1965 – 1973

Foundation

Werner Otto (l.) and the ECE chief architect Walter Pawlik, late 1960th
Werner Otto (l.) and the ECE chief architect Walter Pawlik, late 1960th
Opening of Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum, Hamburg
Opening of Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum, Hamburg

Careless building and focusing on the actual core business was what mail-order pioneer Werner Otto (1909-2011) always wished for during the construction of the Otto Versand in the 1950s and 1960s. However, reality looked quite different. Nearly all of his construction projects were connected with trouble. Thus, Werner Otto made a virtue of necessity and founded his own real estate company in 1965 – ECE. With ECE Otto developed the first typical shopping centers on the German market.

Werner Otto started his company with a dozen employees in Hamburg in 1965. Following the Swedish model, they first built so-called large-scale community markets in Kassel, Langenhagen and Brunswick. Their main feature was that all shops were located under one roof – just like departments in a department store without partition walls. All retailers advertised and presented themselves under a common name. Particularly eager retailers worked next to less ambitious colleagues. As a consequence, first-class business people could not be won as tenants in this environment since they couldn't stand out from the crowd. Werner Otto quickly realized that these large-scale community markets had no future.

Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum Hamburg, interior view 1972
Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum Hamburg, interior view 1972

In the USA and Canada, Werner Otto had seen the first shopping centers: "I was really impressed by the customer-friendly diversity of shops in the shopping centers. It appealed to me to construct something similar in German." Therefore, ECE started to design centers along the lines of the American models. A simple copy, however, would not have been successful since the American dimensions and the customers' mentality could not be easily transferred to the German market. Thus, ECE developed its own tailor-made concept. The shopping centers had to be roofed and thus weather-independent. Apart from a broad offer of goods with many different shops, they had to be conveniently located as regards transport facilities and provide sufficient parking spaces. The focus was always on the customers' satisfaction – and hence the tenants' success.

ECE first own development, Franken-Center in Nuremberg, opened on October 23, 1969. This pilot project was followed by Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum in Hamburg (1970), Hessen-Center in Frankfurt/Main (1971), Rhein-Center in Cologne (1972), Roland-Center in Bremen (1972), Leo-Center in Leonberg (1973) and Allee-Center in Essen (1973). All these shopping centers of the first generation are still managed by ECE.