Did you know that when you move to Berlin, you will need to figure out some of the terms and conditions very quickly, i.e. kalt/warm, Provisionsfrei, EBK (Einbaukuche), etc. Renting in Germany is very different from the rest of the world. We found most of the flats on a website called Immobilienscout 24 but be prepared to have your translators ready coz it’s in German. I found it really crazy that as a renter, I (not the landlord) have to pay 2.38% est. of the monthly rent to the agent/realtor (this is in addition to the rent and security deposit!) and if you are not careful you might end up renting a flat with no kitchen at all. (You’ll have to install one yourself, sink, stove, cupboards and all!) So I thought I would write a post that other expats, who have just moved to Berlin or plan to move to Berlin, will find helpful.
Before I start, it is good to know that we were specifically looking for an apartment, not a house. Off the top of my head, this was because:
- We wanted to be nearer TD’s place of work and easily commute
- We wanted to be one floor up (“1st floor” in Berlin) the ground floor (“E”) so that we aren’t responsible for shovelling snow in winter. Usually if you are on the E floor, you not only have to shovel your snow, you are also responsible for accidents and people slipping in front of your flat.
- Getting a flat in between two flats (one below and one on top) reduces heating costs because you are also warmed by your neighbours heating.
- We didn’t want to have to maintain a garden/lawn.
- Being in an apartment means you deposit your trash in the common bins. If you are in a house, you need to provide for your own bins and you need to take care of them (The problem of rodents is not ideal for me).
GREEN BERLIN IN SPRING-SUMMER
We arrived in Berlin supposedly in the Summer, though it was still a bit chilly, and it was glorious timing for flat or apartment-hunting. The city was in full bloom! Walking around and exploring different areas by foot was the perfect way to get to know Berlin a little bit more and decide which part of Berlin we wanted to be a part of. Each part of town has it’s own character and this can be seen even in the style and dress of the areas inhabitants.
Another thing that I’ve grown some appreciation for is graffiti. Before living in Jakarta, I would have told you outright that I hate graffiti. But I’ve come realized that some cities do have that character that makes graffiti fit in just right. Berlin is definitely one of them – vibrant, artsy and edgy.
MITTE – CENTRAL BERLIN
Though Industrial, Mitte has some green areas too. One thing I found really interesting is that Mitte is home to Berlin’s own city bear. Schnute is about 32 years old and lives in a moated enclosure, next to a playground in Köllnischer Park, with her daughter Maxi (27 years old est.) The bear is a symbol of the city of Berlin and I was really really tempted to get this 100+ years old renovated flat right in front of the park! I mean how many people can say they have bears in their neighbourhood park?
One thing to note about Berlin is that different areas have very different characteristics. Not only do they look different, but the vibe and people are quite different too. So we were advised to look in areas depending on what we were looking for. i.e. Do you wanna be surrounded by all-organic, vegan hipsters? Live around preppy, rich old people? Do you want graffiti and artsy/musician neighbours? etc. We didn’t understand this at first, but once we got around Berlin, we started to understand. It really is so surprising that a couple of train stops away and the areas can look and feel entirely different. I haven’t been here that long, so I’ll let this articles explain the different areas better:
You may want to explore the areas yourself though, because change is happening FAST. One area might be a complete dump today but in a few months it can be the perfect neighborhood for you. Gentrification is happening all over. Cheap slummy neighborhoods are turning into beautiful development and rents are rising fast.
ALTBAU VS NEUBAU
We saw some new and really modern apartments called “neubau” (meaning new build), but we also saw some turn of the 19th century “altbaus” (old build). These flats generally have very high ceilings (4 meters!), massive old doors, parquet flooring and feature fantastic stucco ceilings. Some apartents we saw have all this in their original-but-restored glory – amazing!
Massive double doors Original chimney feature kept as decor Original 19th century parquet flooringbefore restoration of the parquet
turn of the 19th century fixtures The doors are so high that special locks are needed to support the whole frameSome amazing facades that one can expect in Europe
The neubaus usually feature lower ceilings, smaller doors, heated flooring and more modern finishes. These also have newer kitchens that have dishwashers and bigger refrigerators.
