Berlin Voters Reject Plan to Build on Airport-Turned-Park

Voters in the German capital on Sunday rejected plans for a large-scale property development on their former Tempelhof Airport, which has in recent years become a popular inner-city park.

As Berlin citizens cast their ballots for the European parliamentary election, they also voted in a referendum aimed at preserving the green space, which is roughly the size of New York’s Central Park.

According to early results, almost 65 percent voted against the development plans proposed by the city-state of Berlin, the local statistics office said.

Tempelhof, measuring 300 hectares (750 acres), sits right in the middle of the German capital of 3.4 million.

The site echoes Berlin’s turbulent and troubled history. On its northwestern edge looms the huge semi-circular former airport terminal, typical of the Nazis’ architectural gigantism, built between 1936 and 1941.

Early in the Cold War, Tempelhof became the hub for the Berlin Airlift, when Allied planes made some 277,000 landings here to supply the western part of the war-ravaged city with food and fuel during the 1948-49 Soviet blockade.

Opened as a park in 2010, Tempelhof became a temple of outdoor recreation. In summer the open sky is filled with kites, and people run, skate and cycle on the old runways, or simply sunbathe or enjoy a barbecue in the grass.

The city had proposed building some 4,700 apartments, homes and commercial spaces, as well as a large public library, sports fields and a lake, that between them would cover about 20 percent of the field.

A citizens’ initiative called “100 per cent Tempelhofer Feld” sprang up in nearby neighbourhoods. They collected more than 185,000 signatures, about 10,000 more than required, to launch Sunday’s referendum.

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Population growth boosting Berlin’s rental market

Booming Berlin already has a high proportion of renters and with a growing population, demand is set to rise further and overseas investors are looking to benefit, says a top agent

With the population of Berlin rising steadily, Berlin’s rental market is set to boom, predicts one overseas property agency.

“Boomtown” Berlin, Germany’s largest city with a population of more than 3.5million, saw annual resident number rise by around 47,800 at end of 2013, according to the Federal Statistical Office of Berlin and the population is set to grow by around 250,000, the Urban Development Concept Berlin 2030 predicts.

The burgeoning city cannot keep up the building of new homes. In the last two years, Berlin’s population grew by almost 100,000, but only 10,000 new flats have been built.

Maren Kern, board-member of the Association of Berlin-Brandenburg housing (BBU: Verband Berlin-Brandenburgischer Wohnungsunternehmen e.V.) says, “Berlin desperately needs more homes. This is only possible through new constructions.”

With homeownership at just 17%, renting is the norm in Berlin, and the majority of the new residents are likely to add to rental numbers and demand, says Knight Knox International.

Head of Marketing, Samantha Jones, tells OPP Connect, “We have had a number of enquiries for Berlin in recent months, mainly due to us establishing some strong links with experienced partners on the ground who have provided us with good quality properties, in areas of high rental demand.

“Interest in German property is widespread and we have buyers from countries as far flung as Macau, Kuwait and the UK. There does not seem to be an influx of interest from a particular region or country, just a general flurry of genuine interest, from investors looking for a positive return on investment on a property that will generate a good annual yield.”

As investor interest build, Berlin property prices have jumped 17% in the last 12 months and 31% in the last five years up until July 2013 and asking prices for one bedroom flats have risen 53% in three years, according to the property website,

But prices for apartments in Berlin still remain relatively low, selling at an average of €2,000 per square metre, a third less than the existing rate in Paris and less than a quarter of the price in London.

These low prices have seen Berlin ranked as the number one choice for residential investment in the “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2013” survey by PWC, because of the opportunities for growth within the market.

Rents also remain relatively low. At the end of 2013, the average rent in Berlin was €7.90 per square metre, lower than rents in Hamburg at €10.00 and Munich at €12.50.

Knight Knox International has launched several new developments in Berlin, including Kaiserdamm, which contains 31 studio apartments, two commercial units and 20 underground parking spaces from £149,990, Mitte Living, which includes 128 one-bed apartments in the city centre from around £185,000 and Shorhnhorststrasse, which features 118 high-end one, two and three bedroom apartments from around £303,000.

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German Builders Put Cells on the Block

Almost a century ago, left-wing revolutionary Karl Liebknecht was thrown in jail for staging an antiwar protest in the German capital. His prison now has new inhabitants, but unlike the bearded firebrand, they quite like it there.

The jail in Luckau, a small town outside Berlin, has been turned into apartments by property developer Bärbel Kohlstock, who used ample public subsidies for the €2 million ($2.7 million) conversion. Units in the 300-year-old, redbrick complex went on the market last summer and have been renting for €202 to €540 a month.

Siegmund Borchert, a 53-year old resident whose balcony overlooks the former prison yard, says he had “a strange feeling” the first time he visited the building. But “the concerns quickly evaporated” after he caught his first glimpse of the interior’s modern, comfortable makeover, he said.

Luckau isn’t alone. Falling prison populations and a frothy property market boosted by low interest rates and a healthy economy have come together in a quirky German real-estate trend: the conversion of penitentiaries into residences.

Developer Steffen Dörre says the prison he aims to convert in Sondershausen, Thuringia, “looks like an Italian fort” with a castle and four towers. He wants to install 12 flats in the mid-19th-century building in a project he hopes to finish in 2016.

Many prison complexes in Germany were built in the 19th century, often featuring details like cornices and high ceilings that have raised their appeal in a country that lost much of its period architecture during World War II.

