From her self-imposed exile in Paris, diva Marlene Dietrich crooned that she always kept a suitcase in her native Berlin. Thanks to Irish property developer Ballymore, and Nama, the Irish taxpayer's suitcase in Berlin was a white elephant shopping centre.
Now, seven unhappy years after Ballymore bought the Kudamm Karree shopping centre on western Berlin's leafy Kurfürstendamm boulevard for a reported €200 million, the complex has been sold for €150 million to a Munich developer.
The centre comprises a 20-storey tower and a largely empty shopping centre. Built in the 1970s, the centre’s chief problem is the narrow frontage on to the popular Ku’damm, limiting its appeal to would-be anchor tenants.
To solve this problem Ballymore proposed a €500 million redevelopment, widening the frontage by demolishing two historic theatres that face on to the street and are incorporated into the complex.
That prompted huge local protest and a long stand-off with local politicians.
A second blow came when the financial crisis struck. Ballymore reportedly paid two-thirds of the purchase price itself with one-third from Bank of Ireland. That loan was later transferred to Nama, and it put pressure on Ballymore to sell off the site.
In 2009, the Irish owner engaged British architect David Chipperfield to design an entirely new complex of 137,000sq m on the site, including 46,000sq m of retail, leisure and entertainment areas.
Ballymore promised they would show “the greatest sensitivity, care and attention before development can begin”.
The plan was generally well-received, but nothing happened.
In 2012, Ballymore's German manager, Ralf Bock, admitted to The Irish Times that the group had paid "a high price for a site that didn't work" but insisted "it's a property the Irish taxpayer can be sure will rise in value".
Ballymore declined to comment on the size of the loss incurred in the sale.
The operator of the two theatres on the site said yesterday they were in the dark about their future.
Ballymore terminated their lease in 2007, but the theatres, which are celebrating their 90th anniversary, continue to play to packed houses.
The new owner, Munich company Cells Bauwelt GmbH, vowed yesterday to redevelop the site by 2020 into an "high-end urban and multifunctional building ensemble".
The Kudamm Karree is not the only Berlin property sale involving Nama.
Across town, Ireland’s Cannon brothers are offloading two sites at the former Checkpoint Charlie crossing after failing to develop them.