39,000 jobs and as big as the island of Capri: A SWR documentary shows how important BASF is for Germany as a business location. The dismantling of the main plant in Ludwigshafen would be fatal and would affect generations.

The world’s largest chemical plant stores a million bottles of wine in its cellar. An incredible 3,000 different types are kept at BASF’s headquarters in Ludwigshafen. The vintages of the wines begin in 1865, the year the company was founded. Back then, wine was used to attract the best workers to the region. This has worked: In Ludwigshafen alone, 39,000 people currently work for the chemical giant.

BASF is a city within a city. What many people don’t know is that in addition to chemicals, the company also sells wine and even produces its own wines. That’s why some bottles have a label with the BASF logo on it.

“In Germany, this needs to be explained,” says wine cellar manager Marc Oliver Helios. “Many people ask whether there are chemicals in it.” In Asia, this is a “different issue.” There, the BASF logo, as a kind of seal of quality, even increases the value of the bottle.

In Asia, especially in China, many things seem to be easier for the chemical giant, even the future. While Germany is the only country in which BASF says it is making losses, the company is currently investing ten billion euros in southern China to set up a new mega-factory there.

A factory is being built on an island off the coast of Zhanjiang that will produce basic chemicals for huge quantities of consumer goods from 2030. In Ludwigshafen, however, eleven production plants are being closed, including a modern TDI plant for the production of foams. The plant is no longer profitable, BASF says. The plant’s loss is one billion euros. The German employees fear for their jobs.

The SWR documentary (in the ARD media library) shows the enormous loss that a gradual dismantling of the BASF plant in Ludwigshafen would mean for the region. For example, a product designer at the company says that her entire family works for BASF. Her father, husband, brother and sister-in-law all work there and her small child attends the company’s own kindergarten. Whole generations make their living from BASF.

She never actually wanted to go there. But there is hardly a way around the giant in the region. And that applies literally: at ten square kilometers, the BASF site is as big as the island of Capri and can even be seen with the naked eye from space. BASF has 2,000 buildings in Ludwigshafen, the largest port on the Rhine and the largest tank container depot in the world.

When it comes to environmental regulations, the chemical giant would have it much easier in China. Unlike the EU, there is no register in which hazardous substances released must be reported and published. Economic growth takes precedence over environmental protection.

At the same time, less bureaucracy and legal regulations as well as lower energy costs can be expected in Asia. The economic advantages in China can hardly be underestimated given the quantities that are processed in Ludwigshafen alone. 2.6 million tons of chemicals are processed in the three supply ports in Ludwigshafen alone every year, according to the SWR documentary. 15 ships arrive every day to unload. In addition, there are huge deliveries by road and rail.

At the same time, there are very strict safety requirements in Germany. In Ludwigshafen, there are therefore three factory fire brigades with a total of 200 men on standby. Chemicals are a highly sensitive substance. 100 tanks have to be checked every day. There are 2,850 kilometers of pipelines and 125 individual production plants.

Special forces therefore regularly make their rounds, look around, feel the vibrations of the pumps and learn to distinguish smells with their noses, because their own organs perceive finer nuances than the measuring devices. Even the train driver is aware of the special security situation on site.

“A train driver has to drive with foresight and always be ready to brake,” explains train driver Dieter Brand in the SWR documentary. Every day, 400 wagons have to be sorted and driven to the factories. The sewage treatment plant is also one of the largest in the world and cleans a volume of water that corresponds to the flow of three million people in private households. In China, the effort would certainly be less.

Chinese researchers recently found pollutants in the air in their home country that are bad for the ecosystem and human health. BASF is also mentioned in their study. The experts fear that the air quality will deteriorate as a result of chemical companies settling in Zhanjiang.

BASF already operates a large integrated plant in Nanjing. However, the substances released are not investigated. Environmental regulations are supposed to be stricter in China. But there is little evidence of implementation and controls there. Companies like BASF can develop more freely here.