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Berlin struggles to sell former Goebbels villa

After two failed attempts, Berlin is trying again to sell the sprawling estate and villa once known as Joseph Goebbels' illicit love nest, but so far, nobody's buying.

Berlin struggles to sell former Goebbels villa
The Haus am Bogensee. Photo: DPA

The address of the former villa of Hitler's propaganda minister is as misleading as it is revealing.

Number One, Friendship Place, northeast of Berlin, is thought to have been where Joseph Goebbels produced some of his most virulent speeches against Jews. But it's also where Goebbels wooed the starlets of the Berlin's Babelsberg film studios.

Known as Bogensee for the property's small lake, it was built as a getaway for Goebbels northeast of the German capital, far from the retreat southwest of the city on an island in the Wannsee where he would stay with his wife and six children.

After World War II the site, near the town of Wandlitz, became home to a high school for the socialist Free German Youth (FDJ) where a young Erich Honecker studied.

The FDJ was the youth wing of the German socialist party, SED, that controlled East Germany and would eventually be led by Honecker.

But for the last 15 years the massive property has been abandoned.

Sprawled across nearly 17 hectares of mainly forested land, the original complex boasts 70 rooms in the main building called Haus am Bogensee, guest houses and a farmhouse by the lake. Later, the estate's Soviet-era school buildings added large halls, lecture theatres and residences.

The grounds are overgrown and the greying buildings show signs of neglect, though a minimum of maintenance has been done, costing the city €150,000 a year.

The Berlin Property Fund, the agency in charge of the property, tried to sell it in 2006 and 2008, but shut down bidding process on both occasions due to lack of demand.

Marlies Masche, spokesperson for the fund, says this time they have several interested parties. But to avoid interfering with the competitive process, she says, Masche did not reveal how many bidders are involved, nor the asking price.

Berlin-based real estate appraiser Günter Lehmann says the property is highly valuable, but difficult to assess without a full, on-site evaluation. He valued the land alone at roughly €15 million euros.

Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the complex had been in continual use by the FDJ, and became home to an international social work organization after November 1989, but it left the property a decade later.

Back in the time of the Third Reich, Goebbels was known to seduce women and bring them to the estate to fulfill his sexual appetites.

His conquering manner toward women is thought to have been one way the Nazi compensated for the inadequacy he felt as an Aryan specimen, according to British historian Sir Richard Evans.

Goebbels stood a mere 5 ft. 5 in. with brown hair and brown eyes, slowed down by a club foot he was left with after an operation failed to cure a childhood infection.

One notable escapade played out on the grounds of Bogensee brought Goebbels into conflict with Adolf Hitler himself.

Goebbels' affair with the Czech film star Lida Baavora became public and prompted his wife, Magda, to consider divorce. When Hitler found out about Goebbels' lewd behaviour, he ordered an end to the affair.

The Goebbels connection may have made the property difficult to sell over the years. The infamous propaganda minister's name is noticeably absent from the document intended to pitch the estate to potential buyers.

Berlin also wants to make sure the property doesn't end up in the wrong hands, particularly those of neo-Nazis who could turn it into a gathering point for the extremists or a shrine to the former propaganda minister.

That means background checks for anyone who submits a bid for the property.

The city also intends to make sure the idyllic woodland surroundings are protected and that they approve of any plans for the property. Suggested uses include: hotel, medical clinic, boarding school and retirement home.

The building interiors are in good condition and taken alone could be an attractive investment, but for the Berlin Property Fund, the overall site's dark history may prove too much to overcome.

"We want a total use of the site," says Masche. "The Goebbels villa is very difficult to separate from the rest."

"There is no deadline for a decision on the bidding process," admits Masche.

Stuck in the shadow of Goebbels' lurid villa, Berlin may have to continue bearing the costs of its history.

Tomas Urbina is currently an Arthur F. Burns Fellow with The Local Germany.

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RENTING

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

If you’re going away for a period of time or want to cut your living costs, subletting your flat can seem like an appealing option. But there are a lot of things you need to consider first. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

What is subletting?

A subletting arrangement is when a subtenant is allowed to use the main tenant’s apartment, or part of it, in return for payment.

Having visitors in your home, even for a period of up to six weeks, does not count as subletting and you do not have to inform your landlord. But be careful: If the visitor starts paying rent, this becomes a sub-letting arrangement and if the visitor stays more than six weeks in a row, you have a duty to inform your landlord.

READ ALSO: The most expensive (and cheapest) cities in Germany to rent a room

If close family members such as parents, children, partners or spouses move in with you, this is also not a subletting arrangement and is considered part of the normal use of the rented property. 

However, you should inform your landlord of such a change in circumstance, not least because at some point the new person living in your apartment will at some point need to register with the local authorities.

