BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - For years, rents in Berlin have known only one direction: up. But in recent months, the rise has accelerated rapidly once again. Real estate experts already see Berlin as the second most expensive city in Germany in terms of asking rents. Purchase prices, meanwhile, are holding steady at a high level despite the downward trend in real estate, as new data show. Scarce housing, high immigration, skyrocketing rents: In Berlin, the problems in the German housing market are showing up like under a burning glass.

This is also shown by figures published on Thursday by the Association of German Pfandbrief Banks (vdp), which represents the most important real estate financiers in this country. According to these figures, rents in the capital climbed by a whopping 9.5 percent in the second quarter compared to the same period last year - the largest increase among the seven German metropolises. The national average increase was 6.2 percent.

Meanwhile, according to the vdp, property prices in Berlin fell by 3.6 percent in the space of a year, less than in any other major German city. In Frankfurt, prices plummeted by a good nine percent and in Munich and Hamburg by more than six percent. "For years now, too few apartments have been built in Berlin measured against the influx of new residents," says vdp CEO Jens Tolckmitt. "The city has had a very low vacancy rate for a long time." Measured against the first quarter, property prices in Berlin also fell slightly. But only about one-fifth of the people there live in property - Berlin is considered the capital of renters.

The rapid rise in rents is therefore having an even greater impact. The major broker Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) observed enormous growth in asking rents in Berlin in the first half of the year. According to the report, new contract rents in the capital city were advertised at 17.50 euros per square meter, putting Berlin in second place behind Munich (22.50 euros) and ahead of Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Admittedly offer rents do not mean yet conclusions. But also the portal Immowelt means: Berlin became within fewer months with the offer rents the second most expensive city of Germany. "In Berlin, rents are exploding."

One reason: strong immigration. At the end of 2022, Berlin had a good 3.8 million inhabitants - more than at any time since reunification. In addition, the capital has taken in a particularly large number of war refugees from Ukraine because of its location in northeastern Germany. In February, about a year after the Russian war of aggression began, some 60,000 Ukraine refugees were living in Berlin, according to Social and Integration Senator Katja Kipping (Left Party).

In addition, new construction lags behind demand. According to the Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office, almost 77,800 people would move to the capital in 2022 alone. Meanwhile, however, only a good 17,000 apartments have been completed, says JLL residential real estate expert Roman Heidrich. Target of the senate are per year 20 000.

Berlin is far from being the only city with high rents. In terms of existing rents, the city remains "comparatively favorable" compared with Munich or Hamburg as well as with international capitals such as London or Paris, says Jutta Kreuzinger, spokeswoman for the real estate and mortgage bank Berlin Hyp. This is also shown by data from the Association of Berlin-Brandenburg Housing Companies. According to this, in 2022 the local comparative rent according to the rent index in Munich was 85 percent higher than in Berlin.

But in the view of some observers, the now sharply rising prices threaten the city's social mix. For decades, Berlin, with its low rents, had a special attraction for people with low incomes and often alternative lifestyles. "For historical reasons, the economic output per capita was well below the nation's average, which is very unusual for capitals in Europe," says Kreuzinger of Berlin Hyp.

"Berlin has been fortunate to be a socially mixed city so far," also points out Ulrike Hamann, executive director of the Berlin Tenants Association. "Because of its history of division, former peripheral areas have been inner-city areas since 1989 and still have social housing." But the city's social mix and alternative image meant that Berlin also became attractive to many people internationally.

But people are encountering less and less affordable housing in Berlin. Every year, more apartments fall out of social obligation than new social housing is added. Political decisions are also having an impact: A relatively high vacancy rate and high debt led Berlin to sell off a large portion of its state-owned apartments in the 2000s. "Today, as a result of buying up these holdings, the large listed companies Vonovia/Deutsche Wohnen and others are active in Berlin's housing market, and the city has a relatively limited public sector that can be steered," criticizes Hamann of the tenants' association.

So is Berlin soon threatened with a similar price level as Munich, London or Paris? Jutta Kreuzinger of Berlin Hyp is confident. "We don't currently expect to see a comparable development in the German capital," she says. "Legislative measures are slowing down rents in Germany's major cities, guaranteeing tenant protection, and in Berlin even more so by means of the designation of milieu protection areas." The prerequisite, however, is a much stronger push for new construction.

Hamann of the tenants' association sees the development much more critically. "If no visible countermeasures are taken here and, in addition to regulating rents, massive investments are made in a sector geared to the common good, where permanently affordable housing is preserved, we can probably expect segregation tendencies in the coming decades that are just as strong as in Paris or London."/als/maa/DP/zb