From House to House: Being a Constant Nomad in Berlin

photo: Alex Alvisi / CC

Somewhere among the many idiomatic expressions that you may encounter in Germany there’s this one that translates to “not have all your cups in the cupboard”. Its meaning is supposed to convey the notion that the said person is a bit weird, and both this and the literally meaning apply to a lot of Berliners I know. In fact, these two characteristics seem to be connected.

It is indeed hard to remain a calm and collected person when you are in a constant state of uncertainty about your flat, let alone the condition of your crockery if you happen to possess some. In Berlin, someone is always hunting – and the reasons vary tremendously. Some have had their contracts suddenly terminated, some seek cheaper rent, others cannot stand their flatmates. You just can’t prepare to avoid all of the possible housing disasters – even if you resolve on sticking with your new place at literally all costs – you still may end up having to send out endless e-mails via wg-gesucht.

photo: Sascha Pohflepp / CC

I arrived in Berlin a year ago and since then, I’ve moved four times. Each of those was backed up with a different motivation – I’ve already been abruptly broken up with, tried to escape very creepy flatmates (who may not have realized I’m gone up to this day), and decided that anything further east than Frankfurter Allee is so far the distance makes me feel like I might as well live in Poland.

But thinking about the stories I’ve heard, I still consider myself lucky. I’ve known at least two guys terrorized by their OCD-like female German flatmates who’ve had issues with people visiting them. I’ve also heard of someone who’d been living in a place for a week just to hear they have to be out by the end of the month, and then there’s the story of Hausverwaltung trying to kick out a guy who’d been living in an apartment for years but they claimed it was only supposed to be an office space.

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself on the street again, I hope it’s going to be one of those Neukolln streets with random pieces of furniture. That was not my case. I downloaded the e-Bay Kleinanzeigen app, devoted myself to it with all the intensity usually reserved for Tinder and started the process of assembling random furniture for my room. And although maybe it isn’t that hard to come by some cute drawers for a few euros, finding it is really half the battle. Unless you have a car or a team of 10 friends to help you, you’re cruising for a bruising. Literally! Carrying a vintage DDR armchair down to the U-Bahn station will definitely remain one of my most memorable BVG trips.

photo: Karin Sakrowski / CC

I’ve been to flats where the owners would boast about how they got 90 percent of their stuff for free from some random love spreading person, but in case you’re like me, and you’re not in good graces of the Berlin fairy of used home equipment, get ready to hustle. Agreeing on a time to pick up furniture that works for you, the seller, and the van guy is probably the trickiest threesome to set up in Berlin. But when you finally manage to schedule it, there’s a high likelihood it will be one of those nice accidental encounters that only happen in Berlin. For example, one of the van guys I took a ride with was a rock musician from Argentina, enabled to create by the extra income from the transportation business, and I was more than glad to pay what he wanted.

This kind of ability to “look for whatever might be fun” is, by the way, something that really comes in handy at any WG. It’s one of the traits that Berlin taught me, along with the important practice of never crying over spilled milk, which I developed mostly as a Starbucks barista.

Michalina by
on December 21st, 2016
updated on December 21st, 2016
in Stories

2 Responses to “From House to House: Being a Constant Nomad in Berlin”

  1. Jon Says:

    I have rented an apartment in Mitte since 2005. Altbau. Saniert. The place is in stellar condition because I have treated it as my own. Earlier this year I received a notice, (not even via certified mai)l, that I was being evicted due to Eigenbedarf of the owner. His daughter has allegedly completed an Ausbildung and the 40 square meters in her current flat are too restrictive for her and her boyfriend. So, I have to move.
    I respect the owner’s property rights completely. But, I was shocked that an eviction letter can be delivered in the same manner as a thank you card. Stamp, envelope, throw it in the mail. You’re evicted. In fact, the letter was lost by the mail carrier, we suspect, and I only discovered my own eviction when the owner’s daughter appeared at my door last summer. She wanted to know why I had not responded. Mind you, I had never seen this person before. And when I asked her to identify herself, suddenly her mother appeared and proceeded to say: “Thank you for opening the door. We would like to reach an agreement with you about the eviction. For us, it is most important that no Abfindungskosten accrue.”
    I have been a model renter for 12 years and the first time the owner crosses my path she communicates that she wants me out and it better not cost her a dime.
    It is all legal. But it is not right. And who knows if the story about the daughter wanting to use the apartment is the whole truth. By German law she must reside in the flat 3 years or the eviction becomes fraudulent. Anyone know a good private detective who can watch the place for three years???
    This is Berlin-Mitte in 2016-2017. I am one of 6 similar cases in my street! Eviction due to Eigenbedearf.
    What bothers me the most: the lack and apparent unwillingness to show any decency. Laws can be respected. But people should be respected, too.
    After several court hearings, I was able to add 6 months to the eviction notice.
    I would have been happy and willing to cooperate with the owner had the owner simply reached out to me. But instead, my letters and phone calls were not answered. Only those of my attorney were.
    Being a good tenant. Doing the right thing. Doesn’t get you much respect in Mitte. But it’ll get you evicted if the daughter needs room for her shoes.

  2. Lauren Says:

    That’s insane Jon. I also lived in Mitte, but only for six months. Before I rented with a proper real estate agency I had a lot of problems and was also evicted with no notice (in Schöneberg). Almost all of my friends living in Berlin have had similar problems. I’ve moved back to Sydney now but it seems to me that Germany is a bit behind on tenants’ rights. The culture of renting there definitely benefits the landlord at the expense of the renter.

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