Berlin stokes foreign investor land rush

Berlin is a roomy place, but private investors from Britain and the United States have come to see the German capital as fertile ground for a cheap property deal. Ben Knight finds out how much of the city is left for Exberliner magazine.

Berlin stokes foreign investor land rush
Photo: Exberliner, David Beecroft

Tarhilo Sarrazin does not need any help making himself unpopular in Berlin. The city-state’s former finance minister caused a media stink last month by calling Berliners un-intellectual and lazy, and blaming the city’s history of government subsidisation on a collectively careless mentality. But perhaps his entertainingly bigoted remarks are not his worst disservice to Berlin. His time in power was characterised by a zeal for balancing the city’s books, and in pursuit of this he left few sources of revenue unexplored.

Selling land as public policy

For Sarrazin, the city’s real estate was an obvious asset to exploit, and plenty of Berlin politicians noticed his reckless policy. Klaus-Dieter Gröhler, local councillor for Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf, says, “Berlin should not just market plots of land to stop gaps in the budget. That is not sustainable.” Ephraim Gothe, councillor for town development in Mitte, agrees, “Sarrazin usually forced through unconditional sales.” This policy left the city with little control over its own development.

Councillors for individual districts like Gröhler and Gothe are not idealists who champion the freedom of public property. They just found themselves protecting their district interests against Sarrazin’s finance department, eager to sell off land for any supermarket chain that will have it. “I don’t have anything against privatising land in principle, but the state should keep back some of the money – maybe 20 or 25 percent – to buy other land that it might need,” says Gröhler.

But Sarrazin is of course no longer in office, and Gröhler is still cautious about his successor, Ulrich Nussbaum. “He hasn’t been in office long enough; we’ll just have to wait and see,” he says.

The Marx Engels Forum

That Sarrazin’s influence has finally ended can be seen in the case of the Marx-Engels-Forum, the open park to the west of the TV Tower, where a bronze Karl Marx sits with Friedrich Engels at his shoulder, amid reliefs depicting happy life in socialist society. The small park was opened in the mid-eighties, and the ruling party of communist East Germany, the SED, was closely involved in its design. Earlier this year, it was reported that the city wanted to sell this prime piece of central Berlin. According to the papers, Sarrazin thought the sale of the park would be “particularly lucrative” for the city. Like the Palast der Republik, the famous building on the other side of the river that once housed the East German parliament, the Marx-Engels-Forum is emotionally associated with Berlin’s East German past, and like the Palast (whose demolition was completed earlier this year), it appeared doomed.

But the plan to sell the property has now officially been abandoned, for different reasons. Regula Lüscher, construction director of the city Department for Urban Development, maintains that the change of plans was the result of a change of course that marked her appointment. Lüscher decided not to execute plans of her predecessor, the publicly decorated Hans Stimmann, Berlin’s construction director from 1991-1996 and 1999–2006, who is infamous for the Prussian style he imposed on the city (and the Alexa shopping centre!). Stimmann wanted to build a small medieval village on the site, also with a free space – a kind of re-creation of the historical birth of the city of Berlin, which was founded in the area. “I’ve nothing against re-designing it, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to reconstruct medieval structures there. The area will be re-designed from 2012 onwards, but it will remain an open space for the public,” Lüscher says.

Straightforward as this sounds, financial drawbacks probably also played a part in the decision not to develop the Marx-Engels-Forum. It turned out that the land, which was an inner city residential quarter before the war, originally belonged to more than 50 other parties, including Jewish families whose property was confiscated by the Nazi regime. If the land had been sold and turned into a building site, those parties would have had compensation rights, and the project would have cost more than the city could make from it. “This probably had something to do with the fact that the city decided not to sell,” confirmed a spokeswoman for the Liegenschaftsfonds Berlin, the private marketing agency that the city uses to sell its property.

A historical template

But although Berlin has lost its chance to have a fake medieval village, Lüscher does intend to re-develop the entire city centre according to a historical template. The tip of this archaeological iceberg will be the Stadtschloss, a reconstruction of Berlin’s central imperial castle, the residence of Prussian kings and German kaisers, on the site of the Palast der Republik. The guiding principle of Lüscher’s vision for the historical city centre, stretching out south and east from the Stadtschloss to the river, is the idea that history should not be reconstructed, but ‘uncovered’. Archaeological remains are to be dug up and displayed in between modern apartment blocks. “It is meant to be the renaissance of the city centre. It is meant to bring the population of Berlin back into the centre … And at the same time we want to remind people that this was the birthplace of the city.”

