I’ve spent approximately four years of my life in Germany all told, and (almost) everywhere I’ve lived has been incredible. In Berlin, I lived in a massive Kreuzberg loft, with 5 meter tall ceilings and a common room big enough to stage operas, which a few friends of mine actually did once. In Heidelberg, I found myself living in a vacation home, sleeping on one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever been fortunate to lay down upon. In Lueneburg, I lived with a family who had their own sauna, which I partook of more than twice.
All of these experiences predated the start of my life as a full-time student here in Germany and my first Wohngemeinschaft (shared flat or “WG” for short). And even though I loved my experiences in Berlin, Lueneburg and Heidelberg, I’ve found since that WG living beats them all.
WGs in Germany function slightly differently from those in other countries. For one thing, even though they are communal living arrangements, they tend to be pre-established, with new roommates rotating in and out. When you move in, your new roommates will often have been living together for months or even years together. Beyond this, they generally work much like other roommate-based arrangements in other countries; WGs as a general rule share bathrooms, kitchens, and living spaces, and usually share expenses as well, including utilities, phone, internet, and sometimes cleaning supplies and groceries.
If you’ve recently moved to Germany, and you’re in the process of apartment-hunting, here are four reasons why living in a WG might be the right choice for you.
- Living in a WG allows you to save money. This is the main reason people across the world live in communal settings, and the savings can often be dramatic. One of my friends who studies in Siegen pays less than 200 euros for his room, and I knew people in Berlin who paid around 100 euros per month. Rent varies by location, size, and quality, and these two examples are extreme, but in general, this is an incredibly affordable way to live. The most I’ve ever paid on a monthly basis in a WG was 350 euros, whereas a single-room flat that I rented in Siegen cost around 500 euros per month all-inclusive.
- Living in a WG helps you to meet people. Although you can also choose a so-called Zweck-WG, which is basically a communal arrangement which allows you to save money while keeping to yourself, the majority of WGs eat together, socialize together, and party together. My last WG almost had the character of a Karnevalsverein (Carnival club), with a massive annual theme party that everyone in the house was expected to contribute to for months in advance. In general, living in a WG is one of the easiest ways to get to know people in your new city and grow your social network.
- Living in a WG means you don’t have to buy everything at once. As Hyde wrote previously, Germany is a country where you can expect “four bare walls” when you move into a new flat. This doesn’t only mean that the flat is unfurnished, it also means your kitchen will likely be completely empty except for fixtures. Living in a WG allows you to avoid this; when you move it, the common areas of the house will almost certainly already be furnished, all of which will belong to the WG, but which you’ll be allowed to freely use. Many times, WGs are founded, and over the years people move in and out, leaving their things behind. Years late, none of the original residents are left, and a whole new group is eating off their plates. This means that, although you’ll have to outfit your room yourself, you won’t have to buy a whole new kitchen when you move over, something that most students and young professionals aren’t in a position to do.
- Living in a WG allows you to share responsibilities. This is especially important for recently-minted expats who might not be familiar with the German way(s). My first three apartments in Germany were all arranged either through a study-abroad program (Heidelberg and Lueneburg) or through a friend on a temporary basis (Berlin). This meant that I didn’t have to worry about anything but making sure my rent checks arrived on time. When you search for an apartment in Germany, it’s important to know whether the rent is Warm (inclusive) or Kalt (stand-alone). Kalt doesn’t include anything but the rent itself, whereas Warm also includes additional expenses, such as garbage collection, electricity, and hot water. That being said, “inclusive” doesn’t always mean “all-inclusive,” and renters often still have to pay for electricity, phone and internet, all of which you’ll need to arrange yourself. When I moved into my old one-room apartment in Siegen, I heard Warm and thought it meant “you don’t have to worry, just send us 400 euros per month”. Every month, I received a notice from the local utility company, RWE, telling me that I needed to pay them for electricity, but I thought they were solicitations, so I threw them all away. Then one day I came home and my lights didn’t turn on. Living in a WG will prevent you from having to deal with these kinds of problems. Your roommates will likely either be Germans who know how things work or experienced expats who can show you the ropes; either way, you can avoid the type of slip-ups that naturally come with living abroad.
WGs aren’t the perfect living arrangement, and at 30, I’m starting to realize that communal living has its drawbacks. But for anyone who wants to move to Germany but who is reconsidering due to financial reasons, or who isn’t sure how they’ll be able to meet people and deal with the challenges of everyday life, finding a WG is the best way to bridge the gap.