House-hunting in Berlin

So…you want to move to Berlin. And unless you’re lucky enough to have accommodation provided for you, you’ll be needing somewhere to live. But how do you go about finding that perfect place? Read on to find out…

Location, location, location

Berlin is a big and diverse city, so it’s important to get the right location. But where to look? Unlike many large cities, there aren’t really any areas to avoid for your safety (though there are some pretty uninspiring bits – type in “Berlin Marzahn Plattenbau” on Google Images and you’ll see what I mean!); it’s really down to where’s best for you. Ask yourself a few questions: Are you a party animal or do you prefer the quiet life? What’s your budget like? Where will you need to be on a regular basis?

If you’re a party person, try Mitte, Kreuzberg, Neukölln or Friedrichshain. These areas are renowned for their nightlife yet, for a capital city, remarkably affordable. If your budget is too limited for this, try going a few stops away from the centre along one of the S-Bahn (urban rail), U-Bahn (underground/subway) or tram lines to find lower rents. But don’t worry about missing out on the city life – the MetroTram lines (numbered M1, M2 etc.) run 24/7, and the S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines run throughout Friday and Saturday nights, so you can easily go on a night out and get home again afterwards. If partying isn’t your thing, you can find quieter, greener areas in the western suburbs, such as Reinickendorf or Zehlendorf, and also in the Köpenick/Friedrichshagen area in the south-east, with rooms to suit all pockets.

How (not) to Search

Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a right way and a wrong way of looking. If you imagine arriving in Berlin and moving straight into a room you’ve found and signed for in advance…forget it. You have very little chance of getting anything if you can’t actually go and see it. Some landlords might let you see the place and meet them via Skype, but most won’t. Besides, is it really a good idea to sign a contract for something you’ve only seen as a grainy image? Instead, book yourself a couple of weeks in a youth hostel (or stay with friends, if you have some in Berlin) and visit potential places personally.

For finding a house (or more likely a flat, it’s rare to live in a house in Germany), there are plenty of websites; popular ones include, and, as well as numerous
Facebook groups. Try several of them to get a good range of possible places. They all have a messaging/email function, but many landlords also give a phone number. It’s best to phone if you can, as emails often go unanswered. WG gesucht also, helpfully, lets you market yourself – you put up an ad saying what you’re looking for and potential landlords will contact you if they have something to offer. Make sure you answer promptly when you get messages – demand for housing in Berlin massively outstrips supply, so it really is a case of “if you snooze, you lose”.

Beware of…

Unfortunately, there are a quite a few scammers out there, another good reason for visiting rooms in person. They can seem quite genuine at first, sometimes even giving a real address that they claim to have for rent and sending pictures of a flat. However, they often give themselves away by asking you to send money for ‘the first month’s rent in advance’ or some other reason, or ask for a copy of your passport to ‘prove your identity’. Do not, under any circumstances, send any money or copies of ID for a room you have not seen yourself! A genuine landlord will be more than happy for you to visit before committing.

^^Please, please, please don’t fall for scams like this…^^

Speaking of money, beware of inflated prices if you’re taking a sub-let room. Maximum rents per m2 of floor space are legally limited in each district of Berlin for the main tenants, but not for sub-tenants. As a guide, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than about €500 Warmmiete/Gesamtmiete (rent including bills) per month unless you’re renting a penthouse. Finally, don’t be surprised at high deposits – whereas in the UK the maximum is one month’s rent, in Germany it can be up to three months’. You do, however, have the right to pay it in three instalments, so it’s not as hard on your pocket as it sounds.

Getting Around

If you can’t find somewhere just round the corner from where you’re working or studying, don’t worry, as getting around is not difficult. Like all German cities, Berlin’s public transport system is fully integrated, so one 12-month season ticket gets you on all the S-Bahns, U-Bahns, trams, buses and ferries in the city for only about €2 a day. Do bear in mind, though, that Berlin is a big city – travelling from side to side by S-Bahn or U-Bahn takes about 60 minutes, and your journey will be longer still if you have to change!

If you want to save money, keep fit, or simply see Berlin up close, consider cycling. There are no hills to worry about, and all the busier roads have segregated cycle paths, so you can cycle safely and confidently – even if you come from a country that drives on the left! If you’re not bringing your own bike, there are dozens of bike shops all over the city; or, if you’re after a bargain, try the monthly Berliner Fahrradmarkt (Berlin Bike Market) in Kreuzberg. Wherever you buy from, do invest in a good lock for your bike – as every Berliner will tell you, unattended bikes have a habit of disappearing…

Don’t panic!

 And finally: if all the stuff you’ve just read has made you nervous – don’t be! If you need, take a place on Zwischenmiete (limited-term rent) for a month or two and take time to look for somewhere you really like. It might seem impossible at first, but believe me – you’ll find somewhere, and the effort will be worth it.

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