Vietnam’s decision to send thousands of young workers and students to the GDR has affected the Asian country in many ways. According to my estimates, approximately 70,000 Vietnamese workers were employed in the East German factories from 1980 to 1989. Long before the workers came, Vietnamese students were a feature in almost every East German third-level institution.
The return of so many German speakers to Vietnam has had far-reaching consequences, in that these returnees brought back not only the academic knowledge they had acquired in the GDR, but aspects of German culture in general. Nowhere in Asia is German so widely spoken. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Goethe Institute established a branch in Hanoi in 1997. Even the DAAD has a dedicated website for Vietnamese alumni, entirely in Vietnamese.
In 2004, a detailed and fascinating article on this topic, written by Gerhard Waldherr, appeared in the German business magazine brand eins. Below is a rough translation of some of the most interesting parts of the article, including information on the man who introduced German sausage to Vietnam:
Throughout the country there are German-Vietnamese organizations and associations. Ministries and authorities are staffed with graduates of GDR universities. Many attended the Technical University of Dresden, the most prominent alumni being the minister for transport, the director of the rail service, the deputy minister for telecommunications. And the deputy major of Ho Chi Minh City studied in Magdeburg.
One such former student and businessman is Ngo Quang Phuc. He came to the GDR in 1954, at the age of 13, as part of a children’s refugee contingent. His teenage socialization in a children’s home in Moritzburg gave him a firm footing in the language, and he went on to translate some significant pieces of German literature into Vietnamese, such as Goethes Faust and works by Böll, Erich Fried, and Tuylu tho Haino, as his compatriots call Heinrich Heine. Another one of the 299 former Vietnamese refugee children to the GDR is Le Trang, now a representative in the trade association German Industry and Commerce Vietnam.
Many of the businessmen with German backgrounds and experience are members of the Vietnam German Small and Medium Enterprises Association. A particularly successful one is Mai Huy Tan. He studied mathematical economics at the Martin Luther University in Halle/Saale from 1982 to 1985 and bit into his first bratwurst after arriving in East Berlin on the train from Vietnam. He runs the Duc Viet Joint-Venture Company Limited (Dv J-V Co., Ltd.), which he established in 2000 in partnership with the Erfurt-based CBV Michael Campioni GmbH. A remarkable success story that is built on the less well-known gastronomic transfer from West to East, the company emplys 120 people (2006) and produced 700 tons of sausage in 2004. Among the company’s products are Xuc Xich Duc (a Bratwurst), as well as Wieners, Bockwursts, Bierschinken and even Leberkäse. The company supplies shops, restaurants and schools across the country. Tan plans to expand and if his ideas are realized, 120,000 pigs will need to be slaughtered to supply his factories, bringing in an €18 million turnover. He might even export to Japan.
In 2007, it was reported that Tan is now planning to produce an ecological alternative to oil through the production of Jatropha nuts.