You’d think getting accepted into one of Berlin’s world-renowned universities would be cause for celebration – and it often is, until it becomes clear that it’s time to find accommodation. . Generally, the search for accommodation, whether it is a Wohngemeinschaft (WG) or studio, is an exciting undertaking, with all sorts of possibilities for a new lifestyle and new connections looming on the horizon. However, this is usually not the case in Berlin.
Berlin, May 15, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) – The housing situation in Berlin has become a crisis over the past decade, thanks in large part to an expanding population. A growing metropolis that was once renowned for its affordable living has now seen a huge resurgence in popularity, and housing demand is rapidly outstripping supply, pushing prices out of control. As always, low-income social groups are the most affected by this plight, a considerable part of them being the students of the more than 30 universities and colleges in Berlin. We reach out to some of Berlin’s current undergraduate students to learn more about the range of housing-search experiences in the city.
The first impression that most students have of the Berlin real estate market is through WG-Gesucht, where many young people are looking to band together and rent group apartments to reduce the rent. Although it seems relatively ingenious and well organized, a friend of mine described the situation as quite hopeless: “Zimmer is jetzt besetzt. Old Erfolg.(“The room is occupied now. I wish you success.”) – my most received message. My experience of finding apartments in Berlin has been hours and hours of mindlessly skimming through apps like this and applying myself to anything with a roof and a door only to receive no response. Ghosting in Berlin is not only experienced through dating apps, but also in finding apartments. It’s fair to say that’s the experience most people I know have had with WG-Gesucht.
Sometimes it’s worse than not responding or not being selected. Desperation seems to lead people to scams when looking for accommodation in Berlin. Because people know they have to sort out a place to live pretty quickly, they fall in love with quick fixes and super low prices that you just don’t see here. Plus, scammers know they can prey on those vulnerable tenants who are entering the market for the first time. A student I spoke to told me about a scam she and her roommates came across while researching. His experience was that scammers didn’t really ask for proper documents, just passports, and oddly emphasized trust and favors. Fortunately, she realized what was happening before it was too late, but sadly, stories like this are all too common. In addition to the scam problem, someone even told me about racism in the selection process. This student suspected that her Persian surname had played a role in her being unjustifiably rejected from many apartments, despite growing up in Germany.
strokes of luck
Due to hardships like these, students end up being pushed into overpriced corporate-owned housing in the center of town. Many of these rooms are marketed specifically to students, advertising luxuries like en-suite bathrooms and on-site gyms. Most people I’ve spoken to, however, don’t want to live like this as a student – sometimes they just had to resort to it because it’s the only place to go. Another common workaround I’ve seen is to sublet. Although it works for a few months, it still means people have to go back to the drawing board a few months later. Most people I know who have done this have had to move at least twice in the last eight months.
It’s not necessarily all bad, however. Among the negative experiences, some more reassuring stories arise. Fortunately, I can report that I am one of the lucky few who have had relatively easy long-term accommodation here. My search began on Facebook, where I came across an equally confused international student making a general request for advice and offers. In the comments section, my housing agency had responded saying they could provide exactly the facilities he was looking for, with Anmeldung (registration) making appointments, English-speaking employees, well-located properties and above all, not exorbitant rental prices. According to their website, the effect of the housing crisis on international students is why they started their business in the first place. All in all, it’s been relatively ideal, although having to beware of scams made it seem too good to be true at first!
Among the other people I interviewed, one particularly appreciated his owner: “We know that we can count on him and he has been very generous. Helping fix stuff, bringing our post to our door, whatever we ask for. She knows it from her beautician’s brother in Poland, and attributes her luck with this property (after many fruitless searches) to “the initial trust based on our common nationality”. Another friend acknowledges that finding an apartment that was “love at first sight” for a reasonable price was lucky, and like me, he was initially worried that it was a scam. He even managed to extend his contract and finds the proximity of the apartment to the U-Bahn (underground) to be a great advantage. He had no problems using “HousingAnywhere”, but he is aware that it is not an entirely foolproof tool.
Ultimately, it’s obvious that the experiences of finding student accommodation in Berlin are mixed, and it would be unfair to label them all extremely inconvenient. However, it should be noted that many of the positive experiences are, as noted, either matters of complete good fortune or an extensive personal or cultural network. And that’s without taking into account that many people who have finally found something that suits their needs have already been through a lot, such as scams, overpriced rents and unreasonable landlords.
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It is unfortunate that students have to experience this inaccessibility given their position as sources of income, youth and expertise in Berlin. Fortunately, however, most students who choose to move here know what they’re getting into and, for the most part, are at least partially supported by well-to-do parents or relatives. For some people, however, this financial stability simply does not exist. The city’s student housing crisis is indicative of a wider social and economic problem affecting long-time Berliners, workers and immigrants, and it is important that this issue continues to receive the attention it deserves.