I have moved a lot in Germany. Like 6 times in a year a lot. This is mostly due to poor planning, short-term sublets and an inability to commit to things like buying a full kitchen, but the positive byproduct is that we got really good at moving on the cheap.
As we initially moved to Berlin with just two suitcases, it was possible to make our moves purely by public transport. Nervous about our limbs simply falling off during these moves, we limited our purchases and kept our possessions down to 2 or three loads …at first. But, inevitably, we managed to accumulate more and more (like a baby) until our hobo moving method was no longer an option.
Our transient first year back in Berlin symbolized a larger lack of clarity or understanding in what we were doing in Germany, and with our lives in general. Picking a place to hang our hats for more than a month allows us to be part of the city rather than just skimming the surface as a temporary resident. To our parent’s great disappointment, we are going to stay in Germany for the foreseeable future. But a recent couch move on the U-Bahn reminded me of the bad ole days and I thought it was time to share my expertise on moving – from small to big – in Germany.
I’ll cover the lowest form, the U-Bahn move, for fellow poors like us and continue with hiring a van and even – gasp! – professional movers.
Moving on the U-Bahn
Think you can’t take a couch on the U-Bahn? Yes you can. We’ve done it.
Is it allowed? This is a little trickier. I had always suspected moving by public transport might be discouraged, but haven’t had an issue. On our latest excursion taking a couch on the underground, we received our first official reprimand. After making half of the journey into the city center, we were waiting in the blue bowels of Alexanderplatz when a U-Bahn driver spotted us and gave us an empathetic finger wag.
The official word on Berlin’s BVG seems a bit vague. I could not find any outright restrictions online, but the Beförderungsbedingungen page (German) and Accompanying persons, etc. & conditions of carriage (English) seem to imply only hand luggage is allowed. In practice, it appears that as long as you do not block the exits or impede other travelers you can usually get away with a move by public transport.
UPDATE: BVG’s ad campaign “Es mir Egal” (“I don’t care”) is both brilliant and a very effective endorsement on why Berlin’s transport is the best. In it, they imply that pretty much anything is permitted on the BVG network if it does not impair any one’s ability to travel. This includes bringing on a beer, an entire Mariachi band, a pug in a shark costume or even an entire couch. Kazim Akboga approved!
Pro Tip: Be ready to have your picture taken. While moving the couch through the busy station we saw many people covertly – and not so secretively – snapping away.
Moving by Rental Van in Germany
If you are not as ridiculous as us, or simply have a decent amount of belongings and self-respect, the UBahn method is probably not for you. Luckily, the variety of rentals throughout the country mean you do not need to break the bank. International car rental companies are everywhere and offer competitive rates for all sizes of vehicles.
In Berlin, Robben & Wientjes is the go-to for cheap moves. They advertise an absurdly low rate of 4 euro per hour (anyone ever gotten that rate?), but they are definitely the best low-priced moving trucks.
I can also personally recommend the excellent movers Transport Berlin 24. In totally 21st century style, they are almost instantly available on Facebook and contactable through messenger. They operate on an hourly rate, are polite and cheap.
Movers in Germany
Most people do have a good bit of stuff actually shipped to Germany by international movers when they first arrive. Movers can also be of great help when moving within Germany. A few tips on movers:
- Most companies offer an online estimate, but that number is only a rough idea of the final cost. However, the final price is almost always more expensive than even the best estimates. Be knowledgeable about basic costs and budget a buffer between what you think it will cost and what you can pay.
- Removal cost also depends on the point of origin and final destination.
- Consider “You-pack / We-drive Service” for more affordable transport.
- Feedback from people who have used the company are invaluable.
This edited GW Expat Blog post was originally published on April 14th, 2014.