Floor heating means no more unsightly heater radiators and a more even heating of the room. Very important for a cold place like Berlin.
One apartment had a large wrap around balcony & floor to ceiling windows.New kitchens with hidden dishwashers & fridge doors newer bathrooms
A 2 room apartment would usually means that there is 1 bedroom and 1 living room. So be careful when reading the number of rooms. That is not the number of BED rooms, but it includes living/dining room as well.
Having only ONE full bathroom. Seriously! Most of the flats we saw had only one full bathroom or 1.5 (1 full bath + 1 Wash Closet or WC) at the most for up to 3 or 4 rooms. (Again, they don’t differentiate between bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms here, it’s all counted as a room). We saw about 20 flats in 3 weeks and only 2 flats with 2 full bathrooms (toilet + shower/bath = 1 full bathroom). This pictured below, claimed to have TWO full baths, but in reality it was only one because they devided a full bathroom into two. 1/2 bathroom (shower + bathtub + washer/dryer connections) and a separate Wash Closet or WC (toilet and a sink). Most of the bathrooms are also not en suite, because it is shared by everyone including guests. This is something that we needed to get used to because in Asia there is a 1:1 ratio with bedrooms.
Courtyards, Sorting Trash & Bicycle Parking
Usually apartments have courtyards with some greenery. Usually this is where the different colored trash bins are placed. Sorting trash is a must here in Berlin, to avoid being fined. (I will do a more detailed post on this). Sometimes apartment dwellers can park their bikes in the courtyard too. This is good because when you park your bike outside, there is the possibility of theft.
EBK = Einbaukuche
This means “Kitchen is included” (stove, cabinets, fridge, sink). Without EBK in the description, it means that the kitchen is an empty room with pipes and wires sticking out of the wall! This also means that you will have to install the entire kitchen, then have to remove it afterwards and restore it to it’s original condition, unless you can arrange for your landlord to buy the kitchen from you afterwards.
Lighting fixtures not included
Checking on the elevator’s capacity and size is important if you have a shipment coming. For our shipper, Santa Fe, the cost of delivery was included in the original quoteup to the 1st floor. Each additional floor up, would cost more per cubic meter of belongings, unless there was a sizeable elevator that can accommodate our belongings. Unfortunately most elevators we saw were tiny. Some can only accommodate 2 people, and would definitely not be able to carry up our heavy teak furniture from Indonesia.
Keller or Cellar
Another plus is the presence of a Keller or Cellar in the basement. This is great for storing seasonal decor and storage. Also stuff that are only appropriate for the tropics that we plan on bringing home with us. It’s also a great place to store wine! We saw some really old, dark and dirty ones. But this one below was a sample of a spacious one in a new building’s basement.
Tiefgarage = Underground parking included
Most of the flats we saw did not have basement parking, but street parking. This is important to consider if buying a car. Street parking is risky because you don’t know if you will have one when you need it, and you still have to pay a fee. Basement parking can be included in the cost of the rent. Separately it can cost between 60 – 80 Euros.
Spülm. = Spülmaschine = Dishwasher
This is one fantastic thing that is very common in Europe. It cuts down the time you need to do dishes and is energy and water efficient, especially if you had a party and there are many dishes to wash.
Storage / Closets
Most of the flats we found were unfurnished and didn’t even have closets. You will be lucky to find a walk in closet (like below right), but usually you have to purchase your own closets from IKEA. However, if the flat was EBK (Kitchen included), usually there were some amazing storage solutions that maximized the small space. Check out the cool corner storage solutions below.
WaMa = Waschmaschine
If WaMa is included you’re in luck. Berliners usually don’t use dryers because the air is so dry that air drying is easy. If not usually there is a provision for a washer or washer & dryer in the bathroom. This makes it a bit cramped. There are some really tiny, but high tech German washers that can fit in these spaces though.
We brought our own stackable washer & dryer from Jakarta. I love having a dryer because I can wash my own duvets and curtains instead of sending it to the laundromat. The downside was we were limited with the flats that we could take. Some really just couldn’t fit our washer and dryer.
