Hallo meine Lieben!
(The Brandenburg Gate during the Festival of Lights)
It’s crazy that the semester is already half-way in Glasgow, and mine started only two weeks ago! Hope you all visited the Study Abroad Fair and had lots of interesting conversations with ex-exchange students, and if you’re going to apply for international exchange, I hope you’re well on your way with your applications. You’re surely enjoying all my fellow SASAs’ posts about why you should apply for their host unis, but since I don’t have any experience on that and the Erasmus application deadline is months away, I’ll give you something totally else to read in between. The Berlin flat hunting guide that is! As I promised, in order for your experience to be easier than mine, I’ve collected a tiny wee information package of the do’s and don’ts when flat hunting in Berlin, now that I still have everything fresh on my mind, not that I will easily forget the stressful weeks. (Edit: I only just found out that unlike before, there is now a single application process for both Erasmus and International Exchange! I will be back very soon then with a post explaining all the pros of Berlin and why it should be your first choice.)
So, greetings from Kreuzberg, one of the hippest dopest coolest areas you’ll find in Berlin – also known as my new neighbourhood! Yes, you read right, I found a flat and am not homeless. Happy dance!!!! After countless hours of responding to flat ads, over a 100 messages, over 10 viewings, ugly flats, beautiful flats and meeting all kinds of people from all over the world, I found a beautiful two-person-Altbau-flat just about 20 minutes from campus. The first weeks in my new flat have been lovely, it is such an amazing feeling having a place to call h o m e after searching for almost a month.
If you decide to opt for student accommodation, great, you’ve chosen the less painful route! In a way that is, since the only halls I would’ve been offered by the university is located in Adlershof, near Humboldt-Universität’s other campus – it’s about an hour away from my faculty in Mitte. Living so far away from everything wasn’t really an option for me, but I have friends who live there and commute every day, while not maybe enjoying it, but getting used to it. At least they didn’t have to go through three weeks of constant stress and insecurity, so there are two sides to everything! You can apply for university accommodation when you’re doing your application for the uni, that is all I know about the matter. If you feel ready to face the madness of the private housing market, more exactly subletting (untermieten) a room in a flat share (WG), the next tips are for you.
- Acknowledge the gravity of the situation
The flat situation in Berlin is bad. I had heard about it before coming, but I never realised just how bad it actually is. You might have had a hard time finding a private flat in Glasgow when all the students are looking for one right before the summer, but compared to the situation in Berlin, the Glasgow market is full of options. It seems like people are only moving into the city, while no one is moving out. Too many people, too few flats, as simple as that. The rents used to be very low in Berlin, but since people are taking advantage of the situation you might end up paying anything from 300 up to 600 euros for a room in a WG. At a flat viewing I went to, the girls told me that they had got 70 contacts in an hour after posting their ad online. And that was only the first hour!
- Start early
Towards the end of summer, I started looking for flats online while living in Finland, which not so surprisingly turned out to be quite impossible since they wanted to meet me right away. I arrived to Berlin one and a half months before the start of my semester and started looking for a permanent flat immediately. I felt like I was already too late, as hundreds of other students had started the same search. Ideally, if you have the possibility, come already in August for a few days to just visit loads of flats and that will save you from a lot of anxiety in the next months. If you start too late, it will be a lot less likely that you’ll find a permanent place, and in addition to it being super stressful moving flats every few months, you’ll have trouble with the German bureaucracy as you most likely won’t be able to register yourself in these addresses – which means you won’t get the Anmeldebestätigung you’ll need for university, borrowing books from the library, opening a bank account etc.
- Be yourself
This sounds like the lamest, most apparent point, but I think it is super important. The dynamics between you as a flat hunter and the people looking for a flatmate is super unequal. They know exactly what they’re looking for, whether that is a cooking, singing extrovert or a quiet reader who doesn’t come out of their room, while you don’t have a say about your possible flatmates. I found myself in countless situations where the interviewer flatmate asked me questions like “do you like to party?”, “do you spend a lot of time home?”, “what do you do on your free time?”, and I somehow tried to examine the person in three seconds to see what they wanted me to answer, how they wanted me to be like, just so that they would pick me. It didn’t mean I lied, but my answers were always super diplomatic and didn’t really contrast the real me. I got better at telling exactly what I wanted to say after a few viewings, and I see now how important it is to be straight to the point honest to find a home that’s suitable for you.
(Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe)
- Don’t be too desperate
If you’ve searched for a room for two weeks without any success, you will start to feel a bit desperate, without a doubt. However, if you’re not in total trouble, do not contact the 40-year-old man looking for a 20-year-old girl to live with, do not settle for a moldy DDR box, do not say yes to a place you don’t feel good about. In best case scenario, you’re after all going to spend at least six months and up to a year in the flat, so it should be a place you’ll be able to see as a home. I said no to a flat even though it was beautiful, big, and the flatmates seemed lovely, since somehow I still felt intuitively bad about it. I’m glad I trusted my instincts, I found the perfect flat a few days later!
- Don’t send a million similar messages
This is time-consuming and annoying, but you will get more viewings if you really read the ads properly and add something special to each individual message in addition to the basic informations. If you just copy and paste everything, they will notice, so you should make sure they can see it from your message that you’ve read the ad! Also, if the ad is in German, try not to use English – even if your Deutsch is not great, they will appreciate the effort, and you can ask someone to proof read before you hit that submit button.
- Don’t lose hope
Even though you’ll feel like it at one point, you won’t be homeless. I promise you that! There is always something out there, whether if it turns out to be private student accommodation or a temporary solution. You’re not alone, breathe, meditate, and message me for comfort!
Have a lovely weekend and don’t hesitate to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any Erasmus or Berlin related questions you might have.