Posts Tagged 'Refurbishment'

From the wall to four walls

Mauerpark gentrification? au secours!!! Let’s hope this side of Berlin remains messy and fluid, and not a neat row of pretty boxes! There are already so many houses built in Berlin which only ask for a coat of paint (and yes, new plumbing, the removal of the odd paper-thin post-war dividing wall), why building more?

20 years on, a street recalls the Berlin wall

by William Boston on Sphere Continue reading ‘From the wall to four walls’

ivory-towel attitude

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I admit, I am fond of haberdashery, DYI and papeterie. These were my favorite shops when I was a kid. In the 70s bricolage was all the rage and these were the shops I would visit together with mum or dad. Looking for the right tools to scrap paint from a wall, or for a new elastic textile-rubber waist band for the pajamas.

At that time you would repair things. So as a kid and teenager I helped in all sort of manual work in the house, except electric stuff and car maintenance where my job was limited to “hold this and don’t move”. This does not mean I was good at it or that I enjoyed all chores. I loved knitting but I hated embroidering. I loved gardening and I hated sand-papering wood planks.

It seems now that the only thing people need to “repair” is the skin (from our stressful lives, from the sun…). You buy buy buy and never do maintenance to objects or simply repair them.

Living in a flat is not so conducive to manual work (where do you store all the tools?) but there are some things that help us in focusing on MAKING things rather than buying them. The obvious one is cooking. Another one could be recycling.

So my latest recycling has something to do with haberdashery. When you merge two “homes” – MeinMann’s and mine, 10 years ago – you suffer from an overflow of stuff. Kilometers of excess white fluffy towels were stored away in boxes with cedar wood. So when it came to buying the stock of towels for The Flat in Berlin I resisted the temptation to grab the towels at IKEA, which was the easiest option, and rather trans-shipped our pristine excess inventory from Rome, courtesy of easyjet. More space in the wardrobe in Rome!

In order to make things easier when there will be friends staying at The Flat in Berlin and in order to have some fun, I popped down to one of the last haberdasheries of our Quartiere in Rome and bought the fantastic fettuccia. Yes, like fettuccine. It’s bias banding, a colored textile tape. Washing-machine safe.

Like glasses in a party, each couple of towels has been color-coded. It’s a fresher look, it costs 1,90 eur and it is practical, especially if you don’t like color towels, you have one bathroom to share and you don’t want it to look like a souk.

But the nice feeling is, you buy the tape by the 10cm, not by the meter or in a plastic conditioning. It’s fantastic to be able to buy as much stuff as you need, not an inch more. And to have your tapes wrapped in a tiny piece of paper. I love this feeling.

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worm, chrysalis and butterfly…

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This is the butterfly…a bedroom full of light, the bed facing an enormous double window overlooking the chestnut trees, new oak floor and travertino paint for the walls.

cimg0127…the necessary chrysalis…

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And this was the ugly worm we bought…poor thing it was ugly but with lots of potential! This is the same room as above, here as a post-war kitchen.

Before the war each floor of this Altbau had just 2 enormous buergerlich flats, with chambres de bonne and the like. Each flat was then divided in 3 flats. Our worm – pardon, our Flat – didn’t have any bedroom, just a big living room with a bow-window, a kitchen and bath both with windows, and a roomy dark corridor for a total of 54sqm.

We torn the wall down (even if we never liked Reagan, we did as he said 😀 ) and transformed the neighbouring bath and kitchen into a nice bedroom with a superb double window.

So now The Flat has a double bedroom and, thanks to our architect, the living room goes back to its pre-war destination. (Er…what about kitchen and bathroom then?!)

Is Berlin property still worth investing on?

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The source of the following article is a real estate agency, still you may want to check a couple of figures…

“Berlin property is still worth investing in. Despite the downturn in the global economy, Berlin property is still worth investing in, according to property experts. Due to the many years of economic isolation for the city, the value of Berlin property remains relatively low in comparison to other European centres and has space to grow.

Berlin property offers a good deal for investors who wish to add a long term and stable investment property to their portfolio. The cost of rents are climbing steadily across the city, statistics reveal a recent rise of 6%, while property values have dropped.