All this means extensive privatisation, of course, as well as infrastructural re-development – widening or narrowing roads, and extending public transport services (a tram line is even intended for the area). The Urban Development department organises architect competitions to see what form the development will take. One recently concluded competition is the Luisenblock Ost, where a new office block is being planned near Friedrichstraße.

Berlin’s fiscal constraints mean that the project must be ‘cost-neutral’ – in other words, the state parliament has ordered that the sale of properties in the area has to fund the infrastructural upgrades.

Privatisation of the Spree bank

Extensive privatisation by way of large-scale projects has drawn passionate opposition from the population. The most high-profile of these schemes is the Mediaspree investment project, the colonisation of nearly four kilometres on both sides of the Spree in the east of the city by a horde of media corporations.

Part of the plan has already been realised with the O2-World Arena, which at the moment is still standing in the middle of sprawling wasteland, but will be nestled in a forest of new buildings within the next five years. Two 200-plus-room hotels will be built in the area to host the extra visitors that the immense venues will bring. One, the seven-floor Hotel Spreeport, will take up the area now occupied by the Maria am Ostbahnhof nightclub. The fashion centre Labels II Berlin is a collection of fashion showrooms about to open between the offices of Universal and MTV. Puma, Camel Lifestyle und s.Oliver are among the labels that have rented space in the centre. Despite the global financial crisis, space has also been rented in many of the unfinished office buildings. The entire project is meant to create 30,000 jobs, at least according to urban development minister Ingeborg Junge-Reyer, and as much as €3 billion are being invested. The parts of Mediaspree that have already been built – the offices of Universal, MTV, the Verdi trade union and the O2-World – are estimated to have already created some 15,000 jobs.

Citizens against corporations

A movement calling itself Mediaspree Versenken (‘Sink the Mediaspree’) succeeded in forcing a district referendum last year, the results of which showed that locals were against the plans. But the city, represented by Junge-Reyer, did its best to ignore these results, and went ahead with guaranteeing investors planning permission. The authorities claimed that to sink the project would cost the city €165 million in damages, a figure disputed by Mediaspree Versenken. The referendum only managed to force some alterations to the plans, mainly in order to create public access to the river and adequate open space, which has now been ensured. One building at the Elsen Bridge is still in debate, as is the height and density of certain projected buildings at the Schilling Bridge, but the rest is now apparently beyond revision. Manfred Kühne, project manager at the Department for Urban Development, gave the Tagesspiegel a telling quote earlier this year: “The discussion around the citizens’ initiative has awoken the false impression that projects could be endangered.”

For Mediaspree Versenken, the construction of a row of media buildings along the river would waste the chance to create a social and recreational area, and would be another nail in the coffin of the improvisational element of Berlin culture – represented by Bar 25, the bar, nightclub and performance venue that grew out of a makeshift beach bar on the river bank. Despite its commercial success, Bar 25 has been forced to close to make way for new plans: Berlin’s waste disposal service BSR owns the and would like to sell it for around €31 million. So far, no buyer has been found. For Lüscher, establishments like Bar 25 should be recognised as only a transitory stage in the capital investment of an area.

“These temporary utilisations of space are of course wonderful, but they are also a kind of privatisation. One should be aware of that. I think it’s great that you have these beach bars, and they do enliven the area. They are pioneers of space, if you like – they find spaces in the city and use them – and that is a very important stage in the development of the city, but I think that in the future authorities should take more care to manage these temporary utilisations.” In other words, improvised businesses like Bar 25 should in the future be regulated by a state-appointed land management company, which draws up contracts that say how long a bar or a nightclub will be allowed to last.

These ‘temporary utilisations’ have been the flashpoints of the struggle between the privatisation of Berlin’s real estate and the free, improvisational culture that many believe attracts people to Berlin. For Lüscher, who does not recognise any fundamental difference between these two forms of privatisation, but does accept the importance of encouraging independent businesses to get a chance to develop an area, the best compromise would be the implementation of a system to manage plots of public land after they are sold. The new land management system would take care of drawing up temporary contracts with the businesses of a designed area. This, apparently, is the plan for Berlin’s next great private development project -the Tempelhof airfield.

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EXPLAINED: The 25 most in-demand jobs in Germany

For those considering relocating to Germany - or looking for a new profession - here are the most in-demand jobs out there, according to a study by LinkedIn.

