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 gone through a breakup, tried to escape some 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 that’s not the full extent of apartment-related horror stories.

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 on the bright side” 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 barista.

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<a href="" target="_self">Michalina</a>