Is the city an investors’ paradise?

When too much money is looking for save havens in the cities.

Not much to see or do near Berlin-Hauptbahnhof.

It is a nice sunny and warm Sunday, May 28th, 2016 when Berlin-Hauptbahnhof celebrates its 10th birthday. In 2006 the new central station of Berlin was opened. Some 1.200 trains run daily in and out transferring some 300.000 passengers.
Berlin had to cope with a fast almost empty area around the new station. Much had been used as restricted area of the Berlin Wall and some parts consisted of run down warehouses.
What to do with all that space? 

The intentions
In the ‘Masterplan Heidestraße‘ from the department of ‘Stadtentwicklung’ one can read:
“Die Lebendigkeit im Quartier wird durch eine Mischung von Arbeiten und Wohnen, von Einkaufen, Kultur und Freizeit entstehen. Dafür werden verschiedene Gebäude- und Nutzungstypen für unterschiedliche Zielgruppen und Nutzerbedürfnisse entwickelt.”
“The liveliness in the area will come from a mixture of working, living, shopping, culture and leisure. For this purpose several building and user concepts for different target groups and user needs are developed.”
We speak of the area north of the Hauptbahnhof, the so called ‘Heidestraße’. We’ll also look at what happened at the south side of the station later in this article.

Berlin-Hauptbahnhof celebrates it’s 10th anniversary, May 28th, 2016.

Critics comment the promised ‘liveliness’ of the north area
She must have seen the results at the south side of the station, a dead area of glass and concrete.
Antje Kapek, head of the fraction in parlement of the ‘Grünen’, has strong reservations to these promises of a vibrant new city area: ‘it will be a dead area for the rich‘. She blames the Berlin Senat for poor negotiations with the investors with too little result for the interests of the city of Berlin.
She may be right. Out of the 2.840 planned apartments, just 42 will be reserved for low income groups. That is less the 2%. The maximum netto rent (without all costs) will be €7,50 per square meter. The rest will be sold and for rent at ‘market prices’.
It is clear where the investors expect to make the most profits: in building offices. Out of the total of the 610.000 square meters large project, some 58% is reserved for office blocks, 34% for apartments, 5% for small business, cafes and restaurants and a poor 3% for cultural purposes.
The principle is as we know it. Buildings are erected without a potential user. The Hamburger Investorenfirma ‘Becken Development’ is building ‘Bertha Berlin’ a nine storey office block. At the start of the project they had no idea who would like to move to their 17.000 square meters large offices.

The south side of the station on a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon in May.

South area: not worth staying an extra minute
Walking the south side of the station, along the upper road along the river Spree, is boring. Government buildings have filled up the area, named Kapelle-Ufer, from the station to the Kronprinzenbrücke.
Once 5.000 square meters of the Kapelle-Ufer was place of the ‘Bundespressestrandt‘. A temporary beach area for sunbathing, eating, drinking and parties. For many travellers newly arrived at the Hauptbahnhof a first welcome to Berlin. Or, when leaving Berlin and being too early, a place to wait for the train.
Georg Senoner owner of the Pizza-Restaurant Allermunde at the Washingtonplatz in front of the station will leave: ‘this is a station without a neighbourhood, there is no live. Once the ‘Bundespressestrandt’ brought live to the area’, says Senoner. But they had to close due to the building of government offices.

KPMG: ‘No strong demand for offices in Berlin’
Berlin is growing and the rents are rising rapidly. But this regards the demand for apartments, as many people move to Berlin at the moment. In the market of offices, the situation is quite different. ‘We have a displacement market’, says Schütte of KPMG. ‘Hardly any big company comes to Berlin nowadays’, adds Schütte. Many of the prospects of the offices around the station leave behind offices elsewhere in Berlin. Older building, less energy efficient. Empty.
The apartments on the north side are expected to sell easily. Russian investors from ‘Vesper’ have bought 50 luxurious units. It is surprising that the city has chosen to give permission for a luxurious residential area. This is not common in many large cities. Station areas tend to be somewhat shabby, sometimes sleazy parts of town. Not that the buildings in those cities are not suitable for the more demanding tenants at higher rents, but the energy is always pushing in a different direction. Public transport is for anyone, from all walks of live. And stations attract homeless, tramps looking for a dry and warm place to stay overnight.
It is expected that the new high-end tenants will defend themselves by fencing of their territory. It is not assumable that they will fill up the few terraces planned in the area and thereby contributing to the liveliness of the area.

Luxury apartments under construction in the Heidestraße.

Investers’ paradise
The plans at the north side (Heidestraße) of the station is more likely to be based upon the question: what plan is most profitable for all: investors and the city?
Typical for this periode of time is the overwhelming amount of money around the world. The money injections (such as by the ECB) delivers thousands of additional billions to the market, not knowing where to spend it. The interest rates being at a historical low, bring even more money to the real estate market, looking for some profit. When the interest rate will become negative, also for the middle size depositor, more money drips into the market, looking for a way to safeguard it against decrease of saved value.
A new illness will come to the real estate market, first interpreted as ‘growth’ and a sign of economical recovery, but later resulting in new bubbles of empty structures.
Every city planner should put the interest of the city first, then the interests of the investors.
The ‘Berlin way’ around its celebrating ‘Hauptbahnhof’ is not a road to follow.

Urban Inspiration is guide specialized in urban tours in Berlin. Learn more.