in many electronic products, for example in semiconductors and capacitors.

The production line for porcelain artifacts at the Rosenthal factory in Selb, Bavaria. Porcelain manufacturers have a long tradition in the region, but today they mainly produce technical ceramics, which are an indispensable component in many electronic products. © Gaby Gerster/laif

Interest from energy and e-mobility sectors

This strong expertise makes northern Bavaria particularly interesting for companies working in the energy, electrical engineering and e-mobility sectors. There are also good transport connections available. Although Hof is located in a fairly rural area, there is a freight traffic center with a container terminal at the city’s main railway station.

The American company Vishay was one of the first to take advantage of the region back in the 1980s, when it invested in the ceramics and porcelain stronghold of Selb. Over a hundred years ago, the famous porcelain brand Rosenthal invented ceramic solutions for the energy industry. Even today, ceramics are irreplaceable in industrial electrical engineering (e.g. as insulation in high-voltage pylons), because the material does not conduct electrical current. Europe’s first insulator test field was developed by Rosenthal in Selb and garnered important insights for electrical engineering. The niche business that Vishay bought in 1987 has become a worldwide enterprise, and the company’s European headquarters remain in Selb to this day.

Bavaria’s Japanese connection

Last year, the Japanese group Kyocera also came to Selb. The company is best known as a manufacturer of printers and copiers, but it also has a fine ceramics division. Kyocera was interested in the local business H.C. Starck Ceramics, a leading supplier of high-precision, large components for the semiconductor industry, which is also strong in the production of powders and components made of technical ceramics.

The production line for porcelain artifacts at the Rosenthal factory in Selb, Bavaria. Porcelain manufacturers have a long tradition in the region, but today they mainly produce technical ceramics, which are an indispensable component in many electronic products.

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