Developers in other countries also have converted prisons into hotels. For example, the Liberty Hotel in Boston used to be the infamous Charles Street Jail that housed the Boston Strangler.

In Germany, where the market for housing in major cities is becoming increasingly tight, jails-turned-residences are more common. In Berlin, a €34 million riverside development turned Rummelsburg prison into 147 apartments, with 20 newly built townhouses and 20 newly built apartments on the penitentiary complex. Property developer Detlef Maruhn bought the lion’s share of the prison compound in late 2006 and resold many of the units to investors.

The building dates from 1879, when it served as a workhouse for beggars, the homeless and prostitutes. Later, the Rummelsburg prison was taken over by the Nazis, who continued to use it as a jail and labor camp for members of society deemed “antisocial.” After World War II, the East German Communist regime operated it as a detention facility and prison for 1,500 male inmates.

“The project was unusual—at first no one believed it would be possible,” Mr. Maruhn said.

Developers changed the interior “radically” to create modern apartments, Mr. Maruhn said. Most of the investors who bought units rent them to “young, socially mixed” residents, he added.

The former prison laundry is a kindergarten now, and one of the buildings, in which Communist bigwigs Erich Honecker and Erich Mielke were imprisoned after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is now a hotel. “We didn’t put the history [of the prison] in the foreground—we didn’t hush it up, but we didn’t want to create any unpleasant feelings,” Mr. Maruhn said.

The prison complex was rebranded as the BerlinCampus, although residents started a group to keep the history of the penitentiary alive, hosting discussions and events with former inmates.

“The idea that people were locked up and lived here involuntarily—that bothered me a great deal at the beginning,” said Petra Zimmermann, a resident whose study was once a six-man cell and whose kitchen used to be a guards’ room. She chose the development for its central location and proximity to the riverside and green spaces.

Penitentiary conversions aren’t straightforward projects. With many old prison buildings listed under historical protection order, developers have little leeway to add features like balconies and elevators.

However, prison conversions often are eligible for public funding and tax incentives, as the government is eager to promote the re-use of historical buildings.

Luckau, home to 9,700 residents, got a new prison in 2005, leaving it with a centrally located plot of land and a building complex dating from 1747. Three-quarters of the development costs came from local or federal subsidy programs. In return, two apartments in the first converted block of 20 had to be rented to low-income tenants.

Tenant Siegmund Borchert said anyone who didn’t know his apartment used to be part of a penitentiary wouldn’t guess today, except that the windows facing the main street are higher up the wall than usual.

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More buyers in Germany – a nation of renters changing its tune?

More residents of Germany are choosing to buy rather than rent – and the number is set to keep rising as the property market booms, says an economic research group.

Known as a nation of renters, only around 43% of those living in Germany own their property, but the number is slowly increasing.

The Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (IW) have conducted a five-year analysis of all 402 counties and cities in the country to find out where it’s worth it to buy property.

Residential property in Germany’s cities is overvalued around 25%, according to an index released yesterday (15 May) by the VDP Association of German Pfanbrief Banks. Prices are rising across the country, especially for new-built units.

IW concluded that buying a house or apartment made financial sense in only 27% of the regions examined. (Read More….)

Irish investors sell four residential buildings in Berlin for €20.2 million

Acting on behalf of various Irish investors, Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) has sold three residential properties in Tempelhof and one apartment building in Dahlmannstrasse in Charlottenburg extending over a total of ca. 14.021 m², comprising 173 residential apartments and nine commercial units. The purchase prices were between €1,300 and € 2,350 per m². The properties were purchased by a municipal housing company and a German-Russian family office.

Hanns-Joachim Fredrich, Partner at C&W and head of the company’s Berlin office and Investment department, commented: “The demand for residential property in Berlin remains high. Despite this, we are also seeing an increase in the types of purchasing groups. In addition to institutional investors, we are currently experiencing high demand from municipal housing companies and international private investors.”

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Berlin in high demand as global meeting destination

Professional associations are increasingly opting to hold their gatherings in Berlin: According to the latest statistics from the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA), the German capital was the site for 178 conventions and meetings of international associations last year. This represents six more gatherings than in 2012. This figure places Berlin in fifth place in the global ICCA statistics.

“Berlin has been successfully positioning itself among the leading global event destinations for ten years now and the number of associations opting to hold their meetings has climbed continuously”, says Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin. “With new venues such as CityCube Berlin, we are providing even more reasons for meeting planners to choose Berlin. We expect that 2014 will post even higher numbers.”

Heike Mahmoud, Conventions Director of the visitBerlin Berlin Convention Office added: “The ICCA results are a great compliment for the city and our ability to attract meetings. In June, the executives of ICCA will meet in Berlin for the first time. This is an important opportunity to present ourselves to international associations and convention bureaus.”

Since 2004, Berlin has ranked among the top 5 destinations for meetings of international associations. Just ahead of Berlin with its 178 events are Barcelona (179), Vienna (182) and Madrid (186). It is noteworthy that the differences among the top meeting destinations are very small: There is only a difference of eight events between positions 2 and 5. With 204 association meetings in the past year, Paris ranks first.

The ICCA statistics exclusively count international gatherings of associations. These must be attended by at least 50 participants, take place regularly and switch among at least three different countries. The statistics are an internationally respected tool of comparison. Destinations in the top 10 of the ICCA are perceived by event planners worldwide as the leading meeting destinations.