Flat Hunting in Berlin
The new academic year has begun and students preparing for their ERASMUS travels will need to consider where they will be living! The process of finding accommodation abroad is often time-consuming (and problematic)- so by giving yourself more time you are more likely to find the ideal place!
Firstly, if you are planning on sharing accommodation with a group of friends, the chances of it actually happening are rather slim. Based on my and other friends’ experiences on flat-hunting in Berlin, there are usually many offers for an available single room in an apartment; however the rent for a whole apartment near the city centre is usually very expensive for students. Therefore I would suggest either searching for places in pairs or on your own (like I did)!
Halls of residence
Host universities are likely to provide some type of student accommodation so please check their websites regularly to find out what they offer and when the application deadlines are! The organisation which manages Berlin’s halls of residence and student dormitories is the Studentenwerk (look on their website for more information).
With lack of information I did not realise how early applications for halls at Humboldt University in Berlin were and consequently missed the deadline. In retrospect, I consider it a lucky escape; the university accommodation is located in areas such as Lichtenberg, Wannsee and Tierpark, which are far from campus and not described as the most exciting areas of Berlin (though Tierpark does have a zoo!). Also for students staying in Berlin for the whole year: tenancy contracts at Humboldt residence halls usually last for the duration of one semester, so please check with the residence services if the contract can be extended, or otherwise prepare yourself to look for some other accommodation a few months later!
The area in which your accommodation is will have a significant impact on your year abroad experience; after all, you are more likely to feel miserable living in the mundane or dodgy part of a foreign city! The starting point would be to look for accommodation either near to, or with good transport links to your host university. Friedrichstraβe, Alexanderplatz and Hauptbahnhof stations have train and bus connections to virtually anywhere in Berlin and are conveniently close to Humboldt University (HU) buildings. Zoologischer Garten is another main station located west of the city, which is particularly useful for students at Technische University (TU) and there are a number of underground stations and bus stops near each of Freie University’s (FU) campuses.
Next, you need to find out about the different areas of the city, which can be difficult for students who have never been there before! Thinking back to when I was flat-hunting, it was shocking how little I knew about Berlin; although I was lucky to have found an apartment in a brilliant location, I could have ended up living somewhere I grew to despise. So here are my personal accounts of each district, which may be useful to you as you look for suitable accommodation!
The city centre is a wonderful mix of traditional and modern architecture and holds many of Berlin’s tourist attractions. Simply walk down Unter den Linden and you will pass the monumental Brandenburg Gate, traditional Humboldt University, stunning Berlin Cathedral and a complex of historical museums (known as Museum Island). I must also mention Café Einstein, where you can order a very decent apple strudel (apparently the best in town!).
In the opposite direction are the beautiful Tiergarten Park (which is great for walks and picnics!) and Siegessäule (Victory Column), as well as the corporate area Potsdamer Platz and the famous Kulturforum and Berliner Philharmonie (Berlin’s concert hall).
The point is that there are plenty of places in Mitte to visit, especially for year abroad students interested in the Berlin’s unique history and culture. Typical of any city centre, the cost of living in Mitte is higher than in other districts but are still reasonable in comparison to, for example, London rates. My balcony apartment was situated in an affluent area in Mitte called Wittenbergplatz, which is literally around the corner from Berlin’s answer to Harrods (KaDeWe) and Oxford Street (Kurfürstendamm); the rent was near 700€ per month, which is equivalent to what I was paying for a single room in Whitechapel!
The last thing to mention is that Mitte has two further subdivisions- Tiergarten and Wedding. The great advantage with Wedding is that the accommodation is relatively cheaper and spacious; the down-side, however, is that it is a poor working-class area with quiet streets and unattractive architecture. It may not be the ideal location for your year abroad, and I was actually discouraged by friends (who had already lived in Berlin) and estate agents to avoid looking for properties in the area! Tiergarten, on the other hand, is a great place (…yes, I did live there).
Located in the west of Berlin, Charlottenburg is where much of Berlin’s older generation live and is regarded as the truly wealthy part of the city. It is home to the beautiful Schloss Charlottenburg, former residence of King Friedrich I, and continues to be a popular tourist attraction. Kurfürstendamm (or Ku’Damm for short) and Kantstraβe are the famous high-streets, always filled with traffic and very keen shoppers! Stylish cafés and bars line the pavements, which are still visited regularly by younger Charlottenburg residents, even though the ‘party scene’ is claimed to be in the east of Berlin. Accommodation in this area can be very expensive but since Technische University is in Charlottenburg, many of its students have had to accept the higher rents.
Its labelled as the ‘black sheep’ of West Berlin, due to its divided cultures. Bergmannkiez (west Kreuzberg) is a bourgeois and very green area, which boasts beautiful, traditional architecture.
Around Köttbusser Tor, Görlitzer Park, Schlesisches Tor and Mehringdamm you will witness Kreuzberg’s hippie, punk and colourful cultures, which are celebrated at the ‘Karneval der Kulturen’ (carnival of cultures) every summer. Kreuzberg is also well-known for its street fairs and demonstrations on the yearly May Day holiday, which commemorates the riots that began on 1st May 1987.
Europe’s most famous nightclub, Berghain, is a disused power plant converted into a techno party house, which borders Kreuzberg and Friedrichschain. It is very popular among students and young tourists and has become somewhat notorious due to a very particular bouncer at the entry doors! There are also a number of other warehouse clubs in the vicinity.
Another notable feature is Kreuzberg is the East Side Gallery- a strip of the Berlin Wall where artists have created a montage of powerful graffiti images and quotes. It is definitely worth visiting and the nearest train station is Warschauer Strasse.
Due to its active nightlife and alternative scene, accommodation in Kreuzberg is becoming scarce and increasingly expensive.
...or Prenzl’ Berg for short has been majorly renovated in recent years. Previously home to Berlin’s punks, this area now contains swanky apartments, with architecture that reflects the ‘old Berlin’. The people there are a mix of artsy students and young families. There are also a number of great bars and kitsch cafés to visit my favourite being the ‘Weinerei Forum’ on Fehrbellinerstrasse. It is a wine bar, where you simply pay 2€ for a glass and can sample any (or all) of the types of wines available- before leaving you are required to pay a tip reflecting how much you think the amount of wine you drank would cost. It is great place to socialise with friends and it had a great artsy vibe!
As it is an up-and-coming area, accommodation in Prenzlauer Berg is becoming more expensive. However with frequent online-searching you may be able to find a reasonably-priced room or studio apartment.
Lastly: no matter where you live, be sure to visit Mauerpark, Berlin’s famous flea market. You manage to find many great gifts, vintage clothes & accessories and souvenirs at cheap prices. There is also the famous ‘Bearpit Kareoke Show’ on Sunday afternoons, where you can sing in front of the large crowd- even if you are not prepared to sing it is good fun to watch!
Friedrichshain is definitely another ‘cool’ area in East Berlin, which also offers a range of bars, clubs and cafés (check out Simon-Dach Strasse and Revaler Strasse). Property prices there are relatively cheaper, which motivates many students to reside there.
Depending on where you will be studying in Berlin, other areas may be of interest to you. A few of my friends lived in Neukölln, due to its direct transport links to Alexanderplatz, which is close to Humboldt University. It is the traditionally immigrant area of Berlin but has become more gentrified- I have heard you can also buy really good falafel there! Schöneberg, is a leafy, pleasant area wedged between Kreuzberg and Charlottenburg, filled with charming bourgeois cafés and Altbau (old, traditional architecture).
The best sites are wg-gesucht and immobilienscout24, as they are widely used by Berlin landlords. They both have Facebook pages too, which are useful as they frequently update you on the latest offers. Other options include craigslist, zweitehand and even checking the local newspapers, such as the Berliner Morgenpost and Berliner Zeitung.
On these sites, you will find advertisements of available rooms and be able to contact the owners (usually by e-mail) of the ones you are interested in- sometimes the owners will provide their number, so calling them is highly recommendable!
