Are motorway service stations places with high crime

He wants to stay where everyone else wants to get away quickly. Even if Günther Wagner is 71 years old and has toiled enough, here in the Auerswalde Süd service area near Chemnitz. “I really enjoy my work,” he says. For ten years, otherwise he would have retired long ago. That is not the only thing that makes Wagner special. He is also one of the very few free tenants in this country.

Almost all rest stops on German motorways have the same owner: Bonner Tank & Rast GmbH. The quasi-monopoly has a market share of at least 90 percent. It owns 360 petrol stations and around 400 rest stops, including 50 hotels. 500 million travelers visit the locations every year and many of them are annoyed by how expensive sausage and cola are there. Critics say: After the privatization, someone got a lot of power here. And abuse them.

An international consortium is behind Tank & Rast

Who is behind Tank & Rast? In the first few years, various private equity funds took turns. In 2015, the service station operator went to the current owner, an international consortium, for 3.5 billion euros. These include Allianz insurance, the reinsurer Munich Re and funds from Abu Dhabi and China. Tank & Rast does not operate all service stations itself. At least 90 are run by tenants - and their payments are important sources of income for the group.

The high prices in the shops are therefore "not set by Tank & Rast, but by the respective franchise partners," says a company spokesman. These, in turn, are sometimes forced to do so by the high rents and profit targets. T&R does not comment on current business figures - "for reasons of competition".

"30 percent are regular customers with us"

At Günther Wagner, too, customers have to dig deeper into their pockets than elsewhere off the highway. The rent is high and energy prices have risen. In addition, he pays his employees more than the minimum wage and he believes in quality. The rest stop is only supplied by regional companies, everything from sandwiches to roulades is homemade. Wagner's customers would appreciate this: “30 percent are regular customers with us.” He doesn't want a “uniform mash” like the one at Tank & Rast. Oh, and using the toilet is free.

The market leader, on the other hand, has integrated its own toilet concept with its subsidiary Sanifair. Anyone who wants to use the system pays 70 cents and receives a 50 cents receipt that the customer can use as a voucher in the shop. In the meantime, the receipts have developed into a kind of currency. They are traded on Ebay, the impoverished look for them in rubbish bins. The latest business model from Tank & Rast is currently the e-charging stations. The group pursues the goal of offering the largest interconnected network of fast charging stations on German autobahns. According to the spokesman, there are currently 360 stations at more than 320 locations.

Left: A case for the Cartel Office

Because there are still 190 truck stops off the autobahn, the Federal Cartel Office sees no reason to see a problem in the rest stop market. The left cannot believe that. “The value of Tank & Rast has increased approximately sevenfold since privatization. The de facto monopoly on fuel and food on motorways apparently enables financial investors to make high profits at the expense of travelers, ”says MP Victor Perli. It is a mystery to him why this “unbelievable market concentration” is not checked.

Last year, Perli made a small inquiry to the federal government and raised the charge: The federal government even subsidizes the monopoly of Tank & Rast. According to the government's response, the group has always paid around 16 million euros a year to the state - with constantly rising prices and a profit of 160 million euros. This concession fee is far from covering the expenses for the construction and maintenance of rest areas and parking areas, which is why the federal government spends an average of 100 million euros per year on them. Perli concludes from this: The rip-offs at the service stations are also indirectly supported by the taxpayer. The MP thinks it is a scandal.

80 kilometers north of Berlin, at the Walsleben West rest stop on the A24, on the hottest day of the year to date, Patrick is finally standing and sweating. He started in Stralsund in the morning and wants to hitchhike to Erfurt, but it doesn't work. “My father used to hitchhike everywhere,” says Patrick. Allegedly it always worked without any problems. Now one car after the other drives past Patrick. He also thinks that a lot has changed at Germany's motorway service stations in recent years.

How did it all begin? In 1932, the then Mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, inaugurated the first public motorway in Germany. After the National Socialists came to power, the expansion of the expressway network was greatly accelerated. But with every kilometer more, more motorists came to the streets and they wanted to be supplied - with travel provisions and fuel for the vehicles. Therefore, on May 1, 1936, the first Reichs-Autobahn filling station was opened at the Darmstadt junction, with washing facilities and a lounge for ten people. There the travelers could unpack their sandwiches. Make break. By the time construction was halted in 1942, the National Socialists had 78 gas stations and 24 rest stops built. During the Second World War, bombing raids destroyed many factories. The unharmed became hospitals.

