Plagued by economic woes, Germany's real estate market is one of the most stagnant on the continent. Spain's, however, is soaring, thanks to the same German money that thwarts growth at home.
A home in the sun is a dream come true for many Germans
Decades after its emergence as a tourist hot spot, Spain, with its sun-soaked costas, is leading the European pack both in terms of increasing house prices and construction levels. In 2004, more new properties went up in Spain than were built in Germany and the Benelux countries combined. That, even though the population of the country is just 40 million.
Although Spain has one of the highest rates of owner occupancy in Europe, the number of new buildings -- some 600,000 last year -- far outstrips domestic demand.
But then, they are not necessarily being built with the Spaniards in mind. Au contraire. Many of the sparkling white apartment blocks which rage into the Mediterranean sky are earmarked for foreigners from the outset. The industry has been dubbed residential tourism, and its key players are the Germans and Brits.
Cheap airlines have opened the doors to a new way of life
Although the idea of having a second home in sunnier climes is not new, the trend is moving away from the traditional groups of pensioners.
Cheap air travel to an ever increasing number of destinations and the opportunities the Internet offers for flexible working, combine to entice more and more young people to leave the cloudy confines of northern Europe to both relax and work in the glory of the Spanish sun.
"Infinitely better way to live"
Zoe Hall of Lighthouse real estate agents says there's a whole new generation of people itching to live the good life.
"Essentially people are looking for a different way of life. They are no longer satisfied with a two-week package holiday, but want somewhere they can go four or five times a year," she said. "It's attractive for young couples with children. They can be outside all the time, and it's an infinitely better way to live."
A popular spot near Valencia
But how good is it for local communities? Thus far the tourist populace has been concentrated on a few stretches of coast. But, in recent times, the residential sun-seekers have been moving further inward, taking advantage of greater accessibility to inland rural Spain and places such as the Costa de la Luz, which are still relatively cheap and unspoilt.
Unlike the coastal regions, buying inland requires a genuine dedication to the Spanish way of life. "You really have to make an effort to be accepted," says Zoe Hall. "But inland communities are much warmer, especially if you can speak Spanish."
The language factor
Unfortunately that is a prerequisite which the majority of foreigners living or holidaying in Spain do not fulfill, and it makes it harder for the local population to accept this new wave of strange neighbors.
Anita Garcia lives in the hills behind the front line of the Costa Brava and is no stranger to sharing her turf with outsiders.
"We can live side by side, but sometimes it's a bit galling when you go to a local café and have to order your coffee in English," Garcia said.
Germans love their Mallorcan sangria
She also laments what is known as the "German invasion" on the island of Mallorca, which she says has completely changed the face of the place.
But Heidi Stadler, who has run a real estate agency on the island for the past decade, believes that locals have gained more than they've lost through the prolific German presence there.
"The fact is that tourists bring money to the island, whether they are there for two weeks or six months. There is a minority group which complains about how expensive the island has become, but such criticism stuns me because everyone in Mallorca benefits from the upturn the Germans have facilitated. There are international schools, better roads and hospitals, and they are there for everyone on the island, not just the Germans," she said.
Just keep on smiling
Buyers get more for their money inland
That is little consolation to young Spaniards whose salaries have risen at less than quarter of the rate of house prices over the past few years. But even as they struggle to buy their dream home in their home country, the Spaniards are aware that they have the EU to thank for the new level of affluence in the nation.
Even Anita Garcia concedes that Spain doesn't wish to witness a return to its more barren pre-EU days. "Spain won't bite the hand that feeds it, and will ultimately agree to go along with anything to remain in the European fold," she said.