Personal obituary by Christiane and Gerhard H. Breuer
He was a whirlwind, a fruit broker with an international reputation, an importer with political finesse, a businessman with biting wit and charm. In early January he passed away after a serious illness aged 85. Karl Dürbeck always appeared indestructible and ageless to anyone who saw him speeding over the booth of Anton Dürbeck GmbH at Fruit Logistica, always tanned and immaculately dressed, negotiating with suppliers in Spanish, making small-talk with customers in Sudeten German or charming ladies in French.
When in the early 1990s the German banana monopoly ceased, which had granted importers duty-free import of any quantities and forced them to apply for licenses for “dollar bananas” – this meant trouble. He had political talent, holding positions such as ZV President, Chairman in the Economic Committee for Foreign Trade Questions, President of the European Professional Representatives C.I.M.O. and EUCOFEL.
The endless proceedings of German importers against the protectionist banana market regime could not prevent the introduction of import licenses, though.
A funny tale included his five-year old cat called Lilly Katz, a mongrel dog called Boris von Litauen as well as his girl-friend, a dachshund called Akka von Rackershof, who all applied for an import license. Lacking a postal address, the Federal Ministry of Food was not able to issue the relevant papers, though. It was Karl Dürbeck who inspired this farce…
In 1997 he was invited to speak at the first AgroPress Conference in Beijing. He explained the Chinese delegates how the world will look like once the import of fruits and vegetables was liberalized. We went on a trip to the Great Wall together and somehow the stroll over the steep stairs of the wall ended in a racing duel – the game ended in a draw.
Back in Beijing he invited us for a “Peking Duck” meal which he had always wanted to enjoy. So he got a tip for a restaurant. After waiting a long time, a crispy roasted duck arrived. Smelling deliciously it was presented to all guests at the table – and then disappeared. Later a tablespoon-sized piece without crispy skin was laid on the plate. This caused the sophisticated Karl Dürbeck to lose his composure: “Where is my duck?” he shouted. After this “appetizer” he spontaneously left the restaurant and we went to another restaurant to take “a real bite”.
I also remember him as a gallant cavalier who saved me when I visited Buenos Aires for the first time, arriving as a lost and lonely woman after a 22-hour air trip and struggling to get a hotel room in the Sheraton only to find some (attractive but unwanted) gentlemen in my room on the fourth try.
Training and further education have always been close to Dürbeck’s heart. As president of the Central Association (ZV), a traditional industry organization, he regularly organized seminars held by known economists giving fruit brokers a deeper insight into the mechanisms of finance and merchandise. He also initiated training courses for certified fruit merchants which have gained great importance following the German reunification in 1990 as they upgraded the industry to European standards.
Now based in Bad Homburg and managed by his son Mathias, the company has built up an excellent reputation and still carries the name Dürbeck into the world.