Locals call the complex of buildings in the German town of Prora “the colossus”. Six storeys high, it arcs around the coastline of Rügen, the country’s largest island, for three miles and can only be photographed in its entirety from the air.
The site’s location on the Baltic coast may be picturesque, surrounded by pristine beaches and windswept dunes, but its history is less idyllic. Prora’s complex of identical, unadorned blocks is one of the biggest relics left behind by the Nazis. Work on the buildings began in 1936 after Adolf Hitler demanded accommodation be provided for 20,000 workers on Nazi Party-sponsored vacations.
Construction of the mammoth project was abandoned in 1939 at the start of the second world war. Since then the buildings have been largely unused, and are visited only by groups of tourists eager to see the haunting relic.
Now a German investor has other ideas for the site. Axel Bering recently announced plans to build more than 200 apartments here. “When it’s completed it will be the perfect place to own a summer vacation property,” says Bering, whose company, Bering Consulting, is converting the derelict buildings. “At the moment you will, of course, need some imagination to envision the final results.”
Renovation work has already begun on the development, called “Meersinfonie” or Sea Symphony, with one-third of the first 60 apartments being planned already sold, according to Bering. About 50 of the homes will be completed by the end of this year with the rest due to be finished next year.
Prices start at about €130,000 for residences measuring 50 to 60 sq metres. Larger homes of about 100 sq metres or more will cost up to €375,000 once amenities such as Bauhaus-style interiors, heated parquet floors and private saunas are added.
The ambitious plan for Prora underscores property developers’ increasing eagerness to cash in on the rising demand for seaside property on Germany’s Baltic coast. A real estate boom in upmarket locations such as Sassnitz, Hiddensee, and Binz has seen home prices rise sharply in the past 15 months as investors from Germany and abroad view the oceanfront location as a solid place to invest.
“Germans have always seen value in owning property on the Baltic coast,” says Anita Gaertner, an estate agent specialising in seaside property sales at Sotheby’s International Realty. She says that in the past year prices along the Baltic have risen 10 to 15 per cent, fuelled by a surge in new beachfront developments. “We’re now seeing a very sharp rise in foreign investors and that is pushing demand even higher,” adds Gaertner.
Germany’s Baltic coast is located at the northern tip of the country in the states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Binz and Sassnitz – both dotted with elegant turn-of-the-century houses – are upscale second-home communities on Rügen, which is well-known for its hilly northern landscapes and white sand beaches. Other popular destinations on Germany’s Baltic coast include the island of Usedom, near the Polish border, and Fischland-Darss-Zingst, a peninsula known for its fishing villages and bathing beaches.
“These waterfront locations have seen growing interest from German buyers who are more willing to spend their money in the country rather than Spain or Portugal,” says estate agent Marc Fischer, manager of Engel & Völkers’ Usedom office. “They see rising value and that’s become very attractive for investment.”
Two-bedroom properties close to the waterfront sell for about €600,000 to €800,000 but asking prices rise sharply, to about €1.5m-€2m, for similarly-sized homes on the waterfront, according to estate agents.
Engel & Völkers is selling a 532 sq metre house with 1.5 acres of land on Rügen for €1.39m: it has eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms and ocean views. Built in 1840, the property underwent extensive renovation in 2010, and now has a separate two-bedroom guest apartment.
Northern Germany’s coastal property market is flanked on its western edge by the North Sea in the state of Lower Saxony. Like the Baltic coast, the North Sea offers home buyers wide, sandy beaches, forest trails and picturesque seaside villages. The unquestioned jewel of this property market is Sylt, a T-shaped island that has long been a popular summer retreat for German celebrities.
At 25 miles long, Sylt is Germany’s largest North Sea island with one of the longest unbroken stretches of immaculate beaches in Europe. Yet its size masks a perennial problem for property buyers: limited supply.
“Land is always at a premium on Sylt,” says Martin Wiess, an estate agent with Von Poll Immobilien, the Germany affiliate for Christie’s International Real Estate. “There’s no new land to develop and that leaves very few locations to build new homes.” Weiss has been an estate agent for more than 15 years in the North Sea property market and says home values have doubled in the past 10 years.
A three-to-four-bedroom home close to the water in Sylt will cost about €3m to €5m. Two-bedroom properties a bit further inland without sea views can be bought for less. An expansive waterfront property with five to six bedrooms, a pool and sauna can easily cost more than €10m.
Sotheby’s International Realty is selling a 466 sq metre four-bedroom, four-bathroom seafront villa with a pool and sauna for €12.9m.
Though prices on Sylt can dwarf those of other parts of the North Sea and Baltic coasts, owners of prime property can tap into a robust rental market during the peak summer season. A three or four-bedroom home on or near the sea can secure a rent of about €3,500 per month. Seafront homes fetch monthly rental fees of between €7,000 and €9,000.
● Summer temperatures on the Baltic and North Sea coasts are in the mid to high 20s. In winter the temperature dips to 6C
● Legal, registry and agency fees add up to about 12 per cent of a purchase price
● Rental prices for a beachfront property in Sylt can average €7,000 to €9,000 per month in high season
● Crime rates along the Baltic and North Sea coasts are very low
What you can buy for …
€500,000: A two-bedroom home with sea views in a Baltic coast town such as Binz and Sassnitz
€1m: A 100 sq metre villa close to the sea on the island of Hiddensee in the Baltic
€5m: A 500 sq metre, four-bedroom house away from the coast on the island of Sylt