Living in Berlin
Many guests of the Circus fall in love with this city - it is safe, tolerant and fun - and so it is no surprise that many want to make their visit something more permanent. It is still possible to find affordable flats, apartments or rooms in Berlin, due to the shear number of apartments versus the actual number of people who live here, and with a bit of searching and sometimes a little luck you will even be able to choose the neighbourhood in which you want to live in. Those of you coming from places such as New York or London will probably find the rents in Berlin laughable.
Renting a place to live in Berlin has some factors unlike anywhere you might be used to, so we have put together some tips and tricks to explain a little bit how it works. And once you are at the Circus, feel free to ask any of the staff, after all, looking for a place to live is one thing that all of us have done at some time or other!
Types of Place
One thing you will notice when looking in the newspapers or online, is something called a WG-Zimmer. A WG is a Wohngemainschaft, which basically means a group of people who share a flat with kitchen and bathroom (and sometimes, but not always, a living room). Within the WG, each flatmate has his or her own room. Then there are flats themselves, starting from one-room studios up to, well, any size you like.
Two important things to note when looking for a flat: One Room means one room plus kitchen and bathroom, not one bedroom plus living room. So if there are three of you and you want a lounge, look for the four room apartment. Second, the vast majority of flats on the market are unfurnished, that also mean kitchens usually only have an oven and sink. The rest you have to provide yourself.
This can be a problem for people who decide to stay on the spur of the moment, or are only coming for a short amount of time. For those people, it might be best to go through an agency which is more expensive but often have furnished flats available, or look for a room that is only rented for a specific amount of time (i.e. 6 months). Often these are being rented by students who are out of Berlin for a semester, and they leave all their furniture to be waiting for them when they come back. Look for the section marked Auf Zeit in the listings.
The type of place you chose is ultimately up to you, and your budget, but it is worth bearing in mind that a room in a WG is often a great way to get to know people who live in the city, build contacts, and learn a bit of the language.
It is hard to say how much you can spend, because the variation is endless, depending on size, location, condition of the building and whether or not the house has central heating. Yes, there remains a number of flats in the city that are still coal-heated, and this is one of the cheaper options for travellers on a tight budget who would like to stay longer in our wonderful city.
A Room in a WG: Will cost anywhere between Euro 150.00 and Euro 250.00 per month for a room in central Berlin. Look out for what the price includes, as sometimes the person renting a room in his or her flat has nice extras such as a washing machine or flatrate internet, which will end up saving you money in the long run. If you are willing to take the coal option, already Euro 70.00 to Euro 150.00 per month can get you a room.
An apartment: A one room apartment will cost between Euro 350.00 and Euro 450.00 per month, but there are fewer of these than any other size, so finding one might take a little patience. If there are a couple of you, it might be worth considering looking for a larger flat together.
A word on pricing: Some phrases to look out for in the newspaper apartment listings or online; Kaltmiete means the price without any heat, electricity, water or side costs. Add roughly 30-40% to get an idea of what the total cost will be. Warmmiete includes heating, but not electricity and side-costs, add roughly 10-15%. Those side costs are called Betriebskosten, and include taxes, refuse collection, maintenance of shared space in the building etc. So remember, a more expensive flat in the listings might actually be cheaper than some of the so-called bargains, depending what is included in the advertised price.
Where to Look
Here are some tips for the best places to begin your search for a home away from home, Wohnen means Living, and this is the section of the newspapers and magazines you are looking for:
Zweite Hand (www.zweitehand.de): This is the leading private-advertising paper and the most important issue for flat-hunters is the special one on Saturdays, which features hundreds of listings for every size of flats, and WG-rooms as well.
Newspapers: The main daily newspapers also have large Wohnen sections on a Saturday, and the best bets are Der Tagesspiegel (www.tagesspiegel.de), Berliner Zeitung (www.berlinerzeitung.de), and the Berliner Morgenpost (www.berlinermorgenpost.de).
Online: One of the largest real estate websites in Germany is ImmobilienScout24 (www.immobilienscout24.de), which has every type of property available but most importantly has huge rental sections, for flats and rooms in Berlin. Also online are a couple of websites that cater to those looking to offer and find single rooms in WGs. Check out the WG Company (www.wg-company.de), and WG Gesucht (www.wg-gesucht.de).
Magazines: Also a popular place to offer WG-rooms are the two main city listings magazines, who also include their classifieds online. So for more than just clubs and gigs, check out Zitty (www.zitty.de) and Tip (www.tip-berlin.de). Furthermore check out the Ex-Berliner, the city’s monthly English magazine (www.exberliner.com). They also offer Berlin’s English speaking accommodation service. You can reach them at www.exberlinerflatrentals.com or ++49 30 4737 2964
Agents: Sometimes it is easier to get someone to do the work for you, but remember using an agent can cost between 15% and 100% of one monthly Kaltmiete (rent without side costs). The following have a wide offer, and are all used to dealing with English-speakers:
- Wohnwitz (www.wohnwitz.com) Tel: +49 30 8619192
- Freiraum (www.freiraum-berlin.com) Tel: +49 30 6182008
- Mitwohnagentur Steicher, Tel: +49 30 4416622
Once you have found a place, you need to register. Don’t worry, this is not about being foreign, everyone has to do it. The registration is important for nearly everything else you would like to do, such as opening a bank account, or even taking videos from the nearest video-store. You need to go to the Einwohnermeldestelle and fill in an Anmeldeformular (which you can buy in advance from a stationary shop). This is a painless process that will only test your patience.
For EU citizens, living and working in Germany it is the same as for the Germans themselves. Once you have a flat and are registered you can get a bank account and a tax number, both of which are needed to get a job. Happy hunting.
For anyone from outside the EU the situation is tougher. Germany has a high rate of unemployment and there has been a crack-down on the number of non-EU citizens that are allowed to work in Germany. Normally it is necessary to have an invitation from an employer that can prove your worth through your qualifications. But there are ways, just keep plugging away and you will make it. Mr Goldman knows.