Patience, persistence and perseverance — you’ll need stack of these if you’re looking to rent a room or house in Berlin.
It’s no exaggeration that looking for a room or appartment in Berlin is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. With around 40,000 people arriving in Berlin each year, the market is getting tighter and demand for property is so high, that unless you can find something through a friend or something called luck is on your side, then you’re in for a painful, frustrating and stressful ordeal.
Throughout my 4 years in Berlin, I’ve been relatively lucky in finding places to live — albeit ending up with a couple of sociopaths along the way. Then there was the house with anti-social, neurotic, bio meditating obsessives obsessed with door closing and silence — a niche quite specific to Germany. A real life smurf village but without the fun. I even managed to find a place to live alone last time I was looking, which was a really good deal and suited the fact I feel too old to live in a WG, and have never enjoyed shared living anyway. That was a stroke of luck though.
But in 2019, it feels as if the situation really has changed. Too many people are after the same thing, and if you’re not one of the first 10 or 20 people to respond to an advert, then forget how nice it would have maybe been to live in that area, and copy paste the same note to the next person online until you eventually hear back from someone.
Generally, the vast majority of responses I received from Germany’s main room and house hunting website, WG Gesucht, were scams. Their responses come in lengthy, overly enthusiastic paragraphs claiming they’re pleased to know me and if I want more information then to email for photos of the house, which of course should be in their first response. And of course they’re not in the country at the moment, which basically means in a few emails down the line they’ll be asking you to transfer money into a Western Union account to secure the place, never to be seen again. If I can ever be bothered responding to these toxic crooks, I usually say wow, what an offer, it sounds exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll pay you as much as you need to secure this house! Another time I told one in the crudest of terms where to go. They responded with a gorgeously crafted. ‘Fuk’. Wow!
A stickler for details and democracy, I want to know how much the entire appartment costs when I visit people, as 99% of the time I reckon they’re trying to make a fast buck out of me, which is just plain wrong, when they do not own the property. That’s the job of gastly real estate firms, not the actual tenants themselves. On a few occasions I nervously asked what the whole cost of the house was. One guy glared at me as if I’d insulted his mother and said there were no papers to prove the cost of the whole place. Another one claimed ignorance but said maybe the other guy who wasn’t there would know. Liar. Another guy emailed “Welcome to capitalism”. Incidentally, a friend of mine looked at a room and was going to be overcharged by 100 Euros, on top of a ludicrous, but standard, three month deposit request. He found out the name of the owners and found out the cost of the room was a fraction of what he was being charged.
If I was showing someone a room, I would have the paperwork in my hand proving how much the whole house cost, since I have a massive conscience and would not want anyone to think I was taking advantage of them. To survive in Berlin, you often have to work the draconian system to an extent, and that does include subletting rooms, which is generally illegal. But charging a fair and reasonable amount is civil. So when there’s no paperwork, then that’s the best yo can do, and certainly not request an extortionate deposit. Finding work in Berlin is another agonising conundrum, unless you’re a programmer, graphic designer or happy working in gastronomy, for example. I think all too often people are exploiting others with high rents instead of finding a job.
What about the other characters I met along the hellish 4 month househunting journey? One older man did offer me a room in his Kreuzberg house. There was an ill feeling, but in desperation I nearly ignored my instinct. He was an aged karate teacher and didn’t look capable of leaving the pub let alone teaching children. He wanted to know there and then if I’d take it and said there was no deposit. The next day I asked if I could collect the keys. He stated a time, and when I went round he didn’t have any. The house was reeking of cannabis and he was well baked. The last tenant must have done a runner, and he was asking me to pay for the new keys to be cut. I assertively and nicely said that was surely his job as they need to be returned to him. He reluctantly agreed and on departure muttered something about me paying more for the rest of the month than was agreed.
I tried to get my head around that whirlwind afterwards. After texting him to clarify the right sum politely, his wired brain went into meltdown and he told me never to come back,he was sad I could not trust him, and that I should always shake his hand when greeting and leaving him. Amazing. To say I dodged a bullet is putting it mildly. Living with strangers is such a gamble, potentially highly risky and a real test on your mental health.This guy came with a hazard warning, and I have the feeling he would be lingering around me like a ghost in the flat — and who knows if his karate skills would have been displayed on me..
Funnily enough the next place I looked at was directly across the road from karate freak, and inhabited by a civil, but awkward character. The room was good, the kitchen tiny with no window and she requested that no guests should ever stay there. A conservative and heavy-handed rule if ever there was one. I wasn’t successful in that one either. To be at the mercy of so many crazies really chokes you and grinds you down.
