When the body of Adolf Merckle was discovered on the railroad tracks here last week, authorities ruled the German billionaire’s death to be a suicide.
They said he had thrown himself in front of a train, just a day before it was announced that the company he had founded 34 years ago was being sold.
But for Jürgen Wiedenmann, the owner of a sporting goods store here, Mr. Merckle’s creditors were responsible even if they were not present by the tracks on that snowy night. “The banks pushed him to it, I’m sure,” Mr. Wiedenmann said.
It is a common opinion in this small south German town of 12,000, where his employees and residents saw Mr. Merckle as a decent, taciturn man who looked after his workers and his community, despite his wealth. He was No. 94 on Forbes magazine’s most recent ranking of the 400 richest people in the world.
His four children grew up in a modest one-family house with the Merckle name on the mailbox. “I look at this as the banks’ taking the heart out of the family,” said Karl-Heinz Irgang, a member of the Blaubeuren City Council.
Mr. Merckle’s suicide shocked Germany as much as it angered Blaubeuren, where he was eulogized Monday at a memorial service that overflowed the hamlet’s church.
He was the embodiment of the Mittelstand, the corps of family-owned businesses that form the backbone of German manufacturing. Mr. Merckle, however, dared to step beyond the conservative confines of most German family entrepreneurs and delved into debt and complicated financial transactions to lighten his tax burden and enrich his empire.
“He formed a picture of the risks and acted,” Mr. Irgang said. In the process, those who knew him well said, he developed a keen sense of how far to push — until the last two years.