Bilfinger & Berger Bau A.G.
Bilfinger & Berger Bau A.G.
Mannheim, Bad-Wuertt 6800
Federal Republic of Germany
Bilfinger & Berger, a large West German construction company, is an amalgamation of smaller enterprises that were all founded around the turn of the century. The constituent firms’ combined capabilities give Bilfinger & Berger the potential to bid worldwide on projects virtually of any scale. The company is well known for using the most current design and construction methods creatively. Indeed, it and its predecessors helped develop many of these techniques.
The company’s present structure is the result of the 1975 merger of Grün and Belfinger A.G. and Julius Berger-Bauboag A.G. Founded in 1892, Grün and Bilfinger incorporated in 1906. Berger-Bauboag was itself the product of a 1969 merger. Bauboag was founded in 1890 as a public construction firm named Berlinische Bodengesell-schaft; it built thousands of apartments and many banks, stores and shopping centers. Julius Berger, also founded in 1890, incorporated in 1892 as Julius Berger-Civil Engineers.
In his first ten years in business, Julius Berger concentrated on railway, road and bridge construction. He quickly earned a solid reputation with the government and received contracts for hundreds of miles of railways and roads. In 1893 alone he built 22 stretches of railroad across Germany. August Grün was co-director of a successful company with experience in water-related civil engineering projects. When Grün’s partner left the firm in 1892, Paul Bilfinger, an engineer working for the government, stepped in. At that time the company already employed 250 people and had accumulated equipment and experience in a broad range of construction areas.
From the start of their partnership, Grün and Bilfinger bid on a wide variety of engineering projects. The firm entered the international arena in 1907 when it built a 45-mile stretch of railway in Hungary. In the same year, Berger’s firm began work on jobs outside its previous focus, building a canal in Hamburg, a dam and power station in Blesen, and hydraulic control installations on several German rivers and canals. In 1909 the two firms collaborated on a project for the first time, widening the 61-mile Kiel Canal, an important shipping route connecting the North and Baltic Seas.
Both firms landed major foreign contracts in 1911. Grün and Bilfinger entered a joint venture with another enterprise to build ship-landing stages at Swakopmund. Julius-Berger won an international competition for the five-year contract to construct the five-mile Hauenstein Tunnel in Switzerland. By 1913, both firms had expanded their international activities to less developed countries. Grün and Bilfinger began excavation work in Tanga (German East Africa) and Cameroon in 1912, and Julius Berger began surveying for road projects in southwest Africa, Costa Rica and Colombia the following year. Between that time and the firms’ merger in 1975, their combined efforts accounted for a large share of the road, rail, bridge and dam development in Africa, southwest and southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Both firms specialized in modernization of inter-city travel and efficient redirection of busy inner-city routes. The merged entity has continued the effort.
Julius Berger made a crucial move in 1914 when it launched its own mining activities. From then on the firm’s standard practice in international contracts was to set up its own mining operations on or near each construction site. The firm would adapt its established formulas to fit the local supply. Julius Berger has saved millions of marks on materials over the years by collecting its own ores and soils instead of buying from suppliers.
Both firms frequently played vital roles in the German government’s travel systems improvement plans. Along with their traditional work on roads and railways, the firms received several subway building contracts, beginning with one for the Berlin underground in 1915. They undertook many water-related jobs as well, including widening and re-channeling rivers, digging and dredging canals, and building locks and dams.
In the period between the world wars, both firms saw rapid growth in the international market. Among the larger projects Julius Berger engaged in during this time were the Trans-Persian railway in Iran (1923) and the Benha Bridge across the Nile in Egypt (1930). Grün and Bilfinger worked on a sewage system for Salonika, Greece (1926); reinforced concrete roads in the center of Montevideo, Uruguay (1926); an underground railway in Athens (1927); 16 miles of tunnels for a drainage system and subway in Buenos Aires (1928); and the Carioba Dam in Brazil (1934), among others.
The burst of international activity declined to a near halt after 1935. The slowdown lasted through the end of World War II, but the two firms sustained themselves with work on the projects Adolf Hitler had begun in 1933 in an effort to ease unemployment in Germany. Hitler’s programs included construction of the autobahns, a network of asphalt and concrete highways that would crisscross the nation. Both firms were at the top of the list of bidders, and they received several contracts. Many stretches of the autobahns called for long and high bridge sections, each requiring individual planning and, often, creative designs. The challenging requirements kept engineers who had been working in exotic locales and unusual terrain stimulated.
