So You Want a Flat in Neukölln?

A Cautionary Tale of Travail and Triumph.

It was April ‘16 when, after years of illuminating flatshare configurations, I finally started looking to rent my own flat in Neukölln. I was full of hope, and the giddy confidence that so often trips up the young and deluded.

In the last few years Neukölln, previously the awkward-looking, southern sister of Kreuzberg, has risen from its baby fat to become the neighborhood of choice for swarms of expats — no doubt aided by some regrettably viral Guardian articles that swooned at its affordability and vibrancy. Needless to say, that popularity came at a price.

For every good cappuccino there is a rise in rent and a real scarcity in available apartments

The rapid escalation in Neukölln’s attractiveness may have brought with it an abundance of all-day brunches, vintage stores, bars and niche venues but sadly, for every good cappuccino there is a corresponding rise in rent and an increasingly real scarcity in available apartments. So whereas you used to be brave if you lived in Neukölln, now you’re brave to try.

What you will need

When looking for a flat, or indeed anything in Germany, one must be prepared for the gauntlet of deeply confusing paperwork that is designed to break the spirit and separate the weak from the resilient. It varies from agency to agency but to play it safe, get your hands on these:
 

Mietschuldenfreiheitbescheinigung

This snappy piece of joy is proof from one’s previous landlord that one has paid all rent dutifully and punctually. Depending on one’s landlord, this is usually easier to procure than it is to pronounce and covers the first of your Essential Forms.
 

SCHUFA

Most landlords require additional proof that you haven’t racked up large gambling debts from your heady summer at the Hoppegarten track, and therefore ask that you provide a legit, and current, Schufa certificate. As the loving letters from Schufa regularly address me as Mr Seemann, I’m a bit sceptical as to the accuracy of their insights. But it comes printed on paper, therefore by German standards, it HAS to be correct. It costs around 30€ and is valid for a glorious 3 months.
 

Income statements

Ah sweet income statements. The bane of artists, the pride of Scandinavians and pre-Brexit Britons. Naturally it is better to be on the higher end of this spectrum, but there are a few work-arounds for those cowering on the dark side of the income bracket.

Get into a relationship and double your income statements. Finally a reason to commit!

Get a flush and obliging parent to fill out a “Bürgschaft” form that makes them accountable, should your “art” not cover your rent.

Get into a relationship and double your presentable income statements. Finally a reason for Berliners to commit!

Get photoshop-savvy and magic a 5th digit into your income.

Give it all up, get a B-Schein and ask the state to step in.

*Handy tip: If you do have regular employment and a good, appropriate relationship with your boss, ask them to provide written confirmation that you are employed where you allege to be and, ideally, that you’ve emerged from your trial period unscathed. This can be as simple as a short sentence on the company stationery but it adds invaluable credibility.
 

A copy of your identity document

I always rejoice at things that don’t require trips to an Amt or extensive research into my employment history, so I save my photocopies for last. If you don’t have a real deal German ID, then you will need your proof of registration in Germany (Anmeldebestätigung) and all of the visual aids that go with it (passport etc).
 

A schmoozy cover letter

No one wants to resort to nauseating self-references (“I’m clean and tidy and dependable and mute”) but there is a point in the process where dignity becomes secondary. Depending on the trustworthiness of your face, it might also enhance your chances if you include a picture. Yes, it’s ridiculous and outdated, but it might be best to stable your moral high horse until after you’ve found the flat.
 

Strength, goddammit

It can be a demoralising process that sees you question yourself and others, but perseverance is key.

Expectation management

A huge component in the Neukölln flat hunt, as in life, is the lowering of cray cray expectations. Sure, you might be lucky, see a flat, apply and get it in the space of a week. Well done, you. But, when playing by the rules, that sort of good fortune is a unicorn. And although I would never advise you to lose your shiny optimism, I would advise you to rein it in.

As more people are pushed to the periphery, previously scorned areas will start to flourish and take on the “new Kreuzberg” mantle

I too started with bold and unyielding conditions but they all changed in shape and intensity over time. While it’s important to establish some unbendable rules, such as proximity to public transport, keep the rest of your requirements a bit more fluid. You might even start looking outside the mythically secure confines of the Ringbahn. That’s ok. As more people are pushed to the periphery, previously scorned areas will start to flourish and take on the “new Kreuzberg” mantle. You might even be the next early adopter, what a thrill!

hya-flathunting_neukholn-expectations

Let the search commence

I moved to Neukölln five years ago, so when I started searching for a new, and flatmate-free apartment in the same area, I thought my accrued wisdom would serve me well. What might, in fact, have served me better, is a landlord sugar daddy, or some workable Mafia connections — but one lives and learns.

Despite sending increasingly hysterical pleas for flat viewings, the responses were rare or referred me to the dreaded Public Viewing.

I covered most of the classic channels, from newspapers, Immobilienscout, and WG-Gesucht to the occasional Woloho newsletter and the occasionally dubious ebay Kleinanzeigen, but, despite sending increasingly hysterical pleas for flat viewings, the responses were rare or — even worse — referred me to the dreaded Public Viewing.

For those who have not yet had the displeasure of one of these crushing rituals, steel yourself. If the flat is remotely reasonably priced, within a vaguely desirable area, on the viewing day, you will notice anxious, paper-wielding people scurrying towards the address in question up to 45 minutes early (which I think is cheating), congregating restlessly at the door, scowling at anyone they recognise as competition and smiling beguilingly at anyone who looks square enough to potentially be the estate agent. This is not a forum for jocular exchange, as I now know. The atmosphere is tense, the desperation is real.

Berghain or a 2-room apartment viewing in Rixdorf? The Horror of the Public Viewing

Berghain or a 2-room apartment viewing in Rixdorf? The Horror of the Public Viewing

In these situations, there are a few things that Might increase your chances:

  • Make yourself memorable to the agent. In a credible way, mind you.
  • Pose a series of charmingly sensible questions that make you seem both interested but also thoroughly unselective and low maintenance.
  • Have all of your forms printed and at hand. If they say they don’t mind being emailed your forms later, it’s a trap.
  • Look employed.
  • Speak as much German or as little of anything else as possible.
  • Share your pen with no one. You’re not here to make friends.

Make the network work work work work

Although I did my (un)fair share of flat viewings and frenzied applications, I ultimately found my flat many months — and many bottles of consoling wine — later when I resorted to the classic Facebook cry for help. While it may seem like an obvious avenue, I have always been reluctant to engage in public displays of desperation. But this was clearly what was called for.

I went, I viewed, I supplied, and I conquered!

The kind sharing of my plight by friends yielded several golden friends of friends who just happened to be seeking new tenants. I went, I viewed, I submitted my bible-length portfolio of forms that prove I am not a bankrupt fugitive, and — I conquered!

The personal referral had shaved off those most odious steps in the application process that require you to distinguish yourself as a credible human. And, while it helps to have solid contacts in Berlin, even if you’re new to the city the Facebook machine is a useful one, with a multitude of groups for people seeking flats or the equal challenge: WG rooms. Shudder, shudder. But enough of that.

Finally I can bid farewell to the neighbour below’s inspired late-night musical endeavours, the neighbour above’s early morning trampolining and the ever divisive enforcement of the cleaning schedule.

But fellow searchers, though you may experience highs, lows and the murky depths of German bureaucracy, fear not — you too can find a flat. And if not in Neukölln, there’s always Wedding…

Photo courtesy of hotcommodity (Creative Commons)

Gabriella Seemann is a South African-raised, Berlin-based art director, and writer. She values good banter and bacon.
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