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Germany

Arab property owner bans banks, pork and porn from Berlin office building

Companies seeking office space in an Arab-owned building in Berlin must agree to comply with the rules of Islam. Some say this ban on trading in 'impure' wares is keeping businesses from signing on the dotted line.

Koran and plaque of German regional court

Sharia laws don't break German commercial property regulations

Berlin's inner-city Ernst-Reuter Square is a prime business location, housing the offices of companies from around the world.

But the nine-storey office building at No. 2 stands half empty with a huge billboard near the entrance offering office space. This is at least in part because of a number of restrictions placed on commercial tenants of the building.

"Companies seeking to rent office space here are not allowed to operate business that involves selling pork", said Simone Krziwanek, a lawyer representing a small communications firm on the groundfloor of the building.

What is also banned, she said, are businesses offering "interest-paying financial products, as well as sex shops, gambling halls and liquor stores".

Billboard in a window of a building offering office space to rent

Sharia-compliant companies are sought by the Arab investors

"We, as a communications firm, don't have any problem with that," she added, "after all, it is entirely up to the owner to decide to whom they want to rent out the offices."

Outcry over Sharia laws

The building was once the Berlin headquarters of the American computer giant International Business Machines, IBM.

It now belongs to an Arab property investor, who is said to be based in London, but whose name is so far being kept secret.

On Monday, Germany's mass-circulation newspaper Bild published details of the controversial rental contracts, describing their clauses as "Sharia laws and multi-cultural madness which is now also undermining German business."

Chicago-based property developer Jones, Lang, LaSallem which is marketing the building in the name of the Arab investor, can't understand the "fuss" that has been made about the contracts.

"Quite frankly, most of the preconditions are not unusual, besides maybe the pork meat clause," Ruediger Thraene, the firm's Berlin representative told Deutsche Welle.

He said clauses excluding the sex business, drugs, alcohol and gambling were "quite common and part of many contracts for office space in Germany."

Political dimension

According to the German Association of Property Owners, the commercial property market in Berlin is attractive for international investors, notably for those coming from rich countries in the Arab world.

"Unlike in the housing market, contracts for commercial properties are largely unregulated", said Dieter Bluemel, the head of the organization, adding: "The provisions in this contract are not breaking any existing laws".

IBM building in Berlin

The former IBM building in Berlin is at the center of a clash of cultures

But Ralph Ghadban, an Islam researcher at Berlin's Evangelical College, speaks of a trend among Arab investors who are "increasingly looking to see that religious rules were not broken by the companies they invest in".

"There's always a political dimension in what they see as a clash with Western civilization. Arab investors, of course, want to promote their values, and sometimes are just overdoing this a bit", he said.

Christian backing

Perhaps surprisingly, the German Catholic Church on Monday indirectly expressed support for the Arab investor.

"Businesses not in line with Catholic ethics, like the arms trade or pornography, are also not allowed to rent office space on church property," said Stefan Foerner of the Berlin archbishopric.

Among those banned were also shops selling condoms, he added.

Author: Uwe Hessler
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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