In Frankfurt, Former Trader Prepared For The Wurst

Nov 14, 2011
Originally published on November 14, 2011 3:27 pm

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe could be living through its toughest hour since World War II.

Merkel was referring to the debt crisis that has resulted in bailouts for countries, toppled governments and is now threatening the survival of Europe's single currency.

These are nervous times in places like Germany's financial capital, Frankfurt. But for one former trader — who exchanged his computer terminal for pork sausages sizzling on a grill — these are not necessarily the worst of times.

Near the end of 2008, Thomas Brausse was working for the securities firm Instinet in Frankfurt. He had a six-figure salary and supervised a dozen employees as a settlements director.

Brausse recalls that the company held its Christmas party that year on a Friday in early December. There were food, beer, wine and holiday cheer. Bosses had flown in from London.

But the recession had arrived as well. And by the middle of the next week, senior managers had told him to clean out his desk.

"It was a strange situation to me to have a party on Friday evening and next Wednesday you get redundancy packages and envelopes from them," Brausse says.

But getting that pink slip in 2008 gave Brausse a chance to try out an idea that he had percolating in his head for years: trading in his stock-selling permit for a food license.

The 44-year-old says he was daunted by jumping into the fast-food business. He had no experience, and his confidence was shaken after losing his livelihood. But he went ahead and drew up his own sausage business plan.

"And so I decided ... it might be the best time to make a cut," Brausse says. "And I came to the conclusion that 50 percent of my old salary could be a reasonable and reachable amount. And so I said 'Hey, try the new one, why not?' "

A few weeks later, he bought a converted bus on the online auction site eBay, researched the license issues, and began pricing wursts, ketchup, mustard, coffee and more. In March 2009, he opened the Frankfurter Wurschtboerse, or Frankfurt Sausage Exchange.

Brausse now works almost literally in the shadow of his former office building, the Congress Tower — one of Frankfurt's tallest — in a cluster of shiny skyscrapers that make up the financial center of Europe's largest economy.

Brausse is now trading a product with wide appeal: Bankers in pinstriped suits vie for a place in line together with dust-covered laborers and steel workers from a nearby construction site.

"If you've got bad times and you sell cheap, good food, you are one of the preferred places where people are eating," he says.

Brausse has two daughters, 16 and 14, from a marriage that fell apart. He says they were hardly thrilled, at first, with the idea of their finance father becoming a wurstmeister.

"When they realized, 'Oh, Daddy is not any longer a banker, a broker,' I tried to explain that it's not important how much money a human being can earn," Brausse says. "It's more important how that human being is. You have to be happy with what you are doing."

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel says this may be the toughest hour for Europe since World War II. She's referring, of course, to the financial crisis. Several nations have needed bailouts to survive their outsized debt, leaders have been forced out, and the survival of Europe's single currency is in question. Nervous times, to be sure, in places like Germany's financial center, Frankfurt.

NPR's Eric Westervelt took a stroll there and found a former trader who has seen tough times. And he says these are far for from the worst of them.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Thomas Brausse left behind the quiet sound of computerized moneymaking for the sound of pork sausages sizzling on the grill. Near the end of 2008, Brausse was working for the securities firm Instinet. He had a six-figure salary and supervised a dozen employees as a settlements director. Brausse recalls that on a Friday in that year in early December, the company had its Christmas party. There was food, beer, wine and holiday cheer. Bosses had flown in from London. But the recession had arrived as well. And by the middle of next week, senior managers had told him to clean out his desk.

THOMAS BRAUSSE: It was, yeah, a strange situation to me to have a party on Friday evening and next Wednesday you get redundancy packages and envelopes from them.

WESTERVELT: Getting that pink slip in 2008 gave Brausse a chance to try out an idea that he had percolating in his head for years: trading in his stock-selling permit for a food license. The 44-year-old says he was daunted by jumping into the fast-food business. He had no experience, and his confidence was shaken after losing his livelihood. But he went ahead and drew up his own sausage business plan.

BRAUSSE: And so I decided by myself this might be the best time to make a cut. And I came to the conclusion that 50 percent of my old salary could be a reasonable and reachable amount. And so I said, hey, try the new one, why not?

WESTERVELT: A few weeks later, he bought a converted bus on the online auction site eBay, he added a kitchen, researched the license issues, and began pricing sausage, ketchup, mustard, coffee and more. In March of 2009, he opened the Frankfurter Wurschtboerse, or Frankfurter Sausage Exchange. Brausse now works almost literally in the shadow of his former building, the Congress Tower - one of Frankfurt's tallest - in a cluster of shiny skyscrapers that make up the financial center of Europe's largest economy. Brausse is now trading a product with wide appeal: Bankers in pinstriped suits vie for a place in line together with dust-covered laborers and steel workers from a nearby construction site.

BRAUSSE: If you've got bad times and you sell cheap, good food, you are one of the preferred places where the people are eating.

WESTERVELT: Brausse has two daughters, 16 and 14 years old, from a marriage that fell apart. He says they were hardly thrilled, at first, with the idea of their finance father becoming a wurstmeister.

BRAUSSE: When they realized, oh, Daddy is not any longer a banker, a broker, I tried to explain that it's not important how many money a human being can earn or whatever. It's more important how that human being is. You have to be satisfied, you have to be happy with what you are doing. And that's more important as, you know, to have maybe a fortune paid on the 15th to your account and you are not happy.

WESTERVELT: My daughters have to understand that, he says, adding, I think they do. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Frankfurt.

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