The next day a female near Sudstern responded to my email within 10 minutes and invited me round. The place was lovely and had a high bed which I love. She’d received 80 messages within one hour from hopeful new tenants. We talked for around an hour on many subjects which was pleasant, only for her to say I would have to go back and meet the guy whose room I would be inhabiting the following week. Talk about dragging things out especially when finding a room is a race against time. Utterly selfish on her part. She did also admit she could be moody. Needless to say she didn’t reply and the room was 40 Euros more expensive online a week later.
The Dutch guy in Pflugerstrasse seemed decent. The room was spacious and the kitchen clean. As there were only 3 of us looking I was hopeful, especially as it was in the same street as my best Berlin friend. He didn’t get back to me, and both tenants ignored my nice message asking if a decision had been made. It’s a sheer act of cruelty to not respond and lie about getting in contact — ghosting, in other words. I decided that next time I should behave like a total asshole, and perhaps then I would be successful. But unfortunately it’s not in my nature.
Then there was the Estonian dude who pretty much held me hostage in his depressing, dingy Wiener Strasse flat. He whined on so slowly about how no noise or parties would be entertained, as one particular neighbour who he banged on about for around 45 minutes would soon clamp down on him for renting out rooms illegally. I asked if this had happened recently and he said no, not for three years. No drinking would be allowed as that makes people rowdy, and I was sternly warned not to buy drugs from the dealers in Gorlitzer Park. I spent the whole 90 minutes (time I will never get back) reassuring him of my decency, and promising that yes I will clean the room when I exit the tenancy, and that I had a big conscience. I left exhausted and angry that these fools don’t have the social capacity to limit viewings to 20 minutes. I needed to be more assertive next time. He offered me the room next day, but I declined.
In such desperation you wind up questioning your own wants and needs and convincing yourself that maybe it would nice to rent a room in a house with a mother and her two young kids. It definitely wouldn’t when you’re quite solitary like me and like to go home to a peaceful environment. Then I thought maybe since I’m never around kids it would be good for me, and my German. The woman missed the email, and that was most likely a bonus.
Another guy in Kreuzberg was offering a room, and this is is my preferred location I wrote to him. I was given a viewing time, but asked if I could see some pictures of the place beforehand. He refused and said he had no camera or smartphone, and he didn’t think pictures were necessary. They most surely are, so you can see in advance if it’s a dump or not. Does anyone put a house on the market with no pictures?
One other fine day there was an and saying to record a message describing yourself, speed dating style. Cringe, I thought, but did it anyway. He responded saying he liked my accent and that I was one of around 20 successful people who needed to select an appointment time to see the place. When I turned up in Kreuzkoln an American girl contestant was still there declaring she was the best person possible, while I awkwardly sat in the hallway waiting my turn. The guy seemed a bit cocky, and his cheesy middle parting hairdo needed fixing, but he’d probably be ok to live with. He was asking about my life and work — the mental point scoring and box ticking exercises in these scenarios feels like sitting through a BBC job interview, but more reasonable. I was wary of not outstaying my 15 minute slot and made it easy for him, and also said I wasn’t a dick to live with. He said the selected 3 would also have dinner with him separately. Talk about dragging it out painfully. I wasn’t invited back.
You’re left wondering how on earth you’re going to find somewhere else in as perfect an area. But low and behold, I had another viewing near Gorlitzer really suddenly. As I looked at the text message to find the address, I then buzzed, but then noticed another text saying not to come as he had already made a decision. I walked away too tired for a needless conversation over the intercom and went to the pub.
One weekend in March I went to Hamburg to see The Lemonheads. I had missed them in Berlin and was reluctant to even leave the city for two days as I needed to keep househunting, since I had to leave my friend’s place within two weeks. I needed a break though and the change of scene was a tonic. Low and behold out of the blue I had a message from a friend whose friend was leaving Berlin suddenly and needed someone to take over his one room place in Kreuzberg 10997. There is a God!!!! It all came together within two days and I now live there happily with my new adopted gerbil Melody. It may be for a few months or perhaps much longer, depending on the guy’s circumstances. Here’s hoping I don’t have to depress myself logging in to WG Gesucht anytime soon. Life was a mere existence for four months, but now I can live again and pick up my hobbies instead of househunting 24/7.
The only downside of this place is the missing extra floorboard between my place and the neighbour below, meaning I have to tread so carefully and tiptoe quietly at times, so he doesn’t ring the bell to have a long drawn out discussion about it, though it’s not personal. It is the fault of poor workmanship though. He also said he would like to move somewhere else because of the noise, but likes the location and knows how hard it would be to find a new flat. I suggested the landlord should provide carpets, but he said they wouldn’t bother spending money and would just find other occupants instead, since there’s plenty desperate people wanting houses. Oh man. The whole Berlin rental market is doomed right across the board.