Manfred Wagner, Lord Mayor of the City of Wetzlar, in his office. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)
Manfred Wagner, Lord Mayor of the City of Wetzlar, in his office. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)

City of Wetzlar

Manfred Wagner

Manfred Wagner has been Lord Mayor of Wetzlar since November 2015. We interviewed him to find out the issues that are close to his heart and the changes he wants to make to his home city.

A lot has changed for Manfred Wagner in the New City Hall. But the Lord Mayor believes in continuity, too. After all, he was already Mayor for four years before he was elected Lord Mayor. He still heads the department he has managed since 2011, which has been expanded to include several cross-cutting policy areas. He’s kept his office, too: Next to the door of his secretary’s office hangs a picture of August Bebel. Leaning against the wall is a spade that is far more than just a souvenir.


W3+: Mr. Wagner, why the spade?

MW: That’s the spade we used to celebrate the official start of the third construction phase in the Leitz Park. I have fond memories of that day in June. The decision of the directors of the Leica company to move the global enterprise with the red dot back to its birthplace was a very important signal – for the city and for the people. And if you look at all recent building activities there and the developments planned for the next few years, you can’t fail to be impressed.


W3+: Judging by what economists say, construction activities are a good sign.

MW: That’s the way I see it, too. For some people, construction sites are stressful, which is understandable. But basically they are a hub of dynamic activity, an abundantly clear sign that something is happening. Anyone who drives past the Leitz Park every day will agree. There’s a lot going on elsewhere in Wetzlar, too: for instance on the site of the former Heidelberg Zement company, which, as you know, used to be Buderus Cement Works. We have been able to redevelop these 70,000 square meters of industrial wasteland, and the new IKEA will open on this site, close to the city center, on May 18 2017. At the same time, we are working on sensitive areas such as the Bahnhofstraße. We have been able, with a great deal of support by local people, to develop a framework concept that will significantly enhance its attractiveness and the quality of the time spent there. One of our specific aims is to integrate the two rivers Lahn and Dill into the urban experience.


W3+: You have helped to launch many of these projects yourself over the last few years. Does being Lord Mayor give you a different perspective on this dynamism?

MW: I’m naturally pleased, and very glad to be able to drive these projects forward in my role as Lord Mayor. I’m obviously lucky that I didn’t have to start from scratch. Together with my fellow councilors, including my predecessor Wolfram Dette, we have put a lot of hard work into the development of our city in the last few years.


W3+: Wolfram Dette belonged to a different party, but there’s no really noticeable change in political leadership, is there?

MW: That’s true to a large extent. Since 2011, and therefore four years before I became Lord Mayor, the city council has been made up of a three-party coalition represented by myself as full-time mayor and two full-time councilors. And although Wolfram Dette as Lord Mayor was not part of this coalition, we put medium- and long-term plans for our city into practice together. The strategy of approving the mainstream of our urban planning with the broadest possible majorities hasn’t changed since I took office. Of course, as elected political representatives we have different priorities in urban policy. However, it’s important to us that we don’t base sustainable decisions on the smallest common denominator, but rather focus on what’s best for the city.


W3+: As Lord Mayor of the City of Wetzlar you retain the responsibility for your former department.

MW: Yes, that’s right. I have been the mayor for youth, social welfare and sport since 2011 and will continue in this role. Several cross-cutting areas have been added, such as HR, legal services and fire prevention. I was determined to provide a certain continuity in these fields of work. Incidentally, the same applies to the other departments, too.


W3+: So is continuity the key to achieving what’s best for the city?

MW: As long as you don’t confuse continuity with standstill ... (laughs) Seriously, though: I would say it’s more of a continual change. In urban politics, some decisions have to be made quickly. However, the crucial questions with far greater implications are long-term by nature. These include infrastructural, economic and social urban development, where some of the effects of concepts and measures are only seen or felt many years afterwards.


W3+: For example?

MW: One of several major social urban development projects which is just beginning to take shape after long and intensive preparation is the Dalheim/Altenberger Straße quarter. In the course of the last century, important workers’ housing estates were built there, but their physical and social infrastructure has become incompatible with the needs of our times. This is changing at the moment, substantially supported by a number of initiatives launched by the city council as well as social and church institutions. Let’s not forget the sports program – for both leisure and high-performance sport, which is remarkable for a city with a population of nearly 53,000.


W3+: The Wetzlar region has undergone massive economic change in the last decades and centuries, too. Today it is mainly a technology region. How can you support and expand this development?

MW: Analyses of potential carried out by the THM University of Applied Sciences for Central Hessen have shown that our particular strengths lie in cross-cutting and key technologies. Optics plays a central role here. That’s why it is all the more gratifying that the THM has decided to locate the planned endowment professorship for Optical Technologies with the affiliated Optics Center at the Spilburg. That can give Wetzlar an extra boost as an optics city – particularly if you bear in mind that not only Wetzlar companies benefit, but companies in the whole region. This will enable us to secure our region’s technological expertise and even develop it for the future.

What I find especially encouraging is the success of the networking event W3+ FAIR. The initiators of Wetzlar Network and the organizers, Fleet Events, have succeeded within a very short time in creating a forum for optics, electronics and mechanics that has put an even brighter spotlight on our business region. This international visibility is good for the city and even better for local companies.


W3+: How close are you to the needs of industry?

MW: We have a high density of industries, but distances are short. We have always tried to give the companies here in Wetzlar the best possible support, whether they be market leaders or our many small and medium-sized enterprises, which attain really outstanding achievements. This involves helping to make these companies fit for the future, although the attractiveness of the location is a factor, too. We are well aware that our highly specialized companies in particular are looking for qualified personnel. The decision to accept a job offer in Wetzlar and move here largely depends on what the city and the region have to offer. Obviously, that’s the focus of many of the urban development projects I have named: to make Wetzlar an even better place to live.


W3+: How would you convince an entrepreneur or a qualified employee to move to Wetzlar?

MW: I believe that, as a medium-sized city, Wetzlar has a lot to offer. I have already mentioned Wetzlar’s role as a sports city. The old town, I think, has a really unusual atmosphere which will be significantly enhanced even more by the planning activities relating to the Stadthaus. We offer a rich culture scene, a wide range of leisure activities, and a very interesting choice of schools and child care facilities for young families. From Wetzlar you can get nearly anywhere on the motorways, by rail or from Frankfurt airport. I would say: if you’re not tempted by the bright lights of the big cities, you’ll soon feel at home in Wetzlar.


W3+: On your website, you write: “There’s nothing that can’t be improved upon.” Will this be the maxim of your future work?

MW: It has always been a basic driving force behind my work. I was born in what is now our suburb of Naunheim and have been involved in local politics since I was 20. Looking back, a lot of improvements have been made since then. But one should always beware of resting on one’s laurels. That’s what I mean by the sentence: “There’s nothing that can’t be improved upon.” And it’s sure to be my work maxim for the future, too.