Hartmut Bühl asked Hasso von Blücher (right) about innovative CBRN protection and the success of his company
The conversation with the owner of Blücher GMBH took place in early 2019 in Erkrath. It was first published in Volume nr. 32 of this magazine
The European: Herr von Blücher, this year  you are celebrating the 50th anniversary of your highly successful company. May I offer you my warmest congratulations and thank you for granting me an interview on this occasion here in Erkrath. What first gave you the idea of founding a company that aims to protect people?
Hasso von Blücher: In the 1960s and 1970s, Central Europe was overflowing with millions of soldiers, countless tanks and all of the attendant military hardware. The two German states were seen by their respective allies as the battleground of a future nuclear war. In West Germany alone, almost 6,000 nuclear warheads were deployed – most of them mounted on short or medium range missiles – and almost all of them designed to detonate on German territory. Nothing whatsoever was envisaged for the protection of the population.
In cooperation with the German Federal Office for Civil Protection, we therefore developed a basic protection kit for civilians to ensure that their respiratory tract and skin would not be contaminated by radioactive particles. That programme collapsed two years later because the German Parliament refused to pass legislation to implement the law on civil protection. At that point, we decided to continue our work as a small working group and capitalised on our experience to develop military protection suits. This has enabled us, little by little, to conquer today’s leading position in military protection garments.
The European: So, a somewhat timeless political and philosophical perspective then, and a certain idea of man as the focus of your thinking and your work. As well as your military background.
Hasso von Blücher: Please don’t give me such praise! With the CBRN defence troops in Sonthofen and at the army officers’ training school in Munich, I acquired detailed knowledge of the means of mass destruction. That is what gave me the technical background to develop various technologies for personal protective equipment.
The European: You have always been entrepreneurial and innovative. Proof of that is surely the Brügger Mühle (Mill), your Head Office, where we were walking around. I am most impressed by the harmony between history, functionality and the connection between art and nature. Was that a matter of intuition or deliberate planning?
Hasso von Blücher: It was both. Contrary to most people who look at something and see only rubble, rats and rust, I have a wonderful gift for imagining how it can be restored and exploited. The Brügger Mühle was unsellable for 30 years. It layed damaged and unused. I was able to buy it for a good price and it is now the most sought-after corporate facility in Erkrath, with about 14,000 square meters of office space.
The European: Your company has always been at the forefront of research and is renowned for its capacity to innovate.
Hasso von Blücher: In the area of CBRN protection, the next generation of protective suits will be more lightweight than before and made from fairly stretchable material, so more comfortable to wear while offering additional protection against aerosols.
The European: From the outset, the Blücher company was export-oriented and has had great and lasting success. Over the last 50 years, you have sold more than 12 million protective suits or the material to make them. Has the change in US trade policy had any effect on your company yet?
Hasso von Blücher: No, our sole obstacle has been the German Foreign Ministry because of extremely restrictive export regulations.
The European: How would you define a future strong European industrial policy?
Hasso von Blücher: A good EU industrial policy should set the right incentives and leave the rest to the market. It would have to be exactly the opposite of the current German industrial policy. I believe that there are too many subsidies producing the opposite of the intended outcome. Subsidies for renewable energies for example hinder the efficient reduction of CO2 emissions through certificate trading. And for every nuclear power plant that is shut down in Germany, a new one is built on the other side of the border, which may not be maintained as carefully as the one that has been shut down. None of this is coordinated with our neighbours. The result is confusion, environmental nationalism and incompetence! The exact opposite of what we need!
The European: And what about the European Armament cooperation? German governments continue to be reluctant. Do we need a new definition of what constitutes an armament?
Hasso von Blücher: In Germany, there is a peculiar attitude towards everything military: it is the “triumph of hope over historical experience”! Take as an example the restriction of our own products: they are designed exclusively to protect and not to destroy life, but defined as armaments, just like explosives and ammunition! Which means that they are not only hit by all official sanctions, but also by informal, politically motivated, export restrictions.
The European: If you could make one wish for yourself and one for Europe, what would they be?
Hasso von Blücher: The wish for myself would be that I remain healthy in body, mind and soul so that I can go on being active and creative for another 20 years. For Europe I hope for a joint protection of our external borders, a European army and a much tighter network of the various intelligence and police agencies.
The European: Herr von Blücher, thank you very much for your openness. I wish continued success to your firm and good health to you personally.