Six years after the capitulation, the Federal Republic of Germany founded the “Society for ancillary operations of the federal autobahns mbH” (GfN). The company carried out the preliminary planning for the new service areas and assumed the construction costs. She was also responsible for its leasing and administration. The first motels were built in 1957. In the 80s, the rest stops came under criticism. The facility: outdated. The toilets: dirty and smeared, with junkies on the floor. All of this led to an extensive modernization program for the sites for two billion German marks. In the year the Wall came down, a McDonald’s restaurant opened for the first time at the “Uttrichshausen West” service area near Fulda. In 1994 the company for ancillary businesses was finally renamed the Tank & Rast stock corporation, which was privatized four years later.

Minimum wage and no supplements

Despite steep prices, employees are only paid low wages! This is one of the main criticisms of the “Food-Enjoyment-Gaststätten” (NGG) union when asked about the working conditions at German rest stops. There are works councils and collective agreements at a few locations, but that would be the exception. As a rule, only the minimum wage is paid.

"Now in the summer there is a lot going on, at any time of the day, on weekends, on public holidays, and then, just before the end of the day, a coach with a hundred football fans is best," says Christoph Schink, Head of the Hospitality Division, explaining the stress in the industry. “The employees want at least a holiday bonus. But not even that is guaranteed. ”From the union's point of view, privatization was a mistake. The tenants would be under enormous pressure, which they would pass on to the employees. "And Tank & Rast is pulling out of responsibility with its franchise system," says Schink.

Truck driver in need

One and a half hours before the end of the shift, the truck driver Jasmin Wucherer always starts the same patience. Exit the rest stop, looking for a parking space at walking pace, then mostly back on the motorway, a few kilometers further the next attempt. “You have to look around early on,” says Wucherer. For eleven years she drove for a Berlin forwarding company on Europe's highways, now only rarely as a temporary worker. Her main job is in the human resources department.

"The situation with the parking areas has deteriorated continuously," says Wucherer. According to estimates, there is a shortage of 30,000 parking spaces in Germany, 4,000 in Brandenburg alone. A problem for drivers: they have to adhere to their driving and rest times. Anyone who drives longer is liable to prosecution and can expect high fines. According to a survey, the lack of parking space for drivers is “very, very high, even before the salary”. As truck traffic continues to grow, the problem could get worse. Experts call on the Ministry of Transport to quickly find more places. Also because it is becoming more and more dangerous for the driver. It is not uncommon for them to park in their desperation on driveways and exits, which often leads to accidents with injured people.

"In the worst case, I had to move to an industrial park, to the edge of a forest or to a residential area," says Jasmin Wucherer. She prefers the truck stops. It is safer there, there is more space and better equipment. Wucherer's forwarding company has now reacted and no longer lets its drivers drive on the weekend. Since this year, freight forwarders have been legally obliged to accommodate their drivers in the hotel for the weekend. "Finding them on the autobahn is much more impossible than a parking lot," says Wucherer.

Dumbest place to be robbed

To this day, rest stops are not only attractive to travelers, but also to criminals. Again and again he hears of cases in which sleeping vacationers are robbed at rest stops, says an ADAC spokesman. However, neither the car club, the Ministry of Transport nor the police have overall statistics on crime. However: The phenomenon of tarpaulin slitting has been increasing at rest stops in Brandenburg for years. In 2019 the number increased to over 900 cases and damage of more than two million euros. The clearance rate is below 30 percent, said the police in Potsdam.

It also happens that a masked robber suddenly stands in the rest area. A few years ago, however, an ex-tenant said in an interview with SZ Magazin: “Robbing a motorway filling station is the stupidest thing you can do.” The perpetrators could only flee in one direction, the police were there a few minutes after the robbery and there are many plainclothes police on the highways. His rest area was attacked several times, but the perpetrators were always caught.

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