golden years Ritzy retirement homes give glitz to wealthy Germans

The senior care sector in Germany is booming as the population ages. There are more and more high-end retirement homes offering in-house cinemas, gyms and even miniature goats to pet.
Twilight highlights.

Not all the rooms are occupied yet in Villa Clay, an apartment complex in the posh Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf. Right now, it smells of paint and newly-laid carpet. The owner of Villa Clay, Josefine Janssen, isn't in a hurry to fill the rooms as she's watching how business shapes up.

The Villa Clay feels a bit like an upmarket boutique hotel, but it's a home for seniors who are no longer able, or willing, to live alone. And there's plenty to attract them: here, retirees can attend nightly screenings or concerts at an in-house cinema or read in the library, in front of a fireplace. There's also a gym to help pensioners keep fit throughout their twilight years. Plans include a beauty salon, day trips, dry cleaning and a grocery service – as well as essential services such as a doctor available around the clock. Outdoors, meanwhile, the landscaped garden is home to rabbits gamboling alongside miniature goats.

Villa Clay cost €22 million to build and when it's fully occupied, will be home to 116 people. That comes at a price: occupants pay €4,000 per month to stay here, a fairly steep price for Germany. However, in the country's generous health system, if an individual also needs additional care, a special health insurance fund will take on a portion of the costs.

According to a study, the sector will have grown by a quarter by 2030, to be worth €66 billion in turnover.

It is the pet project of Ms. Janssen, 37, who has spent the last four years building the home.has been working on this project for around four years now but she has been in the industry for much longer than that. In fact, she’s known the business from birth. Her parents are Susanne and Peter Janssen, who have been running old people’s homes around Berlin and in their native Lower Saxony, for over 40 years. In Berlin the enterprise is known as the Grüntal Group and in northern Germany, they are Pflege Butler.

“A nice atmosphere for people who need care,” is how Mr. Janssen describes it. Starting out the Janssens deliberately chose a niche: assisted living with outpatient services. Today the businesses employ around 800 staff and report that they make about €50 million turnover a year.

Mr. Janssen founded his first retirement home when he was 28 and at first he and his wife lived in apartments within the complex. And so Ms. Janssen and her younger sister, Johanna, actually grew up in old people's homes. They used to spend their Christmases with the residents, even cooking together.

Spending time in retirement homes as children really had an impact on the way she sees the business now, Ms. Janssen says. She feels more connected — a humane approach is articularly important to her. It also led her and her sister into the industry themselves. And the next generation is now expanding the business: Johanna Janssen now runs a residence in Lankwitz, another leafy neighborhood in western Berlin, while Josefine sets up Villa Clay.

The Janssens are a small player in a big market. But then competing with the sector’s giants, such as the Korian Group or Orpea, was never the goal. Mr. Janssen says they prefer to set up facilities that are “a step ahead of the competition” but where the costs and clientele are also manageable.

Germany’s population is aging quickly and thanks to demographics, and what some have described as the “silver tsunami”, old-age care is one of the fastest growing sectors in healthcare. According to an independently researched study, the Pflegeheim (nursing home) Rating Report, by 2030 the sector will grow by a quarter, to be worth €66 billion in turnover. Currently it is worth around €47 billion. The biennial report also says that the number of Germans needing this kind of care will rise 34 percent to 4.1 million. To provide that, an additional 475,000 care professionals will be required. That will require significant investment and training, the report states.

A quiet home for deep-pocketed German seniors.

The gaps between expectations and demographics are serious problems: Job vacancies in the sector are already at historically high levels and the lack of staff has been a subject for the politicians involved in recent coalition talks for the next German government. Ms. Janssen says she is continuously looking for new staff at Villa Clay, and that they have resorted to doing their own training in order to find staff “suited to our clients,” she says.

There is a lot of potential in the niche in which Villa Clay is operating, confirms Markus Hammer, from the German Institute for Service Quality, which regularly tests and rates retirement homes. “There is enough clientele, able to pay, who don’t want to do without anything at their age,” he explains. In the US, analysts have described premium senior care as the next luxury real-estate boom. Now wonder then, that the big players in European senior care have also figured this out.

Josefine Janssen plans to remain independent though. As a child she and her sister not only lived in retirement homes, they also went on adventurous expeditions with their parents, traveling to places like Papua New Guinea and Mongolia. Interestingly enough that has also helped with the family’s work in the senior care sector.

“You learn not to take yourself too seriously,” Ms. Janssen explains. “No matter what happens, I tend to stay relaxed, even when surprisingly tricky situations arise.”

Diana Fröhlich is a reporter for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]