High life Upwardly Mobile

Residential tower blocks are taking over the skylines of major German cities as wealthy professionals become increasingly drawn to the benefits of city-center living.
An illustration of Frankfurt's Henninger Tower.

The city of Frankfurt is about to get one of its most famous landmarks back. Sort of.

Where the old Henninger Tower stood until 2013, the new Henninger tower is now rising up in its place. But whereas grain for the Henninger brewery was stored in the old version, the new 140-meter (460ft) high building will contain 207 luxury condominiums. Four of the homes will be housed in the so-called "barrel" at the very top of the tower, which architects Meixner Schlüter Wendt modeled on the shape of the original.

The Henninger Tower is just one example of the many high-rise apartment buildings planned or under construction in major German cities. Whether it be Friends in Munich or Pandion in Düsseldorf, Tower 2 in Frankfurt or an as yet unnamed project on Alexanderplatz in central Berlin, such projects are popping up everywhere. Prices can be more than €10,000 ($12,425) per square meter on the uppermost floors.

Anette von Zitzewitz of Ballwanz Immobilien, the real estate firm charged with sales and marketing at the Henninger Tower, is convinced that it will profit from its location. It is built on a small hill, giving it an unobstructed view of the city and, from the seventh floor and above, the countryside surrounding the city.

“In addition, the high quality of life in the surrounding area play a role,” said Ms. von Zitzewitz. The tower is also being built not far from the Main River which runs through Frankfurt and the inner-city district of Sachsenhausen, known for its traditional cider houses.

A good view is not enough to make a multi-story project a success. Thomas J. Meurer, of the architecture and city planning firm Meurer Architekten Stadtplaner Ingenieure in Frankfurt, is convinced that exclusive high-rises only function in urban locations. “This type of building is presently not suited for life in the country or on the outskirts of the city,” he said.

This type of building is presently not suited for life in the country or on the outskirts of the city. Thomas J. Meurer, Architect, Meurer Architekten Stadtplaner Ingenieure

It used to be seen differently. In the 1960s and 1970s, tower blocks were primarily built on the outskirts of cities as part of social housing projects.

The shift to the city center is particularly notable in Frankfurt, Germany's high-rise capital. According to Mark Gellert, spokesman for Frankfurt mayor Olaf Cunitz’s planning department, there are about a dozen high-rise apartment buildings being planned or built in the German financial center. Tower 2, which is being built in Europaviertel (Europe quarter), a new district in Frankfurt, will be 160-meters high and is set to become Germany’s highest apartment tower.

Mr. Gellert revealed that the authorities have already been informed about more planned projects, and have a plan in place to accommodate them. “We have organized buildings that shape the skyline, meaning those higher than about 100 meters, into clusters,” explained Mr. Gellert. There is a particular focus on the banking district and the fairgrounds of the Europaviertel.

The concentration of high-rise apartment blocks in the centers of German cities is down to two reasons, says Mr. Meurer: Economics and increasing relocation to cities. “The high-rises in Germany are an expensive solution to creating living space,” said the city planner. And the high prices that must be charged to make the buildings economically feasible can only be charged in city locations.

The high prices that must be charged to make the buildings economically feasible can only be charged in city locations.

Germany's housing shortage means developers are increasingly drawn to unoccupied office blocks, even though many may not be in prime locations and demand for homes in industrial areas is lower.

The Leipziger CG Gruppe, for example, is currently preparing to convert an 89-meter-high office tower in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg into a residential building. It is located in an area that the local rent directory lists as basic and relatively poor, but it is also only about two kilometers from the central Potsdamer Platz.

Does this mean city living is taking over? Not according to Mark Warbanoff, the managing director of the real estate firm Gewa, which is building a 34-story residential tower in Fellbach, a town near the southern city of Stuttgart. “With properties like Gewa Tower, the height is the location,” he said. “There are only a limited number of properties of this kind.”

The town's location close to Stuttgart, and the presence of large employers such as Bosch and Daimler nearby, means the non-city centre location concept can also work, he added.


Christian Hunziker is a freelance journalist working for Handelsblatt. To contact him: [email protected]