June 6, 2014 5:22 pm

Why Germany’s most expensive homes are on the island of Sylt

Seaside houses on windswept Sylt can cost up to €35,000 per sq metre
The beach near the village of Kampen on Sylt©Gunter Gräfenhain/4corners

The beach near the village of Kampen on Sylt

Where is the most expensive place to buy a house in Germany? According to research from the Engel & Völkers estate agency, the country’s priciest residential street is called Hobokenweg. Its mansions are fronted by perfectly mown lawns and low gates. Some are whitewashed and have steeply pitched, thatched roofs and pretty shutters. The air is fresh with a salty tang and the wind blows almost continuously as gulls screech above. The place feels a world away from Munich, Düsseldorf or Berlin. This is the village of Kampen, on a narrow, 99 sq km North Sea island called Sylt in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany.

Homes on Hobokenweg cost an average of €35,000 per sq metre. For good measure, streets in Kampen also occupy the second and third spots on Engel & Völkers’ list (Osterheideweg at €30,000 and Wiesenweg at €28,000 per sq metre). Meanwhile, on the agency’s Europe-wide list, Hobokenweg is rated in ninth position behind streets in upmarket areas of London, Paris, Gstaad and Cannes.

Sylt has been the place for Germany’s media and business elite to see and be seen since the early 1960s, helped by the relative proximity of Hamburg, the country’s traditional newspaper and magazine capital. Gunter Sachs, who was once married to Brigitte Bardot, was a regular visitor, as was media magnate Axel Springer. These days German television talk-show hosts and sports stars regularly holiday on Sylt, but Julia Petersen, spokeswoman for Sylt Marketing, prefers not to be drawn on specific names.

“They come to Sylt to take time off, relax and to walk around in flip-flops without shaving for a week,” she says. “They are able to do these kinds of things because we locals see them as friends and just normal people. That is probably one thing that makes this tiny place so special.”

Map showing Sylt in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

According to Silke Hagenah, managing partner at Engel & Völkers’ Sylt office, behind the rustic façades of many of the island’s most exclusive homes, high-end fittings are a must and saunas are also very popular. “Traditional features like tiled stoves [for heating living spaces] and fireplaces are also on buyers’ wish lists.” Hagenah thinks there is a high probability that Hobokenweg and neighbouring streets in Kampen will top the list once again when it is next drawn up, although “prices at the highest levels are now levelling off, and some other exclusive locations in Germany are catching up”.

The agency has been instructed to sell a thatched, stone-built detached house on a 483 sq metre plot with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and 212 sq metres of living space close to the centre of Kampen (and near to the bars and restaurants of the village’s so-called Whisky Mile) with an asking price of €5.15m. The house was built in 2010 but its decorative, arched windows are typical of the island’s folksy building style.

Sylt’s distinctive thatched roofs – several dating to the 18th century – mean there is no need for air conditioning: in winter they store heat in a house and in summer they help to keep the air cool. Homeowners and visitors alike can stroll along the broad, white-sand beach that runs the length of Sylt’s western coast. The island’s restaurants have a total of ten Michelin stars – oysters are harvested just off the island – and it is one of the relatively few places in Germany where it is possible to hire a butler.

Sylt’s remarkably high house prices can be explained partly by the rarity of its trophy homes: strict planning regulations mean there is not a lot of supply. Meanwhile, buying property on the west-facing coast and on islands in nearby Denmark – which has beaches and dunes that are similar to those on Sylt – is not an option for most Germans because a clause in the EU’s Maastricht treaty allows Denmark to restrict the sale of holiday homes to Danes and foreigners with a permanent home in the country.

Four-bedroom, thatched house©Holger Widera

Four-bedroom, thatched house in Kampen, €5.15m

In the village of List, both the island’s and Germany’s most northerly settlement – a place with impressive dunes and a bustling harbour – a semi-detached house with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sauna is available for €1.49m through agents König Immobilien.

According to the German Real Estate Association, the average used two-bedroom apartment in Kiel, Schleswig Holtein’s state capital and its largest city, costs €1,300 per sq metre; the same unit would cost €3,150 per sq metre in Munich, Germany’s most expensive city. Sylt has some 20,000 permanent residents but, unsurprisingly, some locals find it difficult to afford the island’s property prices and decamp to the mainland where living expenses are lower.

Although island life is hardly precarious, Sylt is under threat from coastal erosion and its sand dunes shift several metres a year. Barges are used to pump sand offshore on to the beaches and it is illegal to pick the vegetation that grows on the dunes.

“Everyone comes and sees the big houses and expensive cars in Kampen,” says Brian Bojsen, a Danish photographer who lives on Sylt, although he insists there is another side to island life. “In winter, the light on sunny days is always perfect and it’s a quiet, solitary place with good surfing.”

Bojsen – who compares Sylt to the trendy resort of Montauk on the tip of Long Island in New York state – heard about Sylt during a stint working in Düsseldorf almost 20 years ago and made a casual visit to the island. “I came back to the city, sold my apartment and moved to Sylt,” he says. “When people arrive here they say ‘wow’, or they turn round and take the next flight to Mallorca.”

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Buying guide

● Property transfer tax (stamp duty) in Schleswig-Holstein is 6.5 per cent of the sale price

● Buyers usually need to budget about 6 per cent for agents’ fees

● Sylt is on the same latitude as Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK and the southern tip of Alaska

● A wind blows on the island almost every day of the year

● There are scheduled flights from Sylt to Berlin, Frankfurt and Zurich

● Sylt is linked to the mainland by a causeway with a rail line but no road

● There are 850,000 visitors a year

What you can buy for . . .

€250,000 A 40-sq-metre studio flat close to the beach in Westerland

€1m A modern, three-bedroom house in the village of Hörnum

€5m A four-bedroom thatched house in Kampen, with a sauna

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