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HWWI/Berenberg City Ranking: Munich beats long-time winner Frankfurt

Hamburg/Frankfurt. Munich is the winner of the HWWI/Berenberg City Ranking 2015. The permanent runner-up replaces long-term victor Frankfurt, which slips to fourth spot. Berlin has continued its rapid rise from previous years to take second place. Fast-improving Leipzig is the only city in eastern Germany to make up ground, rising from rank 12 to three. Chemnitz, on the other hand, remains bottom of the league when it comes to future prospects. This is now the fourth time that the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI) and Berenberg have examined the outlook for the future of the 30 biggest cities in Germany. “The dynamic development of the big cities is extremely important, as they act as growth drivers for entire regions,” says Dr. Hans-Walter Peters, Spokesman for the Managing Partners of Berenberg.
  • Berlin continues to impress with second place
  • Leipzig big winner, rising to third 
  • Frankfurt slips to fourth
  • Chemnitz remains last

The importance of cities as living and economic areas is increasing constantly. “Their development is crucial for the competitiveness of Germany,” explains Peters. “A good outlook for the future and prospects for strong development are enjoyed by cities that represent outstanding locations for innovative, knowledge-intensive industries and highly skilled workers and that succeed in cushioning the impact of demographic change.” 

The cities were analysed with regard to their present economic performance, their future demographic development trends and key location-dependent factors like education and innovation, internationality and accessibility (classified in trend, demography and location indexes). In this context, economic and demographic developments together with location-dependent factors prove mutually reinforcing. Thus cities turn out from their universities the highly skilled workers who provide the backbone for companies in knowledge-intensive industries. The arrival of such enterprises leads to an influx of further well-trained people. “As the presence of highly skilled workers becomes the key limiting factor in the battle to attract knowledge-intensive firms, the future competitiveness of a given city will increasingly depend upon how cities position themselves with regard to this group of workers compared with the competition,” says HWWI Director Professor Henning Vöpel. 

The ranking

Munich, which had to live with second place in the previous rankings, is the undisputed leader of the 30 cities analysed in 2015. The capital of Bavaria performs particularly well with the location-dependent factors as well as in the development of its population and employment. “Munich has already completed large parts of the structural shift towards knowledge-intensive service sectors and research-intensive industries and is considered one of the outstanding knowledge centres,” says Vöpel. Every other employee (48.9%) already works in a knowledge-intensive sector. At 28.5%, the proportion of people with university degrees is higher than in any other city. Munich also scores well as an international centre: at 17.8%, it boasts the highest proportion of foreign workers. At the same time, employment in the Bavarian metropolis rose second-fastest in the period from 2008 to 2012, at 6.5%. “The prospects for Munich’s future certainly look good, due in part to the large knowledge capacities and the first-class pool of skilled workers in the region,” explains Peters. Only in the education levels of school-leavers does the capital of Bavaria need to improve. Munich only achieved a position in the bottom third both for school-leavers with the qualifications required to enter university and without secondary school certificate.

Berlin continued its rapid dash to the top from previous years. Following on from rank 24 in 2008, rank 8 in 2010 and rank 5 in 2013, the capital of Germany pressed on to second place this year. This can again be attributed primarily to the strong development of both population and employment. With an increase of 7.3% in 2008-2012, the city on the Spree heads the list of all 30 cities in terms of employment. “The growth motor driving Berlin is humming.” Good location-dependent factors, notably internationality and accessibility, are reinforcing this trend. “You can expect to find Berlin among the top cities again going forward,” comments Vöpel. 

Like Berlin, Leipzig has fought its way up through the field in just a few years. The city in Saxony mainly has its dynamic population growth (4.2% between 2011 and 2013) to thank for its third place, together with strong increases in both people in gainful employment (+5.92%) and productivity. “Cities like Leipzig in eastern Germany are continuing to catch up and have good prospects for the future,” comments Vöpel. Among under-20s alone, the city in Saxony is forecast to enjoy the fastest growth rates between 2012 and 2030 (18.9%). That said, though, Leipzig still has to work on its international standing and the education levels of its school-leavers. 

Frankfurt am Main, which came out as the winner in all three previous HWWI/Berenberg City Rankings, loses three places this year to come in fourth. The city on the banks of the Main continues to lead the location index with very strong location-based scores in the fields of internationality, accessibility, and education and innovation in particular. This was, however, not enough to offset the sixth and twelfth rankings in the trend and demography indexes. Thus, the financial centre only achieved 15th place in terms of employment development and 24th place for the development of productivity. And Frankfurt only makes mid-table when it comes to the anticipated development of the population and employment. 

Bonn, which took third spot in the last ranking, has lost six places in the overall list. The main reason for this is the development of employment in the former capital. This failed to match the dynamism seen in the other top cities, causing Bonn to slip a long way down the trend index. 

Good prospects for the future are also anticipated for StuttgartCologne and Hamburg. These three cities, plus Aachen and Hanover, demonstrate no obvious weaknesses in the ranking as they are among the top 15 in all three of the trend, location and demography indexes. Meanwhile, down at the bottom of the list, Chemnitz occupies last place in the HWWI/Berenberg City Ranking for the fourth time in a row. The city in Saxony failed to achieve a better result than rank 28 in any of the three categories. Kiel comes in second to last, some way ahead. The city has lost six places due to deficits in employment and productivity. No upwards trend can be identified for Gelsenkirchen or Bochum over the course of time either. “The development paths of cities at the bottom of the list are being increasingly dominated by declining populations and the associated loss of jobs. The gap between these shrinking cities and their expanding, successfully developing peers is growing ever wider,” summarizes Peters.


Population: Berlin is the biggest city with 3.4 million inhabitants, while Kiel, Aachen and Chemnitz are the smallest with around 242,000 inhabitants.

Location: Only four of the largest cities analysed in the City Ranking are in eastern Germany, whereas North Rhine-Westphalia boasts 13. 

Population growth: The biggest increases (2011-2013) were recorded by Berlin (95,827), Munich (42,916) Hamburg (28,155) and Cologne (20,510). Bochum, Duisburg and Gelsenkirchen are the only cities to see their population decline.

Population density: With 4,531 inhabitants per square kilometre, four-and-a-half times as many people live in Munich per square kilometre as in Münster (989).

The scoring

17 individual indicators were analysed in three categories for all the cities considered. These three categories are incorporated in equal measure in the overall ranking: 

The trend index examines recent changes in economic performance. It evaluates the dynamics in the current developments in population, employment and productivity.

The demography index covers factors that reflect the demographic trends through to 2030; average fertility rates are also taken into account.

The location index takes account of the location-dependent factors of education and innovation, internationality and accessibility.

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Karsten Wehmeier
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