They are very conscious of water consumption in Berlin and the newer places will have the water meter visible so you can see your consumption. In older place (like our flat) we don’t know how much our water consumption is. At the end of the year we will find out if the monthly fee we were charged was enough, or if we need to pay more or get back some of our money. The same thing applies to the money we pay monthly for heating. These are related to the warm and kalt costs. Make sure to clarify with your potential landlord/agent on these costs.
A FEW OTHER THINGS…
- Subletting a fully furnished apartment is a good option, if a) you aren’t shipping a ton of stuff in or don’t plan on buying furniture and appliances and b) you don’t know how long you are staying and don’t want the long term commitment. These places can even have internet, phone line, etc. already included in the rent.
- As much as possible look for Provisionfrei so as to save on extra cost or 2.38 months worth of rent to be exact.
- You’ll find apartments that are still being remodelled or some that are staged, but don’t necessarily include the beautiful items you see.
- Don’t be tempted because of the good-looking property agents. LOL!
- Berlin is very pet friendly, but there are a few that will say no to pets.
- Once you like an apartment, there is a standard German form wherein you express your interest in the flat. Submit this and some other requirements ASAP. We weren’t asked to submit everything below (we present different docs as diplos), but this is a list of possible requirements that can be asked of you.
- a copy of your passport
- a letter from your HR department confirming your income and your contract details
- copies of your last three pay slips
- a copy of your most recent bank statement
- a letter from German background-screening company SCHUFA
- a letter from your current landlord confirming that you have no rent arrears
- an income tax statement in case you work as a freelancer
Hand them over to the landlord/agent and fingers-crossed they will take your offer. Sometimes you will go to a flat viewing with 10 other interested people. This is normal. Great apartments are usually snapped up very fast.
- Make sure to check the nearest modes of transport. Being right beside an U-Banh station is a dream. Remember a 10 minute walk in summer is very different from a 10 minute walk in below freezing winter.
UPDATE: After a year in Berlin, I realised that it would also be good to keep these in mind when flat-hunting:
- Ask landlord if you need to repaint after your stay. Normally in Berlin you need to repaint if you stay for more than an agreed number of years.
- Go to each room and check if there is mobile signal in your phone. It is a hassle to live in a nice place but have no signal. I know people who rely on FaceTime to get in touch with friends/family outside because they can’t call with their mobile. These friends are both using Vodafone. I don’t recommend this service provider because it has very bad signal, in places where O2 has signal.
- Check water pressure in all faucets. Ask also if the water heaters are digital. This is ideal because it keeps the heat of water consistent, is more energy friendly and also allows you to get the right temperature of water without wasting too much. So better for your water bill too. Our water heater went kaput after 6 months and our landlord had it changed to a new one. We forgot to ask her to get a digital one again and now the water suddenly gets cold or so hot it scalds us. We need to turn it off and on then wait for the right mix again. Very wasteful.
- Make sure to get your own insurance, which protects you when for some reason while you are staying there is any damage to the flat i.e. flooding damages floorboards. This is different from the insurance that the landlord has on the flat itself.
- Ask your landlord for the contact number of the contractor he or she uses for repairs. If you can use the same one for repairs, it would be great because then the contractor will now where the wires are, how strong a wall is and if you can drill anything there without hitting a wire or pipe.
Compared to Jakarta, I find that finding a flat is less of a nightmare here in Berlin. Renting in Jakarta was very stressful for us, with barely any options. We had many more options looking for an apartment Berlin, because of how pet-friendly landlords are. In Jakarta, if you have a dog, your only real option is a house. Also I like the straightforward negotiations with Germans. They say yes or no and they stick to the agreement. Our landlord in Jakarta would say yes, change his mind or fail to do a good job of what was agreed upon. I absolutely love the apartment we found here in Berlin, and plan to write more about it in the future!
I hope you found my blog post useful!
Please take all of this with a grain of salt as this entire post is based on my own personal experience and research. Others can have a completely different experience, depending on their requirements and budget.
Resources of useful information in this post below (but please note the dates they were published).
- Beware of Bears in Berlin
- The Bear, the Symbol of Berlin
- Moving to Berlin – The Needle Guide 2012
- Advice on Moving to Berlin
- A Guide to Renting in Berlin
- 10 Tips for moving to Berlin
- Back to Berlin on House Hunters International
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