At the same time, the pool of investors showing an interest in property has declined. Rents are increasing, and will continue to increase, because of demand outstripping supply. There are various reasons for this. Demand for good accommodation rising • An increase in the number of people moving into the city. Records show that in the first 6 months of 2008, around 8,500 people moved to Berlin. Multinationals such as Sony have chosen to locate their European headquarters in Berlin.

• A decrease in unemployment rates means that there is an increase in people willing to spend money on space. In the 1990s, the unemployment rate was nearly 20%. By 2008, this rate had decreased to 12.4%. Despite a spike in unemployment during 2009 due to the economic downturn, unemployment figures are not expected to return to previous highs. Decline in rental stock

• As in any city, it is expected that a certain number of properties will fall into such serious disrepair that they will be deemed uninhabitable by authorities. The general rule of thumb is 1% of the housing stock. Berlin will lose around 6,000 homes a year.

• However, property development in Berlin has been slow. In 2007 only 3,718 new homes were built. By September 2008, the number of housing permits issued to builders was lower than the 2007 total.

• A number of properties have been bought by foreign buyers for business or holiday homes, thus taking them out of the rental pool.

• With a tougher economic climate, it has become more difficult for builders to access funds that would sustain a large development project.

These three factors together have increased the attractiveness of Berlin property, so much so that the Chairman of the managing board of the GSW has said “anyone with the financial means to do so should buy now”. Experts advice and consultancy services for investors who are considering purchasing investment property in Berlin”.

Source: Katrin-Maja Maehl – Berlin Investment Property

sleeping in

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Last weekend, first night in the flat! The flat needs still a bit of work on the storage units, so there are still tools and paint around the living room. But bathroom, kitchen and bedroom were up and running. And anyway, no hotel or B&B had been booked…so I would have slept in the flat no matter the situation.

Tests were ok and with flying colours…

Opting for a big shower (2m x 1m) rather for a bathtube was definitely a good idea, especially with the rainshower set. The snowy and icy cold weather in Berlin provided the ideal test also for the heating system below the dark anthracite grey tiles of the bathroom. It’s a pleasure to walk barefoot on something very similar to stones warmed by the sun. Our personal zero tolerance for bathroom furniture – except from a built-in small cabinet – also gives to the bathroom a nice mineral feeling, quite warm thank you to the mixed use of mosaic and milky-white tiles on the walls.

The kitchen test was limited to a good cup of tea as I had not bought groceries…in the picture you see a gorgeous constructivist-looking IKEA teapot. I bought the bold zinc letters forming our logo (RC)^2 last summer in NYC at the Anthropology store on Madison. Oh boy, at that time we just had the keys of the flat and the project was just a sketch done on the table of our favorite roman pizzeria while brainstorming with our architect. I can’t believe that sketch is now reality…

The living room hosted still a bit of work in progress, but it’s the only room which retained its original destination, albeit slightly modified by the disguised presence of the kitchen and by a mimetic mezzanine. The Rundbogenfenster – sort of bow window – was refurbished but untouched. A kind neighbor who lived 1945 in this Altbau building said that we are lucky to be on the front side of the building, which was not damaged by bombs and this explains the fact that these windows are only present on one side of the house. As the oak original flooring and ancient bamboo internal ceiling structure.

The bedroom is fully furnished even if curtains are badly needed in order to guarantee some quiet sleep, the 2 windows are indeed big and flood the room with light.

My brother and I bought a small radio-alarm clock in order to have some familiar noises around us. We were surprised by how silent the flat is, good 1900’s isolation, I suppose. We could hear steps on the kerb covered with icy snow during the night.

I hope that on the next trip MeinMann will be able to join me to Berlin, to see the result! He found this flat during our second flat-hunting campaign, back in november 2007, we signed the contract together in december 2007 and since June 2008 – when we finally got the keys – it’s been my task to commute monthly to Berlin.

I am now on first-name terms with a few cafe-keepers and shop assistants, I’ve found out what I can get at Aldi and what deserves a trip to Kaiser, learned the ropes on the comprehensive pillow offer in Germany, become an expert in return Blitztrips to IKEA in under 1 hour…the Kiez is my oyster.