EXPLAINED: The 25 most in-demand jobs in Germany

Germany is desperate to fill jobs. In autumn last year, authorities said there was a shortage of 390,000 skilled workers. 

The new government plans to ease red tape and overhaul immigration policies to make it easer for non-EU nationals to come to the country. 

READ ALSO: What Germany’s coalition proposals mean for citizenship and immigration

But many people already within Germany might also be thinking about a change of career, or pivoting to a related sector, especially after the Covid pandemic changed the world of work. 

For those who are curious, international job search engine LinkedIn has published a list of jobs that are in-demand in Germany. Although lots of positions in Germany require that you speak German, many companies are international and encourage English speakers to apply.

What is the list?

The so-called LinkedIn Jobs in Trend 2022 list shows the 25 occupations that have grown the most over the past five years compared to other other positions. 

The list “allows insight into how the job market is evolving and the long-term opportunities it presents – whether you’re looking to change careers, re-enter the workforce or upskill for future challenges,” said LinkedIn. 

It’s based on LinkedIn data between January 2017 and July 2021. 

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Here is the list of the top 25 positions, including the core skills required for each and the desired amount of experience for candidates according to LinkedIn.

In some of the descriptions below we haven’t translated the job name  to German – that’s because it is usually advertised in Germany with the English name.

1. Consultant for the public sector (Berater*in für den öffentlichen Sektor)

Responsibilities: Advising public and government institutions on the modernisation and digitalisation of administration and infrastructure

Most common skills: Public Policy, Management Consulting, Policy Field Analysis

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Hamburg and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 2.8 

2. Product analyst (Produktanalyst*in)

Responsibilities: Product analysts use metrics to evaluate a company’s products to determine whether they meet current and future market needs

Most common skills: Tableau, Google BigQuery, SQL

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Hamburg and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 3.7 

A man at his home office desk.

A man works at his ‘home office’ desk. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

3. Business development specialist or consultant (Beschäftigte in der Geschäftsentwicklung)

Responsibilities: Business development employees develop companies, enter new markets and evaluate sales opportunities

Most common skills: salesforce, account management, inside sales

Top regions hiring in: Berlin Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 3.3

4. Sustainability manager (Nachhaltigkeitsmanager*in)

Responsibilities: Sustainability management employees are based in corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments and look after the social, environmental and economic aspects of a company

Most common skills: Sustainability reporting, corporate social responsibility, life cycle assessment management

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Berlin and Hamburg areas

Average years of experience: 3.8

5. Cyber Security Specialist (Cyber Security Spezialist*in)

Responsibilities: Unlike IT security, cyber security is not limited to the environment of your own company, but also keeps an eye on wider threats from the internet in order to ward off viruses, Trojans or ransomware

Most common skills: ISO 27001, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), vulnerability assessment

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 7.1

6. Developer for machine learning (Entwickler*in für maschinelles Lernen)

Responsibilities: Machine learning developers create so-called artificial intelligence. They research and design models and algorithms that enable machines to recognise patterns in large volumes of data, among other things

Most common skills: TensorFlow, Python (programming language), Keras 

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 3.3 

READ ALSO: Working in Germany – 7 factors that can affect how much you’re paid

7. User Experience (UX) Researcher

Responsibilities: User experience researchers find out what users need and want and prepare these findings for developers, marketers, designers and others

Most common skills: Usability testing, design thinking, human-computer interaction

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 4.6

8. Real estate finance specialist (Spezialist*in für Immobilienfinanzierung)

Responsibilities: Real estate finance specialists accompany and advise clients from the initial property enquiries stage to closing the deal and agreeing on financial arrangements

Most common skills: Construction financing, finance, sales

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg areas

Average years of experience: 5.3

9. Head of Public Affairs (Leiter*in Public Affairs)

Responsibilities: Public affairs is the strategic aim to integrate the interests of the employer into political decision-making processes. Also known as lobbying, the job description should not be confused with public relations (corporate communications)

Most common skills: Politics, international relations, strategic communication

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 7.2

10. Information security officer (Beauftragte*r für Informationssicherheit)

Responsibilities: Information Security Officers protect data in analogue and digital form. To do this, they ensure that sensitive data is only accessible to authorised persons at all times.

