House Hunting in Berlin: A Kaleidoscope of Style for $3.2 Million


This colorful four-bedroom, three-bath home is on the top floor of a four-story building in the residential Schöneberg neighborhood of Berlin.

The owners created the 4,488-square-foot apartment by converting two commercial units in 2016 and 2017, according to Oleksandra Shrestkha, an agent with Engel & Völkers Berlin Mitte, which has the listing. The rest of the building is a mix of commercial units and short-term rentals.

Each room was designed individually, awash in colors and patterns in a bold “masquerade style,” Ms. Shrestkha said. High-end, custom-made fabric wallpapers with varying kaleidoscopic designs cover the walls and ceilings. The floors are tiled, some smooth and glossy, others with tiny metallic mosaics — often varying in the same room. Modern hanging light fixtures add to the fantasy effect.

The furniture was selected to fit with the eclectic surroundings and is negotiable in the purchase, said Leonardo Jahnsch, an area manager in the Engel & Völkers Berlin Mitte office.

The unit is reached by elevator. Inside the entrance, a bright, red-tiled hallway with red hanging globe lights leads left toward the main open-concept living area, or right to three bedrooms.

The living area includes a living room, dining space and kitchen. The living room, decorated in gold metallic finishes, has a wall of windows on one side, a vegetated green wall, hanging geometric light fixtures and an electric fireplace. The dining area, decorated in shades of purple and pink, has an array of 16 lantern-style pendant lights hanging above an eight-seat dining table, as well as a television built into the wall.

Behind the dining table, a large white cooking island with a tiled top has a sink, oven and cooktop. The high-gloss cabinetry, by SieMatic, is also white, while the ceiling above has a black-and-white dotted pattern. Four wine refrigerators are built into the wall of cabinets behind the island. Behind that wall is a pantry, Mr. Jahnsch said.

Past the living area is the master suite, with feather-patterned wallpaper and a modern sectional sofa facing the built-in television. The cavernous spalike bathroom has ornate tiles with reflective geode patterns. A whirlpool soaking tub raised up on two tiers centers the room, and a 10-person sauna is along one wall. There is also a double shower, a glossy black double vanity, and underfloor heating.

At the opposite end of the living area, near the front door, are three more bedrooms, two with en suite baths. One of the bedrooms has a magenta theme, with flowered wallpaper and a pyramidal light fixture hanging above the bed. Another, with burnt-orange floors and walls, is currently used as an office, and an adjoining convenience kitchen clad in tropical turquoise patterns has an oven, a small refrigerator and a sink, Mr. Jahnsch said.

The apartment has an alarm system, with panic buttons in several rooms, and a video surveillance camera in the hallway. The price includes 10 outdoor parking spaces and one indoor space in the building’s underground garage.

The Schöneberg district, in the center of Berlin, is known for its night life, diverse mix of residents, and creative spirit. This apartment is within walking distance of Tempelhofer Field, a former 953-acre airport campus that has been converted to a sprawling park, and Kaufhaus des Westens, the famous department store. Nollendorfplatz, long a center for gay and lesbian pride events, is about a 10-minute walk, Mr. Jahnsch said.

An underground rail station is just outside the building. Berlin Tegel Airport is about 45 minutes by car. The long-awaited Berlin Brandenburg Airport, a new international airport delayed for nearly a decade by cost overruns and mismanagement, is slated to open this fall — “if a miracle happens,” Mr. Jahnsch said jokingly.

Thirty years after its reunification, the city of Berlin, with roughly 3.7 million residents, is experiencing some growing pains. Strong economic gains and population growth are combining to put pressure on an undersupplied housing market.

As of the last quarter of 2019, Berlin ranked fourth among global cities with the strongest annual residential price growth, at 6.5 percent, according to Knight Frank’s Prime Global Cities Index. Frankfurt, about 350 miles southwest, was first, at 10.3 percent year over year.

Credit…Engel & Völkers Berlin

“The trend has been up for the last 10 years,” said Claire Locke, an account manager for Germany at Knight Frank’s offices in London. “We’ve seen huge growth.”

Although there has been substantial new construction of both rental and ownership housing in the city, it hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand from a rapidly expanding population, including an influx of refugees, Ms. Locke said.

Berlin added about 250,000 new residents from 2012 to 2017, according to government figures. The resulting spike in rents, which has driven out many older and lower-income residents, prompted the city government to institute a five-year rent freeze in January. The freeze, which only applies to units built before 2014, is scheduled to take effect in March.

Ms. Locke estimated that about 85 percent of households in Berlin are renters, making the pool of home buyers a distinct minority. “Culturally, homeownership isn’t a big priority in Germany,” she said. “Typically, people in Berlin will rent the same apartment for 10 or 15 years.”

Now, however, the severe shortage of rental apartments is causing more locals to consider buying, said Peter Guthmann, the managing director at the Berlin-based Guthmann Real Estate.

“The pressure on the rental market is so big that the only chance to get an apartment is to buy one,” Mr. Guthmann said, noting that the average asking price for an existing two-bedroom apartment in the city is about 320,000 euros (around $345,000). “Otherwise, you will wait for a long time. So now we have more of a mix of buyers, Berliners as well as people from abroad.”

The up-and-coming Friedrichshain district, to the east of the city center, is popular with young professionals, thanks to its abundance of clubs, cafes and arts venues, Ms. Locke said. Older Germans looking to come to Berlin to downsize are more likely to buy in prestigious areas on the western side, such as Charlottenburg, she said.

Although prices have been rising for some time, Berlin is still a relative bargain compared with other prime cities like London and New York, Ms. Locke said. This is attracting more Asian and Middle Eastern investors looking to diversify their holdings, she said.

According to Knight Frank’s Berlin Insight report for 2019, Europeans and Americans are the most plentiful foreign buyers, and typically purchase properties in the 300,000 to 700,000 euro range ($325,000 to $760,000).

Mr. Jahnsch said Europeans and Americans often are looking for apartments in historic buildings, while Chinese buyers are often more interested in new construction.

“We are lucky we have the entire world coming to invest in Berlin,” he said.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Germany.

A notary handles the transaction and sees that the transfer is recorded in the land registry. Lawyers are not generally part of the process, Mr. Jahnsch said.

The buyer has historically been responsible for paying the agent commission of 7 percent, but a new law coming into effect this fall will require, instead, that the fee be split between buyer and seller, he said.


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