Court ruling expected in German property dispute

On 8 December, European Court of Human Rights judges will give their judgement in a case that stretches back to events in 1930s Germany.

Althoff and Others v. Germany (no. 5631/05)

The case concerns a property made up of plots of land of approximately 4,000 sq. m located in Babelsberg-Potsdam, near Berlin, on the territory of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The dispute is between the German State, which succeeded to the rights of the heirs of the original Jewish owners of the land, and the applicants, who are the heirs of a shopkeeper who bought the property from a Berlin-based company which had acquired it in 1939 under the National Socialist regime. The land was expropriated at the time of the GDR and became ‘people’s property.’

The daughter of the original owner, who had emigrated to the United States, subsequently brought proceedings concerning the loss of the disputed property. In 1980 the US Foreign Claims Settlement Commission acknowledged that she was entitled to compensation.

Following German reunification, in 1990, the land was transferred to the Office for special reunification-related questions. At the same time the applicants filed a claim for the restitution of the property. In 1992, as part of post-reunification efforts to settle property claims concerning land in Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the United States signed the German-US Agreement on the settlement of certain property claims, which provided for the settlement of all restitution claims lodged no later than 31 December 1992.

In October 1998 the Property Rights Clarification Act retrospectively amended the Property Act, providing that the time-limit for the filing of restitution claims did not apply to the FRG. Relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, the applicants contend that the Property Act as amended in 1998 and its application by the domestic courts infringed their right to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.

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