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Germany

Compensation Chance for Jewish Property Heirs

Following a ruling by the Federal Administrative Court, former owners of property at Berlin's newly modelled Potsdamer Platz can go ahead and officially apply for repatriation.

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For many years Potsdamer Platz was left to rot

At issue are two locations in the center of Berlin. The first is a triangle of land, called the Lenné Dreieck, with an estimated value of some €145 million ($192 million), which is now the site of an exclusive center housing luxury offices and hotels.

On Thursday, an administrative court ruled that heirs with a claim to former property at the site, could legally file for compensation. Lawyer Matthias Druba, who represents the heirs of the Wertheim family, owners of one of Europe’s biggest department store chains, told the Berliner Zeitung daily that compensation couldn't "come fast enough."

Eröffnung des Ritz-Carlton Hotels Berlin

Exclusive hotels contribute to the new face of the disputed site

But exactly who any such financial reparation would come from is not yet clear. The history of the site is as manifold as the buildings which now sit upon it.

Whilst Berlin sold much of the land at the start of the 1990s, it returned the largest single plot to Hertie, the legal successor to the former owners, the Wertheim family, in the hope that Hertie would erect a central office there.

But Hertie, which was subsequently taken over by KarstadtQuelle later sold the land.

Druba said it is now up to the state of Berlin and the KarstadtQuelle department store chain, to agree on compensation payments. He told reporters that as the successor to Hertie, the KarstadtQuelle concern could be accountable to meet claims of former land owners.

KarstadtQuelle has so far failed to comment.

The Wertheim legacy

The Wertheim family owned large parts of central Berlin before the Nazis seized their property in 1937, including a second site which is now home to the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus.

Regierungssitz Bundestag Einweihung Bibliothek

Marie-Elisabeth-Lueders-Haus is home to the new library

The building accommodates the new German parliamentary library and is as such something of a contentious issue. When it was opened last year, Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse told the Wertheim heirs that justified reparation claims would be recognized and treated fairly.

But Matthias Druba told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that thus far, his clients have only been offered 15 percent of the value of the plot.

However, the Berliner Zeitung has written that the Federal Office for the Settlement of Open Property Issues is planning to recognize the Wertheim claim for the waterside site.

Druba described it as "disgusting" that the process is taking so long and said the federal government should pay out compensation to the value of the site at the time that building began there. That would be some €35 million.


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