In the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, property developers and trendy incomers made a beeline for the old East Berlin: there were plenty of empty plots and a vast number of buildings ripe for modernisation.
“Until around 2010, many people relocating to Berlin would look first at Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain [two residential districts in the east] because the art and music scenes were concentrated there,” says Thomas Rücker, of local housing company GSW Immobilien AG.
“But in early 2011”, he continues, “we noticed the start of what is now looking like a significant recovery in the west. The infrastructure is improving and there is definitely a sense that the west is losing its reputation as a rather staid place to live, compared with the fashionable districts in the east.”
At the heart of western Berlin, the Kurfürstendamm – a grand old avenue of boutiques and cafés and the streets around it (the “city centre” of truncated West Berlin during the cold war) – is in the middle of a property boom. Nowhere is this more evident than at Savignyplatz, a square surrounded by graceful, turn-of-the-20th-century apartment blocks and a large number of speciality shops, bookstores and restaurants, including the Paris Bar, a celebrity hang-out.
Close to Savignyplatz, a 127 sq metre, three-bedroom apartment in an elegant building dating from 1890 with parquet floors and high ceilings is on offer for €630,000 through the BHW estate agency. The Savignyplatz neighbourhood has been boosted by improvements around the nearby Zoologischer Garten rail station, the terminus of train services to what was then West Berlin. The station itself is still grotty but in January a 32-floor Waldorf Astoria hotel opened a few yards away. Les Solistes, the hotel’s main restaurant, is run by French Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire.
Nearby, the Bikini Berlin scheme – so named because the façade of a building on the site was said by locals to resemble an item of swimwear – is due to open this year as 54,000 sq metres of retail, cinema, hotel and office space, with a rooftop garden overlooking the city zoo.
Last year, there was a remarkable 20.7 per cent increase in the value of apartments in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district, according to a recent report on the Berlin housing market by GSW Immobilien AG, and based on an analysis of 38,000 sales offers citywide.
Only in the hugely revamped city-centre district of Mitte, where residential newbuilds compete for space with new government and office buildings, are high-end apartments more expensive, costing an average of €6,650 per sq metre versus €4,700 in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.
A circular, loft-style penthouse apartment in a converted water tower in Charlottenburg, with a terrace and 217 sq metres of living space arranged around a kitchen in the centre of the unit, is on sale for €1.04m, through the Ziegert estate agency.
The upswing in the west has a demographical explanation, too: some of the young international crowd who made a home in the atmospheric, if rather dilapidated, sections of the east in the 1990s have acquired family and roots in Berlin and headed west.
They have been drawn by generally larger living spaces in the western part of the city and much wider selection of international schools, partly a consequence of the Allied presence during the cold war.
Drew Portnoy, a US journalist-turned-comedian who is a regular performer on the Berlin stand-up scene, came to Berlin 15 years ago. In 2011 he moved his family from Prenzlauer Berg to a 170 sq metre apartment in Wilmersdorf to be closer to his children’s English-speaking school.
“The middle classes in the west took care of their homes,” says Portnoy. (Property ownership was outlawed in the former East Germany.) “Ours has original mouldings and a small room where a servant would have slept, and the building even has a separate staircase for serving staff. It makes me feel a connection with the past of the city.”
In the central districts of the city, apartments dominate and there are few houses. But the suburban reaches of western Berlin are another story.
On a 50,000 sq metre plot opposite the US Embassy in leafy Dahlem, 13km from the Brandenburg Gate, Giovanna Stefanel-Stoffel – a member of the Stefanel fashion house – and Ludwig Maximilian Stoffel, her German property-developer husband, are building Fünf Morgen Dahlem Urban Village. The project contains about 100 homes – a mix of apartments, town houses and detached houses – clustered around an artificial lake, with a supermarket, gym and health centre on site. The bilingual Quentin Blake Europe School is adjacent.
To keep the living space as green as possible, all garages are being built underground, with lift access to the houses and apartments. Individual plots are oval-shaped and many gardens will have their own vegetable patches.
A detached house in the project, due to open in 2014, is on sale through Stofanel Investment AG for €1.95m. The three-storey, four-bedroom home will have 300 sq metres of living space, two terraces overlooking the artificial lake, four underground parking spaces and cellars that could be used for a home cinema.
Elsewhere in western Berlin, the decommissioning of the former Tempelhof airport, most of which is being turned into a public park, will see as many as 4,700 new homes built on the fringes of the former airfield under a scheme called Tempelhofer Freiheit, with construction set to start in 2016.
• Berlin’s population is growing: in 2012 it had 3,520,000 inhabitants, up from 3,416,000 in 2007
• Incidents of street robbery in public areas of the city have dropped by more than half since 2002
• Berlin is one of Germany’s greenest cities: more than 30 per cent of its territory is made up of forests, lakes and parks
• Property transfer tax is five per cent
• Tenant-friendly laws provide renters with security of tenure
• Potential homebuyers are sometimes asked to submit a sealed bid in excess of a given starting price
What you can buy for …
€500,000 A three-bedroom house with a garden in the Tempelhof district needing substantial renovation
€1m A three-bedroom penthouse apartment with a roof terrace in a primary location