Do I have to tell my landlord?

Yes. Regardless of whether you are just subletting a room or your whole apartment, you have to inform your landlord and, in most cases, you are required by law to obtain the landlord’s permission to sub-rent. This applies for whatever time period you want to sublet for: whether it’s for a weekend or for six months. 

One exception to this rule is if you rent a room in a WG (shared accommodation) and all of the tenants are equal parties to the contract. In that case, it’s possible to sublet individual rooms without having to get permission from the landlord, but you should still inform them.

If you try to rent out your place or a room without your landlord’s permission and get found out, you could face legal action, or be kicked out of your apartment before the agreed notice period. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The most – and least – popular landlords in Germany

Can the landlord refuse to let me sublet?

If the main tenant has a so-called “justified interest” in subletting part of the apartment, they can demand that the landlord agrees to the sublet and even take legal action or acquire a special right of termination of the rental contract if they refuse.

However, this right only applies to a sublet of part of the apartment and not the entire space within the four walls – in this case the landlord is within their rights to say no to the sublet. 

When subletting part of an apartment, a justified interest must be for an important reason such as a needing to move abroad temporarily for a job or personal reasons, or a partner moving out and the tenant no longer being able to cover the rental costs alone.

In general, landlords shouldn’t refuse your request to sublet unless there are good reasons – for example if the apartment is too small. 

The landlord can’t reject your subletting application without good reason and if they do, you can gain a special right to terminate your rental contract, and can even sue for your right to sublet. 

What information will I need to give my landlord? 

Whether you are subletting a room or the whole apartment – you’ll need to give your landlord the following information:

  • Who is moving in
  • How long you will be subletting for
  • For what reason you plan to sublet

If you want to set up a WG (Wohngemeinschaft or shared flat) as the main tenant, you should discuss this with the landlord beforehand, as it may be worth changing the apartment status to a shared apartment in the main rental agreement. That way, you won’t have to send a new application every time a new roommate moves in.

Do I need a special rental contract?

If you are going to subrent your apartment, it is definitely worth having a contract. 

A contract between the main tenant and the subtenant is completely separate from the contract between the main tenant and the landlord, so all responsibilities arising from the sub-rental contract will fall on you and not the landlord. 

A man fills in the details of a rental contract by hand. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

At the same time, as the main tenant, you will still be liable to your landlord for any damage caused by the subtenant, so it is best to put a clause in the sub-rental agreement that outlines how this will be covered, and also to make sure that your subtenant has personal liability insurance. 

There are plenty of websites that offer templates of sub-rental contracts for you to use, and you should make sure your contract includes the following information:

  • The personal details of the subtenant
  • The sub-rental cost and any service charges
  • When these are to be paid
  • Which rooms may be used
  • How many keys have been handed over
  • Details of a possible deposit
  • The condition of the rented apartment
  • House rules, such as no smoking, pets, etc.
  • Liability for possible damages

How much can I charge?

You can usually negotiate the sub-rental price yourself, but you should be careful not to overstep the rental limit per square metre for your area. If you charge over this amount and your subtenant finds out, they have the right to demand the local square metre rental price and you may have to refund them the total amount of overcharged rent.

If you sublet a furnished apartment, you can add a surcharge based on what you will be leaving in your apartment. You should also factor in the energy and water costs.

READ ALSO: Everything you should know about renting a furnished flat in Germany

Do I have to get consent from the local authorities?

In some cases, you will also need to get permission to sub-rent from the local authorities to rent out your place. 

If you sublet in Berlin or Frankfurt, for example, and you want to advertise your flat for holiday rentals, you have to get approval first.

A wooden judge’s hammer lies on the judge’s bench in the jury courtroom in the Karlsruhe Regional Court. Photo: picture alliance / Uli Deck/dpa | Uli Deck

If you go ahead and rent on a site like Air BnB without approval, you can expect to pay a hefty fine. Though the highest possible fine of €500,000 is unlikely, there are numerous reports of people getting fines in Germany of several thousand euros.

Another important thing to remember is that, if you make more than €520 profit in a year from sub-renting, you have to include this in your tax declaration.

Can the landlord demand I pay extra?

If a landlord allows subletting, they can also demand a share of the extra income from the main tenant. The amount of the surcharge cannot exceed 25 percent of the sublease, however.

Useful Vocabulary

to sub-let – Untermieten 

sublease agreement – (der) Untermietvertrag

termination without notice – (die) fristlose Kündigung

ban on misuse – (das) Zweckentfremdungsverbot

special right of termination – (das) Sonderkündigungsrecht

justified interest – (das) berechtigtes Interesse

personal liability insurance – (die) Haftpflichtversicherung

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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