Most common skills: ISO 27001, Information Security Management System (ISMS), data protection management

Top regions hiring in: Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin areas

Average years of experience: 10.2

11. Specialist in talent acquisition (Spezialist*in für Talentakquise)

Responsibilities: Talent acquisition specialists identify suitable job candidates and take care of the strategic development of the Talent Acquisition department

Most common skills: Employer branding, sourcing, talent management

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 3.8

12. Expansion manager

Responsibilities: Expansion managers accompany the growth of companies and take care of things like the purchase or leasing of business space in optimal locations

Most common skills: Business development, marketing, strategic planning

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Düsseldorf and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 5.7

13. Test engineer (Prüfingenieur*in)

Responsibilities: Cars, wind turbines, lifts, amusement park rides and countless other technical constructions must be regularly checked for safety. This is where test engineers come into play

Most common skills: LabVIEW, Matlab, electrical engineering

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Hamburg and Tübingen areas

Average years of experience: 4 

14. Marketing (Marketingmitarbeiter*in)

Responsibilities: Marketing employees (Associates) support the planning and implementation of marketing activities for companies and organisations

Most common skills: Social media marketing, online marketing, content marketing

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Hamburg and Munich

Average years of experience: 2.7

15. Data engineer (Dateningenieur*in)

Responsibilities: Data engineers deal with the collection, processing and checking of data

Most common skills: Apache Spark, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Apache Hadoop |

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 4.8 

16. Personnel officer recruiting (Personalreferent*in Recruiting)

Responsibilities: Recruiters use job advertisements and various channels to search for suitable candidates for open positions in the company and personally recruit suitable candidates

Most common skills: Active sourcing, e-recruiting, employer branding

Top regions. hiring in: Munich, Berlin and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 3.3 

A woman sits at a desk.

Are you looking for a chance in career? Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Finn Winkler

17. Manager in strategic partnerships (Manager*in Strategische Partnerschaften)

Job Purpose: Strategic partnerships managers are responsible for building and maintaining relationships with business partners to further the development and distribution of their own products and services

Most common skills: Business development, account management, product management

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 6

18. Head of Software Development (Leiter*in Softwareentwicklung)

Responsibilities: Software Development Managers are responsible for all stages of software application development. They control and structure planning, organisation and execution

Most common skills: Agile methods, cloud computing, product management

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 12.2 


19. Data science specialist

Responsibilities: Data science experts or data scientists help companies to make data-based decisions. They build a structured database from raw data, analyse data and prepare it with business background knowledge

Most common skills: Python (programming language), R, SQL

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Hamburg areas

Average years of experience: 3

20. Robotics engineer (Robotik-Ingenieur*in)

Responsibilities: Robotics engineers develop and programme robots and other intelligent assistance systems, whether for medicine, gastronomy, or future cars.

Most common skills: Robotic Process Automation (RPA), UiPath, C++ 

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and the Hanover-Braunschweig-Göttingen-Wolfsburg areas 

Average years of experience: 3.8 

21. Investment associate (Investmentmitarbeiter*in)

Responsibilities: Which areas are worth investing in, which companies are suitable for takeover? This is checked by investment managers through market observations, financial modelling and due diligence procedures

Most common skills: Private equity, corporate finance, mergers & acquisitions (M&A)

Top regions hiring in: Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin areas

Average years of experience: 2.7 years

22. Chief Information Security Officer

Responsibilities: Many companies are not only urgently looking for information security officers (see position 10), senior positions in this professional field are also in high demand

Most common skills: Information Security Management System (ISMS), ISO 27001, IT Risk Management

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin areas

Average years of experience: 14.3

23. Manager in strategic sales (Manager*in im strategischen Vertrieb)

Responsibilities: Strategic Sales Managers usually look after selected target and existing customers over a longer period of time. Duties include preparing quotations and negotiating prices

Most common skills: Solution selling, business development, account management

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Stuttgart and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 9.3

24. Communications manager (Kommunikationsmanager*in)

Responsibilities: Communications managers take care of PR work inside and outside a company – this includes planning communication strategies as well as implementing campaigns on social networks or organising press appointments and events

Most common skills: Strategic communication, public relations/PR, internal/external communication

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Nuremberg areas

Average years of experience: 5.4 

25. Specialist writer for medicine (Fachautor*in Medizin)

Responsibilities: Medical writers produce documents in a medical context, such as study reports for scientific journals, texts for regulatory authorities and information sheets for medicines – but also journalistic texts for websites or magazines

Most common skills: Clinical studies, scientific writing, life sciences

Top regions hiring in: Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 5.2