Permit tips and tricks for Germany

Following the recent launch of our international insights map, we interviewed Olaf Gröger, a director at Hyphen based in Berlin, about his experience of permitting in Germany

Q: How does Berlin compare with the rest of Germany? 

A: In principle, permitting is 95% the same everywhere in Germany. Variations arise when considering the protection of our cultural heritage. For example, in contrast to the north of Germany, many traditional buildings in Bavaria are made from wood and if we were to follow present day guidance, we would need to close around 50% of the state’s guesthouses (as these wooden buildings would not be permitted anymore). However, since they are existing, the building regulations in Bavaria are much more flexible regarding fire rating. This is just an example of elsewhere in Germany but overall, the simple answer is that the permitting process in Berlin is very comparable to the rest of the country.

Q: In your experience, do you feel that Germany is more or less bureaucratic than the rest of Europe?

A: It’s hard to say, to be honest! In many ways, Germany is more bureaucratic because there is a lot of administration involved. Compared to the UK’s permitting process, I think it’s more complex – there are more documents and calculations required. Obtaining a permit for a standard project in Germany seems, in terms of the required documentation, similar to that of a heritage building in the UK. When comparing Germany to Spain, Austria or Switzerland (and probably the Netherlands too), it’s very similar but I believe France is more bureaucratic than us. To conclude, I think Germany is somewhere at an upper level – it’s more bureaucratic than many other countries in Europe, but it’s not (alone) at the top.

Q: Can you recall a particularly challenging permitting situation in Germany?

A: We once pulled off a really nice trick to overcome a challenging permitting situation in Frankfurt. When delivering a project for one of our luxury retail clients, we were assigned the task of connecting three sales floors with an open staircase. To give you a bit of background, the standard regulation in Germany is that you can connect two floors with an open staircase (as long as the maximum fire compartment measures 400sqm). For this project, we worked directly with the Frankfurt fire department and, although we were granted permission to extend this to three floors, we were actually over the 400sqm threshold by a few sqm! To overcome this, we installed an empty shaft in the staircase so that we could submit a proper, legal calculation for the permitting. It was a simple trick but, in the end, it provided everyone with a satisfactory result!

Looking for your next project location? Visit our interactive map for tips and insights into local planning regulations, in over 20 countries across Europe!