A picture of Berlin

E&M author and Editor in Chief Fatlind Duraku addresses the housing crisis in Berlin by engaging with the capital’s residents and asking them about their experiences.

In an earlier article our author Maria Taskinen covered the housing problem in Amsterdam by interviewing fellow students, so I reached out to people in Berlin (especially students) and asked them the same questions to try and compare and contrast the extent of the crisis in these two European metropoles.

When I moved  to Berlin in 2022 for an internship, I was already somewhat aware of the housing problem, but I had no idea how serious the situation was. Luckily, I already had friends in Berlin, and their network helped me navigate the challenges. For the first three weeks, I stayed with one of my closest friends, constantly looking to find a solution for the months that would follow. I posted everywhere and did whatever I could, from asking for tips and leads on Facebook and Instagram, to registering myself on numerous real estate websites. The last one was a bit tricky, because they wanted proof of a high income – which I as an intern could not provide – and required numerous bureaucratic procedures which I found unnecessary. Most of the offers I got were short-term and generally without the possibility of signing the lease under my name, which would offer me the possibility to register the apartment as my address, a legal obligation in Germany for people who move and settle there. Despite these hurdles, I still considered myself lucky because I found a room that was subleased for three months through a friend. Then, before that contract ended I was able to find another apartment, only for the owner to inform me last minute that she had changed her mind. But once again, friends came to my rescue, and I was able to find an apartment.

But not everyone can get lucky in Berlin. Everyday, I see people on social media urgently seeking accommodation, finding it impossible to find something with a registration possibility and long-term, while the prices skyrocket.

Attempts to find solutions to the situation have been many. For instance, in an interview with the magazine Exberliner, the campaign group Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen or Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. thoroughly explained a referendum that was held in 2021, and that passed with a 59,1% majority, whose main purpose is to deprivatize large swaths of Berlin and returning those buildings to public ownership. While a final decision has not been made on this by public institutions, the group maintains a positive outlook of enacting this new law and urges people in Berlin to cooperate.

What is the craziest housing situation you have experienced while living in Berlin?

Sara: When I just moved to Berlin, after one year of living in Frankfurt, I lost my passport and other important belongings. Maybe my first experience in the city was very impacted by that event, but it was indeed the craziest housing situation I experienced in nine years of living here. Having no money and or means of identification, I was lucky to find some compatriots, who welcomed me in their room in a refugee camp, for about two weeks. In the meantime, I looked for a place to stay and I luckily found one quickly, through my friend in Studienkolleg. She was living in a house where a girl had just moved out and I could take her room. Just like that, I moved into a small apartment, with fourteen people and thirty cats. Long story short, it was messy, chaotic, absurd, smelly, but also a lot of fun. And too pricey for what it was. After that, I needed to move many times, which was very frustrating and exhausting.

Nils:I really have lived in only one flat. I felt at home there for many reasons, but the state of the flat and the relationship with the landlord were definitely some of the challenges I faced. We had mice for years that we couldn’t get rid of, every item in the flat needed to be repaired or replaced, but the landlord (multi-owner living in Australia) would obviously just do the bare minimum. It all kind of exploded during the inflation period when we had to pay thousands of euros for gas (mostly the result of broken heaters and bad isolation: we never used less gas than this winter). On top of this, the landlord decided “very legally” to raise the rent and finally kicked us out when we contested the increase after seeing a lawyer. We could have legally fought back (some friends, in similar situations, won the cases!), but the years of being tired of begging for things we were actually entitled to have made us give up, and we had to clean and leave the flat on a two-month notice.

Saba: I went to view a flat with a huge line and about 30 people inside coming and going (open viewing). The flat was kinda cute, but you could see there had been no renovations done for many years. The rent was cheap considering the high prices in Berlin, but considering the condition of the house I wouldn’t say it was all that cheap. I ended up getting the flat, however, the owner increased the rent each time he saw the possibility arise.

Have you gotten used to your living situation in the city, or are you still finding it abnormal?

Sara:Now, I am comfortable with my living situation in Berlin, because I have lived in the same house for five years with my boyfriend, I don’t share my space with people I don’t know (which can be uncomfortable at times) and I live in a neighbourhood that I enjoy a lot.

Nils: It is pretty hard to get used to it as it seems to be more and more complicated to live around here. You seem to find a compromise with a crappy situation that felt unfair some weeks ago, and then it gets even worse. I’m speaking about personal experiences, but the market in itself gets more pricey, crowded, and out of touch with human reality, so both are kinda linked, especially if you wanna leave your lousy situation and find a new flat – the general state of Berlin’s housing market makes you think twice about it. Also, if we want things to change, anger and finding things abnormal are very valuable feelings, so I encourage all of us to keep feeling it this way.

Saba: I have accepted the fact that it is what it is. I think finding a flat is not easy in any other big city. I think what makes the housing situation in Berlin different from other big cities is the fact that if someone finds a flat here, they never cancel their lease again and decide to sublet it. Whereas in other big cities like Paris or New York, you see that the lease is cancelled frequently and fewer people keep their flat and sublet it for the next two-hundred generations.

What advice would you give to newcomers to the city regarding housing?

Sara: I really don’t know if I can give good advice regarding housing in Berlin. I don’t think there is an easier or better way. But I’m sure a lot of people can find their spot here. All I can say is, I hope you enjoy the surprise.

Nils: I don’t have a magical solution to find a flat but I guess talk about it frequently to your Berlin network, as the housing platforms are usually overcrowded. Paradoxically, you don’t know that many people who are “in” the flat market when you arrive in the city. Consider living in other areas or situations than those you set your mind to, even if you should remember that you have as many rights as people who have lived there for years, and are native Berliners, Germans, etc, and should be able to decide where and how you want to live. And as soon as you get a flat, get registered with a Mieterverein, because it is more than likely that your landlord will try to violate your tenants’ rights.

Saba:I don’t think you can give good guidance because there is no good advice for this housing situation, but I think one crucial thing I can say is that you spread the word that you’re looking for a flat. Tell your friends they should tell their friends. In my opinion, that’s the easiest way to find something fast.

Amidst the growing housing crisis all over the continent, even more young people are finding it difficult to establish themselves in the city. On November 16, 2023, the Evangelical Academy of Berlin is hosting a bar-camp with the motto “More than just a roof over the head”, addressing the difficulties and questions of young individuals regarding the housing problem in Berlin. 

Contrary to common belief, Berlin, known to be expensive, results to be much cheaper than its repute according to a recent study by the IW Cologne and the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development focusing on the cost of living across Germany.

High prices, inconsiderate landlords, no registration possibility and mice, amongst other things, may await your new life in Berlin. But as Sara put it, we hope you enjoy the surprise.

Featured picture by author.

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