During World War II both Julius Berger and Grün and Bilfinger built several airports and naval installations. Like most other German companies, they spent the two years after the war clearing rubble, making emergency track and bridge repairs, and repairing damaged railway stations, roads, dikes, and housing and industrial properties.
By 1950 Julius Berger had resumed its activities abroad, building pumping stations in Egypt and the Managil Canal in the Sudan. Also in 1950, Grün and Bilfinger employed a new method in bridgebuilding, using prestressed concrete for the first time on a railway bridge in Heilbronn. The method of pouring concrete around metal-cable frames quickly became the most popular and effective use of concrete, and is still common.
The German post-war administration hired both Julius Berger and Grün and Bilfinger to build series of telecommunications towers. The first went up in 1952, and the projects soon became a staple in the companies’ logbooks. Between 1969 and 1977, they built a total of 18 of the structures. At the same time the companies began constructing numerous hydro-electric power plants, usually in conjunction with a dam or barrage. Julius Berger was a leader in modifying the technology involved in hydroelectric power.
Both companies also continued to be innovators in bridge construction technology, and through the late 1950’s were leaders in water-related engineering projects, building dams, bridges, port installations, locks and power stations around the world. One of their biggest accomplishments during the era was a joint venture formed to build the 5.5-mile prestressed concrete Lake Maracaibo Bridge in Venezuela.
After World War I the Bauboag firm had changed its building focus from apartments to commercial and industrial structures. Through the 1950’s and 1960’s it built stores and malls, universities, and industrial plants. Julius Berger wanted to enter the field, but rather than expand from within, it merged with Bauboag in 1969. The marriage was immediately successful; later the same year Julius Berger-Bauboag received contracts to build the National Library in Berlin and to do stuctural work at Munich’s Olympic Stadium. The stadium job included a cycle-racing track, flyover access roads and a new metropolitan train station.
In 1968 another joint effort would bring Grün and Bilfinger together with Julius Berger on a work site. The success of the project, a long autobahn tunnel in Hamburg, led in 1970 to Grün and Bilfinger acquiring a majority holding in Julius Berger-Bauboag. The two enterprises merged formally on December 29, 1975 and took the name Bilfinger & Berger Bau A.G.
Although a recession hit the international building industry in 1973, Bilfinger & Berger flourished throughout the 1970’s. The two larger constituent companies began building nuclear power stations and offshore oil-drilling rigs early in the decade. In addition, since 1975 the merged Bilfinger & Berger has received sustained funding from the European Community and West Germany’s Federal Ministry of Research and Technology to develop its innovative concrete articulated tower, which consists of a ball-and-socket joint between a drilling tower and its foundation on the ocean floor. The structure greatly reduces the stress caused by wind and waves. The firm has also built some of Europe’s largest sewage treatment plants over the past 20 years.
The international division of Bilfinger & Berger is very active. The United States subsidiary is Fru-Con Corp. of Baldwin, Missouri. Some of the better known projects it has worked on since 1975 are two nuclear power plants in Illinois (at Clinton and Baldwin), subway systems in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, and the space shuttle launching complex in Vandenberg, California. The subsidiary Julius Berger Nigeria, Ltd., based in Lagos, has modernized much of the transportation infrastructure in that country since 1970. The firm has also been involved in the design and construction of the new Nigerian capital at Abuja. Bilfinger & Berger has completed roadwork totalling over 330 miles in the Tripoli area in Libya in the past decade. Through the 1980’s projects abroad have accounted for 60% to 70% of the firm’s total construction volume.
Bilfinger & Berger is a classical example of a successful civil engineering and construction firm. The company has taken on projects of all scales by solving the problems at hand efficiently, combining existing methods with its own creative new ideas wherever necessary. Bilfinger & Berger has left its mark around the world and is likely to continue making an impact with new construction technologies.
BBSE Systems Engineering GmbH; B&B Vorspanntechnik GmbH; Gottlieb Tesch GmbH; GBF-Fertigbau-Gesellschaft mbH; GKW Consult; GKW Ingenieure; Grund- und Pfahlbau GmbH; Propria Bauträger-und Verwaitungs-gesellschaft mbH; Modernbau GmbH; Sönnichsen & Görtz; Wilhelm Scheidt. The company also lists subsidiaries in England, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.