When Michael von Harten started loading cars onto ships in the German port of Bremerhaven 27 years ago, the facility handled some 700,000 vehicles a year. That number has since surged to 2.1 million, fueled by a dramatic increase in trade that has created thousands of jobs and given a big lift to the local economy.
Von Harten is concerned Donald Trump could threaten Bremerhaven's prosperity.
The new U.S. president has called on Germany to rein in its $272 billion (253 billion euro) trade surplus, saying he may impose stiff tariffs on imported goods. Angela Merkel met Trump Friday at the White House -- the chancellor's first encounter with him after months of verbal sparring over trade issues -- and Germans want her to push back against any restrictions that would hurt their livelihood and threaten their country's economy.
"I worry about someone like Trump banging his drum and slapping tariffs on our exports," von Harten says as he surveys the Bremerhaven quays, where a half-dozen ships the size of floating warehouses are being loaded with VWs, Porsches, Audis, BMWs and other jewels of German manufacturing. "Of course we would feel that."
Relations between the two countries appeared to warm slightly on Thursday as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble met in Berlin. "It is not our desire to get into trade wars," Mnuchin told reporters, acknowledging that Germany -- as a member of the euro zone -- doesn't have control over its currency.
Even so, Germany's economy relies heavily on foreign trade, and Bremerhaven more than just about any place in the country: While unemployment in the area is about double the national average, a quarter of the people in the state hold jobs directly or indirectly related to shipping, according to the local port operator, Bremenports.