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I am looking forward to enjoying together the Gemuetlichkeit* of our flat, after all this busy-bee activity and all the research and big and small decisions. We deserve at last some farniente in Schoeneberg, going to the market in Winterfeldplatz, buying a Bund of flowers or listening to a nice record at home…

*=something more than cozy…warm, intimate, comfortable, good to stay in…something that cats master very well as you can imagine

Our Berlin Wall is coming down!

It’s time to tear down our Berlin Wall! The paper-thin walls built after WWII in our 1914 Altbau must go! They alter the original plan of The Flat and we want to restore the prussian beauty of the magnificient ceiling (almost 4m) and boiseries.

We have checked the materials: the big walls are very sound, the ceiling structure is very traditional and is in pristine condition, it looks as it was put together yesterday, with its bamboo light structure. That one is going to stay there. The ugly 70s plastic fake wood ceiling cover is going.

Also the beautiful old oak parquet is ok and is definitely going to stay. The heavy iron heating system is fabulous…as the arched window is one of the reasons why we bought this flat…but first of all, let’s get rid of those walls added 60 years ago…

Renovierung, ristrutturazione, refurbishing!

Today there is an interesting article on Deutsche Welle, about an italo-german pair refurbishing flats in Prenzl’berg on a big scale. It’s all about mixing Prussia and italian style, affordable prices in Berlin and entrepreneurial flair. It’s also about a lot of money, and a lot of property.

On a much smaller scale over the next weeks Mein Mann and I will start working on the refurbishment of The Flat. We now have The Project, we need to understand exactly the operational details, order the materials in Berlin (shop locally!) and off we go.

We did our share of number crunching, magazine-reading, scenario-building now we’ve got to start. Also because…the Wohngeld is running! So, we’re reassured of the fact that:

– YES, it was a good idea to buy a flat in Berlin, the price was right and the value was great;

– YES, with the present market turmoil it is even a better idea to invest a bit of extra money in refurbishing The Flat and bringing it to extert its full potential, in the beautiful Kiez;

– YES, in these uncertain times, with such negative newsflow, it is nice to be working on a HARDWARE project, in parallel with those daily worries (inflation, bad news, economic meltdown und so weiter).

One year ago we were emotionally in the no-man’s-land in between our August enthousiastic scouting trip to Berlin (cum-badly-failed-attempt to buy a flat), and the November trip to the Hauptstadt, when Mein Mann found the hidden gem, The Flat.

So we were floating in that lukewarmish atmosphere. We had invested all our holidays on the project. We were disappointed by the first unsuccessful attempt. But we were determined to get over it and be proud owners of our flat by Christmas. We signed our contract on December 20th!

Sometimes in between signing the contact and paying the price/getting the ownership of the flat a few MONTHS can elapse, rather than a few weeks, and that was indeed the case for us. A bit frustrating but worth waiting. After getting the possession of the keys and of The Flat, we’ve been paying taxes to the Finanzamt, opened a bank account, set up utility accounts, have the project prepared and now we’ve just to sign an insurance contract, then the refurbishing can start.

Needless to say we’ve seen many many other flats in the meantime. That is always a lateral and nosy way of visiting the town, plus it’s a very useful exercise. Each time we were reassured on the price-quality relationship of what we had bought. That is a nice feeling indeed. Especially when you’re still facing costs and no revenues yet are flowing in your hands.

We think we “prüften die Angebote sehr genau und pickten uns aus den vielen Objekten am Markt die Rosinen heraus“, we had done our homework, carefully analyzed the market, and cherry-picked successfully.

If you are interested in buying a flat in Berlin, go and see as many flats and as many Kiez as you can. This is the best way to find really what you are looking for. Exercise your personal Guts Feeling, endure a few disappointments, get a feel for the Sense of Place and stick with your list of criteria. Be they sultanas or cherries, you will find the ones you are looking for.

That said, we’re no real estate magnates like the Stoffel or fashion heirs like the Stefanel, but we have an idea or two about refurbishing without destroying. Leveraging hidden beauty without arm-twisting the sense of place.

We want to make the prussian linear beauty of the The Flat blossom, it’s concealed behind a few post-war thin postiche walls, hideous wallpapers and plastic flooring but you can feel it’s definitely there. Yet The Flat must also feel contemporary, and user-friendly too. And the costs must remain down to earth.

Coherence is our guiding muse: with the Altbau, the Kiez, the history of the Bayerisches Viertel, our own taste…and our budget.


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