“Poor, but sexy” is how a former Berlin mayor once described his city, and to a large extent, this is still how Berlin sees itself. But today the German capital is also wrestling with how to combine new money with its bohemian values, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its property scene. Following reunification, artists and squatters colonized the gaps and voids in the city’s central Mitte district. Now, deep-pocketed developers are rebuilding the area and constructing luxury hotels and condos; and throughout the city, prices for rentals and home buys are rising.
But while Mitte must adjust to its shiny new veneer, not all neighborhoods are fraught with such existential tension. Charlottenburg, the affluent neighborhood located near the ambassadorial district, continues to relish in its historic grandeur. The western district is what Thomas Wolfe once referred to as “Europe’s biggest café.” Leafy boulevards are lined with luxury boutiques, theaters, and Parisian-style cafes and the buildings that survived World War II feature grand proportions with 12-foot ceilings, tall French-style doors, and cast iron railings.
This is where Berlin’s most expensive penthouse is currently listed for $9.5 million. The residence spans the top floor of Eisenzahn 1, an upcoming luxury building developed by Ralph Schmitz that features a palatial façade complete with pilasters and cornices, a throwback to Charlottenburg’s regal, turn-of-the-century style. The three-bedroom penthouse encompasses 5,035 square feet with terraces to the east and west that extend the full length of the façade. There is also a roof garden with 360-degree views of the city.
The living areas feature 12-foot ceilings and, characteristic of Berlin’s traditional altbau apartments, the residence also includes an enfilade of more than 131 feet. This architectural feature, common in European architecture from the Baroque period onward, contains a regal suite of rooms aligned with one another along a single axis providing an impressive line of sight through the length of the residence.
Other features include a separate staff entrance with direct lift access, wood-burning fireplaces, and a kitchen fully equipped with appliances from Gaggenau. As extravagant as the penthouse might be, it is still relatively understated by American standards. “Our family has been building in Berlin since 1864, and we have always focused on craftsmanship,” states Daniel Schmitz, director of sales and marketing. “It’s not about show. It’s about attention to detail.”
For the building interiors, the developers partnered with Bottega Veneta. The Italian luxury brand is furnishing the public areas, the lobby and loggia, and the show flat. Schmitz believes the proximity to good schools and leisure facilities, as well as the boutiques and theaters will continue to draw affluent buyers to Charlottenburg. “After the wall came down everyone thought the interesting part of the city would be Mitte. But now West Berlin is on a come back,” he says.
Over the last decade, increased migration to the city, a growing tech center, and increased demand from foreign buyers has put an upward pressure on prices. New-build apartment prices in the city rose by 79 percent between 2007 and the first quarter of 2014, according to data from the Institut der Deutschen Wirtshaft. In 2015, property values rose by 10 percent in greater Berlin, with central Berlin reporting gains of 12 percent.
Still, prices remain well below other European capitals like London or Paris, and this is a draw for international buyers. “We have seen an increase in foreign clients, from almost 70 percent coming from abroad in 2014, to 80 percent today,” says Peter Rabitz, director of premium real estate at Zabel Property Group in Berlin. His company specializes in the sale of luxury condominiums in Berlin Mitte but also represents key luxury developments in the city’s western districts. At Eisenzahn 1, which is scheduled for the completion later this year, 80 percent of apartments have now sold to a mix of local and foreign buyers.
Images courtesy of Ralph Schmitz