Wir Opelaner
(We Opel Workers)


Germany 2012
44 Min

Directors: Ulrike Franke, Michael Loeken

The Opel plant in Bochum celebrates its 50th anniversary in October 2012. Over the years, the car plant has left its mark on the region, the people and the city of Bochum. The film tells the story of the Scherphausen/Wehmeyer family, several generations of whom have worked and still work at Opel in Bochum, and depicts 50 years of industrial history from the perspective of the people whose lives and identities have been shaped by a major corporation.




Founded during the era of coal mine closures, for a long time Opel represented fulltime employment, security and prosperity. Fifty years later, the car plant is in the midst of the biggest crisis it has experienced since it first went into operation. Many families have been employed by Opel for generations. Although the different generations have differing opinions about the history and the current situation of the Bochum plant, they are united by the fact that they identify themselves irrevocably with the products that they produce. And for all of them it is inconceivable that in Bochum in the near future, Opel may no longer exist.

Jürgen Scherphausen, the grandfather, started at Opel in 1962 and worked there for 34 years. Scherphausen moved from the Lothringen colliery to Opel because of better pay. Opel paid top wages.

It was here that Jürgen Scherphausen met his wife Grete, who worked for 30 years as an assembly worker in the final production phase. Both of them, now retired, have fond memories of their time at Opel. The first Kadett, a successful car model, was built at the Bochum plant. The sixties were a time of success and helped cultivate the vision of eternal prosperity.

Grete’s son Freddie Wehmeyer joined Opel in 1976 at the age of 19. He is a deeply committed Opel worker, working in the paint shop and deputising for the master craftsman. Freddie has experienced many crises at Opel, but he still believes in the product he is working on: „…they have been closing Opel every year since 1979“. His wife Damaris worked at Opel from 1986 to 2002, first in the sewing department and then, when that was outsourced, in the paint repair department. In 2002, she left in exchange for severance pay. Today she very much regrets her decision. „…if I had known Freddie back then, he would have talked me out of it. He’s an Opel worker through and through.“ Freddie and Damaris have experienced many drastic changes in working conditions and work processes.

Freddie’s sons Sven and Jens both did an apprenticeship at Opel. Sven was taken on for a year after completing his apprenticeship and then ended up working for contract worker agencies that supplied workers to Opel. He ultimately bit the bullet and found a different job, but with a heavy heart, because like his parents and grandparents, he had hoped for a secure career with the car manufacturer. His brother Jens was taken on. Now he’s worried about the Bochum plant’s uncertain future. He would take on any job at all Opel, even if it meant never working a day in the profession he is actually trained for, as a milling machine mechanic.

In this film, archive material illustrates the different phases of the development of the plant in Bochum and shows the constant change in the context of global developments. Contrary to the beliefs and hopes of many Opel workers, Opel is not built to last forever.


Wir Opelaner
(We Opel Workers)
Germany 2012
44 Min (D)

Directors: Ulrike Franke, Michael Loeken
Director of Photography: Leif Karpe, Jörg Adams, Michael Loeken
Location Sound: Filipp Forberg
Editor: Bert Schmidt
Soundmix: Thilo Busch, Soundvision
Music: Paul Rabiger
Production: Oliver Wißmann
Commissioning Editor: Beate Schlanstein
Co-Production: WDR