Why Berliners move to the surrounding area

It is a beautiful spot where Duchess Dorothea Sophie of Mecklenburg-Strelitz moved into her widow's residence in the mid-18th century. Surrounded by several lakes, the baroque palace she once inhabited is still one of the impressive architectural monuments in the small Brandenburg town of Fürstenberg/Havel. And best of all, soon non-aristocrats will be able to reside there as well. After a long period of vacancy, the castle is currently being renovated, so that in future 43 apartments will be available in the castle and an as yet unknown number of new terraced houses in the castle park.

The project developer, the Nuremberg-based company Terraplan, envisions future residents to be not least people who work in Berlin and live in Fürstenberg, almost on the border with Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It takes an hour to take the regional express from here to Berlin's main train station - a travel time that was considered too long to be accepted by Berliners just a few years ago. But that has changed: Not only Fürstenberg, but also many other Brandenburg communities are enjoying growing popularity as places to live.

The Berlin-Brandenburg region is thus following a nationwide trend. "Our analysis of migration statistics indicates that more people are now actually choosing to live in rural areas than a decade ago," says Frederick Sixtus of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. Sixtus speaks of a "trend reversal": rural communities and small towns are now "clearly among the migration winners."

This is confirmed by figures from the Berlin-Brandenburg State Statistical Office. According to these, the state of Brandenburg recorded significantly more inflows than outflows in 2021. The migration gain compared to Berlin is particularly striking: 35,430 Berliners moved their residence to Brandenburg, while only 16,951 Märkers moved to the capital. All of Brandenburg's counties and independent cities - including those further away from Berlin - recorded migration gains.

There are several reasons for this trend, as Arnt von Bodelschwingh, managing director of Regiokontext, a research institute specializing in urban development, notes. "Some are reacting to the tight housing market in Berlin by moving to the surrounding area," says the economics graduate, referring to the "we-don't-find-more effect." "Others are looking for the right type of housing for them in the surrounding area." So while some, in obedience to necessity, escape to smaller towns with cheaper apartments, , even though they would prefer to live in Berlin, others deliberately opt for the quieter life away from the metropolis.

In addition, there is another aspect that Christopher Weiß points out, the chairman of the Berlin-Brandenburg regional association of the real estate association BFW: "The infrastructure is better in Brandenburg than in Berlin." That's especially the case for schools, he says. "Families," Weiß notes, "move to where the best schools are."

However, an important criterion in choosing a place to live is not only the social and health infrastructure, but also the transport links, as Arnt von Bodelschwingh emphasizes. According to him, the expansion does not take place evenly, but mostly along the traffic axes. Communities that have a regional rail or even suburban rail connection have a clear advantage. This is nothing new, by the way, explains von Bodelschwingh: "Suburban migration is something quite normal for a major city."

What is new, however, is that second- and third-tier cities - i.e., those outside the long-thriving urban belt - are also becoming more attractive. This has to do with changes in the world of work and the growing acceptance of home offices. "Employees no longer have to commute to Berlin every day, but can work two or three days a week in a home office or else in decentralized coworking spaces, such as those currently springing up outside Berlin," explains Christopher Weiß of BFW. The example of the operating company of the Berlin-Adlershof Technology Park shows that employers are picking up on this trend: It is planning a large coworking offering for employees in the small town of Lübben in the Spreewald, about 70 kilometers south of the capital, who will then no longer have to commute to Berlin every day.

However, the new love for small and medium-sized cities is not entirely unproblematic. More than a few old residents fear that the influx of Berliners will increase competition on the housing market and raise rents. Politicians are responding to this by promoting the construction of social housing. The state of Brandenburg made 150 million euros available for this purpose in 2021. However, not all municipalities require a share of social housing in new construction projects. This is because rents are still comparatively inexpensive in the municipalities further away from Berlin, as figures from the Association of Berlin-Brandenburg Housing Companies (BBU) show. In the Oberhavel district, for example, where Fürstenberg/Havel is located, the average cold rent among BBU member companies is just 5.47 euros per square meter.

But what does the trend toward the surrounding area actually mean for Berlin? Is the capital now threatened by a loss of population? No, answers expert Arnt von Bodelschwingh: "It is not to be expected that Berlin will shrink. After all, the city still exerts a great attraction on people from abroad, and with good reason."

By Christian Hunziker. Christian Hunziker is a freelance journalist in Berlin specialising in urban development and real estate topics.