In a dimly lit room high above Berlin's busy Kurfurstendamm Boulevard, Dirk Schmidt's gaze is fixed on a PC monitor. Since March the 32-year-old unemployed subway conductor has been a day trader, using the facilities at a brand-new company called D-Trade. Though his modest start-up stake of 25,000 euro (a severance payment) has shrunk by 2,000 euro, he's not worried. "No way am I going back to my old job," he says. "My future is in the stock market."
Schmidt may or may not be unrealistic. But in Germany, his faith in the stock market is no longer unusual. Already warming to stocks, average folkssubway conductors, teachers, housewives have noticed the country's celebrated entrepreneurs and concluded that they, too, can get rich, or at least richer, if they're willing to take a few risks. For most, that doesn't mean starting companies; it means buying shares, often in the companies the entrepreneurs run. Fourteen percent of Germans now own stocks, up from 8 percent in 1997.
Plain folks are trading stock tips in thousands of "investment clubs" all over the country. They're also snapping up dozens of finance publications like Focus Money and DM. Recent market turmoil hasn't fazed them. "I like the company I bought and don't see any reason to sell," says Susanne Schaal, 32, a graphic artist in Munich who saw her shares in biotech company Evotec fall 50 percent. Internet provider T-Online, which went public amid mounting tech- stock trouble on April 17, still attracted 4.6 million private subscribers. They were rewarded: the stock is up 47 percent over the 27 euro issue price.
Not everyone will make out that well. Still, more Germans now hold stock than hold union-membership cards. And while a day trader or two may come to regret the change, for most of the country there's no turning back.