Applying for a Wohnung in Berlin

When we found out we were pregnant, we knew a two-room (one-bedroom in American) apartment was no longer going to cut it. So we went on the hunt for a three-room, ideally with a balcony, high floor, a little class and great transportation links. Slowly at first, and then with increasing sincerity as the baby finally made her arrival.

PHOTO: Erin Porter

My little Berliner on the Wohnung search

As always, I was horrified at the lack of light fixtures, kitchen and even floors in some Wohnungen (apartments). I checked out the toilets. My wandering eye searched further afield from my preferred neighborhoods (known as Kiez in Berlin) of Friedrichshain to nearby Lichtenberg, Wedding from Prenzlauer Berg. Surely Marzahn couldn’t be that bad…could it? Despite my lowering standards, we are still without an apartment to accommodate our growing family.

Why is renting in Berlin so hard?

The hard truth is that looking for a house in the Hauptstadt is hard. Competition is fierce, rental companies aren’t particularly motivated to make things work for the renter (evidenced by the insane viewing hours – 10:30 on a Tuesday anyone?), and applications take organization, great credit and earnings and a lot of luck. Continue reading

10 Ways That Europe is Different from the USA

First, let me tell you about the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Recently a friend suggested that I read what turned out to be a rather disheartening rant published by an online expat website. (The names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.) The writer, an American lady, was complaining about her life in Germany, a lament brought on by a recent visit to her local Apotheke (pharmacy). She was whining about the fact that she had to take the extra time and trouble to consult with a German pharmacist (in German of all things) in order to obtain a medication that she could have bought over the counter in the US.

Bikes and pedestrians

Germans and other Europeans walk and ride bikes more often than Americans.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Several people left comments pointing out that the German system actually provided the benefit of helpful, professional advice that would have required a visit to the doctor in the US. True, you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy a bottle of aspirin in Germany, but you can go to your local Apotheke and get sound advice about which pain reliever would be best for your situation. While living or traveling in Germany and Austria, I have made several trips to the pharmacist to get help with a medical problem. In every case, the pharmacist either provided a good solution or, in one case, told me to see a physician. (What I thought was a sprained finger turned out to be a broken one.) Continue reading

Moving to Germany: The Top 10 Things to Consider

Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. Even if you are fortunate enough to be using the services of a relocation agent, you should be aware of the following ten factors to consider when moving to Germany.

Berlin apartment parking

Having a car in Germany can be a mixed blessing. Here: apartment parking in Berlin-Friedrichshain. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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1. Get Oriented
By “get oriented” I mean get to know the culture, the language, and the place where you’ll be living. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many new expats fail to do this. You’re moving to a new country with a culture and a language very different from what you’re used to. Don’t arrive in German-speaking Europe without at least some basic preparation. This is what our German Way site is all about! You’ll find all sorts of help here, and here are a few tips on what you need to learn: Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading

House Hunters in Germany

Flipping through the myriad of cable channels the other evening, I landed upon House Hunters International, a staged-reality show where buyers are shown three homes and have to pick one of them to buy or rent. I say “staged-reality” because this isn’t a true reality show. As far as I have understood, it is made to look like a reality show but behind the scenes, the final decision has already been made, the documents signed, and thus the drama and conflict in the show are contrived.

All that is neither here nor there, however, because the location of this particular episode was in Würzburg, Germany, and I found myself staying up long past my bedtime in order to watch fake reality TV.

The rewards were plentiful: stereotypical German realtor, stereotypical American expectations, stunted and parallel communication, and cookie-cutter German apartments. Continue reading

Looking to Buy? Take Your Time

This blog has covered the topic of renting an apartment many times (in posts by Hyde and Chloe) and I have written a bit on the topic of home ownership. But where do you start if you are looking to buy property in Germany? The first stop for anyone interested in property is – it is a website that compiles available properties from the entire country, and the search features are powerful enough for you to narrow down according to your exact criteria. Assuming that you read German and that your budget is big enough, this may be sufficient in helping you find a home.

For everyone else, it will take a larger investment of time than you might be used to in North America or England. Germany is not a country of property owners; most people here rent their accommodation long-term. For those who do own their homes, turnover is very low (Geoff wrote about this a while back, too). Germans tend to buy a house and then live in it for the rest of their lives, passing it on to their children. Houses in Germany are built for the long-term (as in everything they do, the Germans strive for perfect rather than sufficient) and the prices will reflect that. Starter homes for under €100k are unheard of, unless they are just being sold as a tear-down. Apartments can be bought in this price range, but are probably smaller than you might be hoping for. Continue reading

A different type of renting

The friends we left behind in London all had one thing in common – their desire to get themselves on the property ladder. Had we stayed I suspect we would have started hunting around for somewhere to buy in just the same way. It is simply what you do when you’re a young professional in the UK and if you don’t you worry you’re going to be left behind, you’ve not made it, that you’re destined to be one of those unsuccessful people who only ever rents a flat.

What a surprise then to move to Germany where being ‘only’ tenants instead of homeowners does not come with such class associations. That Germany has the lowest rate of homeownership in the EU has been written about elsewhere on this blog. What I am interested in here, is how this phenomenon effects the experience as an expat of first finding a flat to rent and then living in a rented flat in Germany in contrast to the experience in the UK. Continue reading

Schaffe Schaffe Häusle Baue

That’s nice thick Swabian for “work and work to build a house”. The Swabians are probably the most home-owning obsessed of the Germans, and even here, I’m not even sure that the majority of people live in their own property. Continental Europe in general is very different than the Anglo-Saxon world in terms of property ownership. Most Europeans prefer to rent, usually apartments near a city. Property ownership here is just not as popular, and people (hopefully) invest their money elsewhere. Our adventures with finding a home to buy took ages, then we gutted and completely renovated the darn thing. On the topic of Handwerker (a lovely catch-all term referring to builders, electricians, painters, plumbers, etc.) alone, I’m sure I could fill pages… but I’ll spare you (for now!)

In a rental property, as various other blog posts here have referred to, you get the walls and floor and ceiling and a functioning bathroom when you move in. Light fixtures, window coverings (except for external shades, Rollladen), and kitchens must typically be provided by the tenant. Many Germans have told me that it’s obvious why renters should buy and install their own kitchen: it is such a personal thing. Really? In a rental? Continue reading