Cooperatives in Germany

Over 160 years ago, two men in Germany developed a social form of business: the cooperative. It relies on a sense of community.

dpa/McPHOTOs - Cooperatives

Over 20 million people in Germany are members of cooperatives, organisations that work according to the motto: “What one person cannot accomplish alone can be accomplished by many.” This enables them to realise enterprises they would not be able to finance alone or, for example, to actively contribute to the energy transition through one of 900 energy coooperatives.

Cooperative associations play a perfectly normal and influential part in everyday life. If you were to use all the cooperative services available, a day in Germany could look like this: Herr Müller gets up at 7 am. The milk for his coffee comes from one of the 250 cooperative dairies in Germany and the bread rolls from one of the 17,000 bakers who are members of the Cooperative for Bakers and Confectioners. The butter and jam were bought in a cooperative supermarket like Rewe oder Edeka. Herr Müller leaves his apartment, which he rents from one of the 2,000 German housing cooperatives. On his way to work in the taxi that belongs to a taxi cooperative, he reads the daily newspaper taz, which is produced by a publishing cooperative. After work Herr Müller withdraws money from his cooperatively managed Volksbank or Raiffeisenbank. These banks do not primarily aim to maximise profit; each member receives a share of the profits as a dividend.

The cooperative idea as cultural heritage

This idea can be traced back to two men who founded precursors of credit cooperatives independently of one another in the middle of the 19th century: Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen. They extended microloans to farmers on good conditions, thereby providing “help towards self-help” – at a time in which social hardship was strong increasing as a result of industrialisation and migration from the country to the towns.

In December 2014, the cooperative idea influenced by Schulze-Delitzsch and Raiffeisen was added to the national list of intangible cultural heritage. In 2016, UNESCO will decide whether it will be included in its international list of intangible cultural heritage. Since 1923, the International Day of Cooperatives has been observed on the first Saturday in July; in 2015, it is taking place on 4 July. It aims to strengthen awareness of cooperatives and promote the values of solidarity, economic efficiency and equality.

International Day of Cooperatives on 4 July 2015