FRANKFURT (Reuters) - In the last three decades, Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) has expanded and shrunk its global footprint, made and lost billions, and its shares have soared and sunk. But there has been one constant: A priest-turned-activist’s determined mission against the bank.
Since 1990, on the first Thursday of every month, Gregor Boeckermann and about a dozen others have gathered at Deutsche’s Frankfurt headquarters to protest free-wheeling capitalism he says the bank represents.
He is still at it 30 years later.
Boeckermann, 79, personifies the poor public perception of Germany’s largest lender, which is desperate to reverse its flagging fortunes as it marks 150 years in March.
He has over the decades chained himself with others to block Deutsche Bank’s parking and spilt liquid manure at its main entrance. A security guard once tackled him, and his arm broke.
The scene was more muted at this month’s protest on Thursday. Spotting a furry trapper hat, Boeckermann stood under a rainbow umbrella and “peace” flag as fellow protesters beat drums.
He said Deutsche was the “ideal symbol” for the capitalism he disdains for sustaining what he considers an unfair economic system which keeps wealth concentrated among a few elites while the poor get poorer. “But you almost have to feel sorry for Deutsche Bank these days,” he told Reuters.
Deutsche is in the throes of a major restructuring, shedding thousands of staff and selling assets. After a decades-long global expansion and a series of financial scandals, the lender is now turning its focus to its home market.
But German politicians and the public disapprove of its high salaries and Anglo-Saxon style capitalism that it represents.
To address its image problem, Deutsche launched an advertising campaign two years ago. Its shares are, however, once again taking a beating amid fears related to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, hitting a record low early on Monday.
The outbreak has cast uncertainty over whether it will go ahead later this month with its planned 150-year anniversary celebration in Berlin.
“Deutsche Bank no longer has the significance for the German economy it once had, even though it has now rediscovered the German domestic market,” said Ingo Speich, a fund manager at Deka Investment, an investor in the lender.
Deutsche was in the midst of its global expansion when Boeckermann began his campaign.
After a lengthy stint as a missionary in Algeria and student in Rome, he got a posting in the 1980s around the corner from Deutsche in Frankfurt’s swanky Westend neighborhood.
In the 1990s, Boeckermann approached the bank’s twin towers, which dominate the skyline, and was wrestled to the ground by a security guard, breaking his left arm. He pressed charges against the bank. Then-CEO Hilmar Kopper sent him a bouquet of flowers, he said.
Relations have since thawed. Boeckermann and his cohorts accept hot tea from time to time from a bank employee.
“We value the dialogue with them, as we do with many other groups,” a Deutsche Bank spokesman said.
The bank allowed Boeckermann to plant an apple tree in 2017 on the far edge of its grounds.
Standing under the tree, Boeckermann, who plans to retire as leader of the anti-Deutsche movement later this year, said he hoped the roots would one day grow strong enough to topple the bank and what it stands for.
Additional reporting by Tilman Blasshofer; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise