Finding a student flat in Berlin

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

I have been posting only scarcely lately. The reason is that I was trying to find some form of permanent accommodation in Berlin where I could live together with my girlfriend during our studies (we will both study a master’s degree programme in mathematics; I at the Berlin Mathematical School, she at Technische Universität Berlin).

It seemed hard to find accommodation without actually being in Berlin, as most landlords require a personal meeting before even offering you to sign a contract. Thus, we decided to pay for a two-week language course (taking place from Monday, September 17, to Friday, September 28) that included accommodation. Although we registered quite late for the course, the staff of the language school was very friendly and the accommodation was ready in time (the accommodation was actually from Sunday till Saturday two weeks later).

We arrived on Sunday, September 16. Everything went OK, our accommodation was ready, and we just started unpacking and took a stroll through Berlin. On Monday morning we had our first (C1 level) German classes. In the afternoon we went to a shop and bought the LIDL SIM card to be able to connect to the Internet also from our ‘home’ (where no Internet connection was available). There were some issues with the activation of the SIM card, but from Tuesday on we have had an Internet access. And this is when our story begins.

We have immediately started to read the entries in studenten-wg.de. We responded to the interesting ones, usually asking whether the flat would be suitable for a couple. Already on Wednesday we got the first response offering us a meeting on Sunday. We accepted, but continued to respond to advertisements that looked interesting. However, we usually got no response or a negative response (such as that the flat is not suitable for two people); the only positive one lead to another meeting on Monday. The flat we visited on Sunday would have been ideal for our purposesquite inexpensive, large enough for both of us and close to Technische Universität. Unfortunately, the girl living there was not the owner but only a tenant. She gave us an email contact to the company arranging the contract, to which we replied immediately. Since most companies require some proof of income, I attached a photo of my scholarship letter of award to the email… Nevertheless, we have never received any response from the company, even a negative one.

On Monday, we started to be a little nervous. We had already lowered our criteria somewhat (i.e. we started to respond even to advertisements that didn’t look so good) but we still didn’t get many (even negative) responses. The meeting we had on Monday was a public one, i.e. we expected more people to come there. What we did not expect, however, was an enormous crowd of at least 50 people waiting in front of the building. The girl, who was, as in the previous case, only a tenant, gave us a paper form which was to be filled in and sent to some real estate agency. With the form, the following documents were also to be provided: The proof of sufficiently high income during the last three months (I had had almost no income during that time), a statement from the previous landlord about punctual rent payment (I had lived with my parents until that time), and SCHUFA (a German document containing information about your former ‘financial history’ in Germany; as this was the first time we were here, ours would be empty and would have absolutely no information value).

At this point, we realized that if there were a similarly vast demand for all the flats we saw on the website (and there probably was), there was absolutely no chance of getting one, as we simply could not provide the documents which half of the other applicants certainly possessed. So we gave up the idea of finding a flat and started replying to every form of accommodation available, from various websites. As we were getting almost no responses or mostly negative ones, we became more and more desperate and started answering almost everything, within seconds or minutes since the advertisement appeared (we have set up an email alert on several different servers and had a mobile connection always available). After sending perhaps more than a hundred emails, we finally got a positive response on Wednesday, thanks to a contact my girlfriend had found on the website of Studentenwerk (an organization which takes care of university canteens and also provides some accommodation, but its offer of accommodation is very limited).

On Wednesday afternoon we went to the place. It is a private accommodation intended only for students. The rooms are quite small, toilets and showers are shared by the whole floor (for ladies and gentlemen separately, of course), the kitchen is also common (with three sinks, three stoves and three tables), and the rent is quite high (EUR 450 per month for a 19m2 room for two people with a fridge, wardrobe, double bed, two chairs and two desks). Also, the surroundings look somewhat suspicious; it probably wouldn’t be very safe to stroll through the streets at night.

Be that as it may, we desperately needed some place to live because our temporary accommodation was going to end on Saturday. We had got some other positive responses, but all were of the kind “maybe we could get it, but God knows when a contract would be signed and whether we would even get that far”. Since we urgently needed at least some accommodation, we have signed the contract with this private student residence on Thursday (September 27) and moved in on Saturday (September 29).

Finally, to be fair, I should mention that the place has also some positives. The good thing about it is that it is only about 50 meters apart from an U-Bahn station (one of the Berlin (mostly) underground railway systems), about 50 meters from a huge Kaufland building (a German supermarket providing almost all kinds of food and drugstore products), and about 50 meters from a huge Poco building (Poco is a German brand selling furniture and household equipment). We are also allowed to buy our own furniture and household appliances (except stoves), so especially the Poco store has proven itself very useful.

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