I arrived in Berlin some six months ago. From that point until now, I have lived in three different parts of the city and I’ve finally found my permanent nest in the fourth one. I want to share some things about this entire journey, from my Airbnb to this flat, and retrospect some interesting experiences and observations I had along the way.
So yes, that’s four moving-ins that we’re talking about in the span of 6 months. Four times I had to pack, carry, unpack, repack my 40-ish kg mini-world. To be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy any of the shifting experience at all, possibly because I was doing it using public transport and possibly because those aren’t enjoyable experiences in general.
That said, I really loved all of those flats and their respective neighborhoods. Berlin has many colors, and you only see them when you live in its different districts. We’ll get into some of those later on in this post, but first let’s start with the search process itself.
In Berlin, there’s a shortage of apartments to live in, and an abundance of people on the hunt for one. It is almost like searching for a job. You show up for viewings at the time decided by the owner of the flat. First thing you notice is, especially if it is a half decent flat, there are a dozen more people wishing to get the same flat. The owners (or people appointed by them) judge if you can be the ideal tenant (based on many things, not the least of which are your payslips and SCHUFA scores). After the viewing, you go home and wish you get accepted by the almig…umm the landlord. Repeat this several times a day for a couple of months.
I just couldn’t stand this entire process. I went for a couple of listings, but gave up. Too much work. For that reason, all of the previous apartments I’ve lived in were some sort of referral homes. And that’s one big reason it took me so long.
Getting over previous flats
What I found surprising was how quickly I got over the previous flats, even though while living there I really wanted to make them my own. Every apartment, except for the first one, was handed over to me with some dangling hope that it would be signed over to me. And I would really get attached to the apartment, only to later find out that due to so and so reason, I won’t be getting it. While that’s heartbreaking in the moment, it was interesting to retrospect on how adaptive our brains are. Couple of days after moving in, I would just forget about the previous place and start over again.
Starting over again was a very typical process; finding a nearby supermarket, finding restaurants, exploring the area for parks and places of interest during the weekends. A week later, everything is in autopilot; from commuting to work to refilling groceries. Also interesting is how cryptic a new place seems in terms of streets and direction, but a month later I could really get around the neighborhood without even thinking. Yet another proof of the power of repetition.
Amenities and flat size
I was searching for a flat for myself. I preferred to not live in a shared flat (or a WG – Wohngemeinschaft as it is called in German). An important thing to note is that many flats come empty, that is, without any fittings. Not even a kitchen is fitted. I wanted a somewhat furnished flat as that made more sense economically. Furnishing usually involves a bed, cabinet, fitted kitchen with fridge and other kitchen stuff, washer. Dishwasher in rare cases. That’s more than sufficient to get started.
Flat sizes are measured in square meters (1 sqm is 10.something sq feet). They usually have one or two rooms (zimmers in German, excluding kitchen and bathroom). The flats in my budget were quite diverse, from 25 sqm one room to 65 sqm 2.5 room ones depending on the neighborhood and public transportation options. I decided to deprioritize size and focus on furnishing in the flat and being close to work and city center.
This is my favorite part of the search: Being able to experience different neighborhoods. As I mentioned, Berlin offers many shades of itself if you move to different districts in the city. The people change, and so does the food and the way the buildings look. I was fortunate enough to live in both east and west Berlin. Over the past six months, I lived in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Mitte-Prenzlauerberg and now Mitte.
Friedrichshain was the first. Where I lived, it was very silent. Not many stores or restaurants. It was an ideal place to live once you’ve been in the hustle and bustle of the city for years. For me, it was a bit depressing, especially after coming from India. I didn’t explore much of it, but now that I’ve spent sometime here, I can see it had a lot of options for food and other stuff.
Bergmannkiez – Kreuzberg was next. This is a fancy area, very touristy but still good to live in. Very diverse crowd with many cultures living together. There is this street called Bergmannstrasse that had great food options. Tempelhof airfield was nearby and this was the time I got into outdoor activities and hanging out with my colleagues and their friends. There are nice Biergartens (Beer gardens) that people go to to meet friends and play indoor games. Tempelhofer Feld is still my favourite place in Berlin.
Third was Mitte-Prenzlauerberg area. This is a upmarket locality with nice cafes and cake places. I didn’t quite like the food there (think bland food, loads of salad and sprouts. In short, way too healthy) but I liked the neighborhood and people in general. This was also on the same street as Mauer Park where I’d spend a lot of time over the weekends.
Fourth and current place is in the heart of Mitte, literally meaning center in German. Nothing special, but very center. Around a kilometer from Alexanderplatz and my office. Now I can reach work in less than 10 minutes, which is nice. Coincidentally, this is almost exactly in the middle of all the previous places and I can go to all of my favorite parks and snack bars from the previous places easily. As a bonus, I can see the Fernsehturm right from my living room!
If I had to start over again, I’d do a couple of things differently. I’d probably put in a bit more effort into the hunt as opposed to completely relying on connections all the time (which is fine, but seriously limits the scope of your search). Facebook groups and sites like ebay-kleinanzeigen.de are good places to search, and much less commercialized compared to immobilienscout24 where each listing has dozens of takers.
But when you think about it, how else would I have gotten the experience of living in those many different areas right after coming here, within six months. Back when I used to look at Berlin’s map, I would wonder how long it would take to have a general intuition of where everything was, the way I had for Mumbai. This entire apartment search debacle fast forwarded this process and I know parts of the city that I’d have otherwise not known.
While writing this post, I realized that by wishing for things to work out well right away, we actually miss out on a lot of interesting experiences. Was it inconvenient to miss the connecting flight and luggage on my way to Berlin or not finding an apartment for six months straight? No doubt it was. But looking back at those experiences, would I trade them for a smoother ride? definitely not.
Have a good week ahead and thank you for reading!