When e-mailing owners, consider it as a personal statement- you should explain why you are staying in Berlin and for how long; what your interests and hobbies are; whether you can speak German or are a complete novice and even send a passport photo of yourself (to assure them that you are a real person). Also bear in mind that the accommodation may no longer be available or the owner never replies to your e-mails- it happens, so make sure you give yourself enough time (I would recommend a couple of months) and keep sending those applications.
If you are successful, an owner may want to interview you by telephone, skype, or (when possible) face-to-face. Do not get too nervous as they are interested in you and want to find out more about your personality. Sometimes the competition for a room may just be too fierce, and you get rejected after an interview- but do not get too disheartened because in time you will find somewhere to live!
Also here are some German terms you need to get to grips with when using the above sites:
WG/Wohngemeinschaft: flat share
Wohnfläche: Living space
Verfügbar/frei ab: available from
teilmöbiliert: partially furnished
Miete: rent (kaltmiete is the net rent, warmmiete includes the cost of heating and other additional costs)
Vermieter: landlord, lessor
Nebenkosten: additional costs
Beware of the Scammers!
Rental scammers take advantage of people’s desperation and inexperience in finding properties abroad- they may contact you but here are some tips on how to avoid them:
If they have an e-mail address very different to their name
At first I thought nothing of it, but as more and more people with rather odd e-mail addresses contacted me, it was more than a coincidence; they were not genuine people.
If they ask you to pay a ‘reservation fee’ before you have viewed the flat
You must never give money to anyone before you have visited the flat of interest; the alleged owner will justify this payment as a ‘reservation fee’ for the keys or the costs for sending the key to you, as they are ‘working abroad’ and cannot personally show you the flat. The method of payment suggested by them is usually via Western Union- so do not get fooled, this is probably a scam.
If you want to check whether the owner is a rental scammer, have a look on wohnungsbetrug: it provides you with a list of detected rental scammers and even shows you the chain of e-mails sent by them (both in German and English).
Going through an agency?
In my case, I just wasn’t getting anywhere with finding a flat share and by the time I was very nearly scammed, I decided enough was enough - I began to contact estate agencies.
The great advantage with agencies is that they will give you the opportunity to look at available accommodation properly, send you a legitimate rental contract and also be of assistance throughout your stay (i.e. you will not get scammed nor do you have to worry about when you will receive the keys, or the real condition of the property!).
The reason why going through an agency is usually the last resort is because it is very costly- most will contact you about the more expensive rooms or apartments in the city. In Berlin it is also the norm that, once you sign a rental contract, you must pay two month’s rent to the agency in commission and pay one month’s rent to the landlord as a refundable safety deposit.
Nevertheless think about registering with a few agencies- they might be a lifesaver if you really struggle to find accommodation through other means.
Moving to Germany- Anmeldung bei der Meldbehörde
The last (but certainly not least!) important point to remember about moving to Germany is the ‘Anmeldung’. This means registering your residency to the authorities, which you are required to do by law within 7 days (but in Berlin the time limit is 2 weeks) of arriving at your accommodation. As an ERASMUS student you must complete your ‘Anmeldung’ as German host universities require it as part of the enrolment process.
You will need to visit a Bürgeramt (citizen centre) and you can find your local one here. Using this site, you are also able to arrange an appointment in advance, which will save you from waiting in the typically long queues! However, if you are unable to book an appointment, make sure to get to the Bürgeramt as early as possible.
For the ‘Anmeldung’ you will be receive a form to fill out your personal details- whilst this will always be provided at the Bürgeramt your host university may also send you one by e-mail. An advisor will then review your form and give you a certificate confirming your residence in Berlin, Germany!
I should also mention that when you leave Germany, you must notify the authorities (‘Abmeldung’). The procedure is exactly the same as the ‘Anmeldung’, but sadly your residency certificate is destroyed L
So, that is my account in finding accommodation in Berlin! The key points are: remember to give yourself enough time, personalise your applications to landlords/owners, try not to get scammed and get your ‘Anmeldung’ sorted once you have moved into your accommodation! Good luck and enjoy your time in Berlin!
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