Trouble in paradise

21st July 2004, Comments 0 comments

The biggest expat community on Majorca has traditionally been German, but the recession at home has forced many to think of selling up. Is this the end of the German love affair with Majorca?

For Marina Hirsche, a German estate agent working in Majorca, the tide has turned.

The past three years saw a change in the property market on the island, which was once dominated by buyers from her own country.

A crackdown by Berlin on tax cheats investing in overseas property, combined with three years of economic stagnation, however, either deterred Germans from investing in that second home in a quiet Majorcan village or made existing residents think of selling up.

"Now I would say in the past two or three years, 80 percent of buyers were British and they are buying the more expensive houses," says Hirsche, of  Profi Konzept estate agency in south-west Majorca.

"I think there was some insecurity in the market amongst Germans," she said.

However, Hirsche believes that in the last six months, as things at home have slowly started to pick up again, German buyers are returning. Some observers also point to the boom in budget airfares as helping to underpin new interest in Majorca.

Jan Westwood, of home buying agency County Homesearch, agrees; she thinks the much-vaunted exodus of Germans was no more than a "storm in a tea cup".

She believes the market has stabilised and more Germans are coming back to buy now in what is often called Germany's 17th state with the island fitting the German dream of paradise: long white sandy beaches and endless blue skies.

But then, Germany's colonisation of Majorca has been underway for some time, raising concerns among some Majorcans about the 'Germanisation' of their island.

Germans already own about 60 percent of the island's holiday homes with about 100,000 living permanently on the island. Others, including super-model Claudia Schiffer, former tennis champion Boris Becker and Formula One star Ralf Schumacher have secondary residences or holiday homes on the island.

Indeed, Westwood believes at least half of foreigners who live on Majorca are Germans, with the other 40 percent Britons and the remainder Scandinavians.

British-born Westwood mostly deals with German high-flyers and numbers among her clients "investment bankers, singers, songwriters and a few famous people".

But just who these 'los famosos' Westwood has on her books are, is something she keeps to herself.

Most want to invest around EUR 600-700,000 in a property to escape from their busy jet-set lives for a precious few weeks a year.

Both Hirsche and Westwood agree Germans have made Majorca their own home; setting up a sophisticated community in itself.

Westwood mentions the German private health clinics which offer the same service you might expect in Bavaria or Berlin.

German bakeries also make the black bread and other specialities so popular at home.

Luxury sports clubs, most offering golf courses, have also proved very popular with the well-heeled German residents. More than 80 percent of Majorca's gross domestic product is generated by services to expats.

But it is not just the super rich who find their way from Germany to Majorca.  

More than three million German tourists visit Majorca every year transforming stretches of the island into small German colonies with restaurants called 'Oberbayern' and 'Bierkoenig'.

At the same time, a raft of cafes and eating houses offer 'Fruehstueck' (breakfast) and Germany's favourite snacks such as 'Bratwurst' or “Brathaehnchen'. 

There are editions of the German press specifically for the island. Mallorca Magazin or Mallorca Zeitung, the island edition of the tabloid Bild, Germany's most-widely read newspaper, can be readily found by the Germans residents.

Add to this the surround-sound cinemas, showing the best Hollywood and European films in English and a few in German too.

Majorca's popularity with holidaymakers and package tour groups from Europe's biggest economy means it has also become known as the 'Putzfrau Insel' (the cleaning lady island).

Every summer many German television programmes set up shop in Majorca to report against a backdrop of the island's beaches to those unfortunate enough to be left back home on the Majorcan summer life of sun, sand, sex and sangria.

The German travel industry is also hoping that visits to the island might grow in the coming years as signs that recovery is taking hold encourage more Germans to again consider taking their vacation outside the nation.

One frequent complaint about the expat community in Spain is their failure to put much effort into trying to adapt to their new environment. 

Hirsche says, like parts of the Costa del Sol which are dominated by Britons, there are enclaves of Germans who have not integrated with the Spanish at all.

"There is a smaller group of Germans who do want to learn the language as they are either working with Spaniards or they are married to a Spaniard."

"But there is a community who have not learnt Spanish and simply want to live among the Germans," she says in fluent Spanish.

Some Germans, it has to be said, may not come to appreciate the island's finer points but instead to live as if they never left home.

Just like their British counterparts, the second biggest foreign contingent on the island, some Germans love to drink.

This may not be the long-term residents, but the thousands who exploit low-cost air fares to make the two-hour journey from Germany to the sun for a long-weekend or holiday.

Some 400 aircraft en-route from Germany land in Majorca each week, with low-fare airline Air Berlin having recently announced plans for a big expansion of its services to the island.

"There are Germans who come to drink and eat just as if they are at home. This is where they can get what they are looking for," says Oreliano, a Spaniard.

"It's really happening and you can party all weekend," says Armin, who came to spend a long weekend with his mates from the Ulm football club in southern Germany.

And on the terrace in front of 'Beer Express' bar, a dozen topless German men throw back their umpteenth beer.

"The young people drink a lot here, but not as much as they used to a few years ago," says Ingrid, a German woman who has lived on the island so prized by her compatriots for the last 25 years.

"Sunshine is virtually guaranteed, it's not too far to travel and everything is cheap," she says.

Ten years ago, legend has it, a German parliamentary deputy offered to buy Majorca from the Spanish government and turn it into Germany's 17th state.

So far, the island still remains in Spanish hands. Just.

[July 2004]

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Subject: Germans leaving Majorca; Living in Spain

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