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Germany

Germans Discover The Joys of Living On The Water

Die Marina Baltic Bay in Laboe, northern Germany
Die Marina Baltic Bay in Laboe, northern Germany
Tatjana Pokorny

BERLIN - A year ago, Suzanne and Andreas Willim were living in their romantic rural dream house in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Then the passionate sailors and their three sons decided on a radical break with their old life, and moved into an apartment complex.

Now they have less living space than they did in their large house. Instead of a garden they have a wrap-around balcony resembling a gangplank and a view from every room over the Schlei River. Best of all: when Willim feels like sailing, all he has to do is get his dinghy out of the garage, pull it the few meters that separate the building from the water and off he goes.

The Willim family chose to live in a new part of the state capital Schleswig – in a waterside complex. “The other morning, one of my sons and I felt like sailing,” says Willim, the 2004 German Match Race master. "We set off early in the morning and got in a wonderful two hours on the water before I had to leave for work."

Moving here didn’t come cheap – the two apartments the Willims bought to convert into one larger one cost more than their roomy house. But, Willim says: “You’re still not paying Hamburg prices, and we haven’t regretted the move for a minute.”

Living by the water is attracting more and more people, and the reasons for that are varied. Sailors can avoid weekend traffic on the autobahn, in fact don’t have to wait for the weekend or holidays to enjoy their favorite sport. Owning a place located on the water is expensive, yes, but when the economy is bad the value of those properties tends to remain particularly stable.

For small boat owners, a co-op called the "Boathouse" is going up on Schlossinsel (Palace Island) in Hamburg. The six of 20 apartments still unsold range in size from 69 to 133 m2 and cost between 249,000 and 446,000 euros. The building juts out over the water, with a boat garage directly beneath it. A space in the boat garage costs an extra 55,000 euros.

Nowhere is the yen for living on the water as strong as in Berlin. Worldwide, there is no other capital with as many sailing associations as Berlin – there are over 100, with some 14,000 members. Berlin’s big advantage is that waterways are linked, so land transportation for boats is not an issue – they can get from one place to another on the water.

Which is why living at water’s edge in Berlin is particularly attractive – such as in the Schmöckwitz area, where presently 12 co-ops with direct private pier access are up for sale. A 107-m2 top floor apartment with lake view and all the nautical extras costs 327,560 euros.

Living on the water

But some people don’t want to live by the water – they want to live on it, so house boast are in increasing demand. Companies like Floating Houses in Berlin or Floating Homes in Hamburg are pioneers in Germany for this market.

In this business, the toughest part is not building the actual homes, which are often – for quality and price reasons – series-built in shipyards, but identifying places and getting permission for floating home settlements.

"The houseboat trend is here to stay, interest is on a sharp rise,” says Tanja Kürten of Floating Homes, that this fall will open a small settlement at Hamburg’s prime Victoriakai. There will be seven 115-m2 houseboats in the settlement, each with an additional 60 m2 of sky deck, that cost 559,000 euros including all mooring fees.

Berlin-based Floating Houses was the first to develop a houseboat development in Germany – Floating 75, with eight boats, opened in 2001 at the Kröslin Marina in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The firm’s general manager Ulf Sybel stresses that only complete projects get approval: “people who think they can build their own houseboat and moor in anywhere are making a big mistake,” he says.

Another way of owning a houseboat, waterside house or apartment, is as vacation property. At Schönhagen bei Damp, Kiel-based Planet-Haus AG is selling six holiday apartments with glass walls on the lakeside from 329,000 euros. The Damp yacht harbor is just a few minutes away by car. In Port Olpenitz, the firm Helma Immobilien offers 100 m2 beach side apartments for 350,000 euros where boats can be moored in the marina just a few hundred meters away, and the roof terrace offers a fabulous view out over the Baltic Sea.

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