Month: March 2015

In Berlin, my home is your home

Berlin is poor but sexy, people say. So poor, that many inhabitants sublet their flats to tourists in order to pay their monthly rent. And so sexy, that everyone is crazy about taking the offer.

dog, dogs, bed, sleepy, home, feet, rentall flat, sublet apartment, holiday, home exchange, rbnb, 9flats

Photo: damedeeso

I though it was a joke when I first heard that a jobless friend of a friend had rented a tent on the sandy beaches at Tropical Islands – an amusement park just outside of Berlin – in order to sublet his flat for the entire winter. But it was true: The guy is still living there and enjoying the artificial balmy climate rather than the dreary Berlin drizzle – for only 59 euros ($76) a month. Meanwhile, his apartment is available for paying tourists who cover not just his rent, but also enough extra to make unemployment a comfortable lifestyle.

I still have a job, but I’ll definitely keep this idea in mind for the day I get fed up with the Berlin winter.

It seems to be a global trend for people to sublet their apartments to tourists who’d rather not pay hotel prices. But in Berlin, this kind of business is becoming an alternative way of living.

The ‘Mr. Right’ apartment

There are numerous online platforms where people can advertise and rent out flats on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. “More value for your money,” “More privacy,” “Get to know the local lifestyle” – slogans like these attract millions of tourists to Berlin apartments.

They pay less and the tenant is happy to earn some extra money, often under the table. A win-win situation, plus home-made coffee, fresh bread from the local bakery and a washing machine.

That is, as long as the landlord doesn’t know anything about it. And usually he doesn’t, in a city where people move in and out like mad, constantly adjusting their apartment to their ever-changing lifestyle – smaller, bigger, cheaper, more luxurious. In Berlin, finding the perfect apartment is like finding the perfect partner: It can take years. And until then, you have to settle for short-term solutions.

Collateral damage

According to the Berlin Hotel Association (DEHOGA), there are between 15,000 and 25,000 holiday apartments in the city. But only 31 businesses, incorporating 2,729 beds, are legally registered.

Where, I wonder, are the other 10,000 odd Berliners are living? Probably at friends’ places.

I should know better. I used to host a friend every now and then for a few weeks; she had lost her job and desperately needed to sublet her flat in downtown Berlin. She quickly created an ad with pictures for one of the many online platforms.

A piece of cake. The offers kept coming and, with the rental price of a few days, my friend could finance the rent for the whole month. Her two-bedroom flat with a balcony could house a whole family for 90-100 euros a day, so just over a week of subletting covered her monthly bill.

“There appears to be no rule against holiday renting in Berlin,” I just read on, one of the most popular flat rental websites at the moment.

There may be a bit a grey area between the lines, but if you want to stay on the legal side, you definitely have to ask your landlord for permission and register your business with the local tax authorities. Berliners, it seems, are much more willing to share with tourists than with the state.

Keeping everyone happy

Especially if they want to finance their own holidays this way. A good friend of mine moved to Berlin a few years ago and, as he says, often couldn’t make ends meet. So when returned to the UK for a week or so, he would rent out his room.

“My rent was 250 euros a month,” he told me, “and I would charge that much for a whole week. Everyone was happy.” Most of his visitors fit into the 18-to-30-year-old backpacker category, from the US or other European countries.

Literally tens of thousands of Berliners are doing the same – to the dissatisfaction of some hotel owners who have started complaining about unfair competition. As Europe’s third popular tourist destination after London and Paris, Berlin attracts about 10 million visitors a year, so I don’t think the hotel industry is significantly endangered by the clandestine subletters.

Living in the holiday

Another trendy – and legal – way to make use of your home and save money for travel is the house exchange concept, like in the movie “The Holiday:” The character played by Kate Winslet exchanges her cottage near London for a luxury mansion in L.A. belonging to a movie trailer producer played by Cameron Diaz.

“Simply post information about your house swap offer including your preferred destination and dates. Once a match is made, it’s up to you and your exchange partner to work out the details,” according to Members pay a yearly membership fee and can choose from thousands of homes all over the world – if they can find a match with someone who wants to stay in their place. But you could get lucky, like Winslet’s character or a friend of mine, who once exchanged her flat in Berlin for a villa with pool in Mexico.

The trick, of course, is to live in a place where others go on holiday. Your cramped one-bedroom in exciting Berlin might be worth beach-front property in the Caribbean or, if not, at least an artificial blue lagoon for 59 euros a month. Basically all you need is Berlin and one of its many roofs above your head.

Berlin jobs: from haute couture to hot amour

New York may be known as the city that never sleeps, and it does have plenty of reasons to stay awake. But in Berlin, a true city of night owls, people dedicate the late hours to crazy ideas. Followed by crazy deeds.

Pappbrille, Berlin, Cardboard, glasses, buy, sell, design, Cantemir Gheorghiu

The world has gone nuts. And it all started in Berlin

Finding out that Berlin has become popular – even in Ecuador – as “the place to be” was not quite surprising to me. Dani heard the rumor in Quito and decided to cross the ocean. Not a bad choice, as it turns out. She’s been living and working in Berlin for two years, raising her two kids on the money she earns as a model and make-up artist.

There is a Dani in every newcomer in Berlin, and there is a piece of Berlin for every newcomer like Dani. People hear about it, see it and like it instantly. Then, in order to pay for rents, cocktails and outfits, they come up with the strangest ideas.

German is hard to learn, and the city is neither an industrial center, nor a Mecca of finance. So what’s left? Be creative! Do something you’re good at, call it art and you’re bound to succeed here.

What’s more, you’ll find lots of other people like you. The market for usual ideas is competitive in Berlin. Still, there is always room for more.

Rule number one: mix business with pleasure

The Ecuadorian model, whose profession qualifies as cool and creative but is not unheard of, would be perfect for one of Martina’s next catwalk shows. Martina is a Slovenian fashion designer, who, after completing an internship with Vivienne Westwood in England, set up her own knitwear label in Berlin. Lately, she has not only been selling handmade dresses to pretentious rich ladies in Paris, but also pieces of art that combine painting with knitted fabrics.

Edin’s glamour, on the other hand, is a bit more risqué. He studied fashion design, lived in several countries, speaks seven languages, and knows all kind of Hollywood stars. “They are my customers. Whenever they’re in Berlin, they pay a visit to the store,” he tells me, partly in Serbian, partly in English.

Edin is the proud designer of glamorous erotic outfits found in the luxury erotic lifestyle shop Schwarzer Reiter (Black Cavalier), which is located in the center of Berlin.

Rule number two: mistake garbage for art ART, Berlin, garbage, handicraft, bar, restaurant

On the weekends, Berlin abounds in arts and craft fairs. I once heard someone say it’s easy to mistake garbage for art in this city, and vice-versa.

You could put it like that, but then again, we’re talking here about quite interesting pieces of garbage: jewelry made of scraps of all sorts, homemade hats, bags, chairs, pots, you name it.

All of these objects were made by someone. So, someone out there in the German capital must be spending time creating them for a living.

Rule number three: miracles happen

All this creative competition doesn’t mean every second Berliner is a starving artist. Some get lucky.

The flea market in the Neukölln district is where designer Cantemir Gheorghiu started the most fabulous business I’ve ever heard of. And probably the most random. Back then, he went out selling a few dozen cardboard eyeglasses he’d made up to finance his summer holidays.

Now his artistic creations have become known as Pappbrillen (German for cardboard glasses). They don’t have any practical use, but that didn’t keep the fashion and advertising industries from discovering them. Cantemir has since sold millions of pairs.

Apparently Franz’s girlfriend was very happy about the personalized bar of chocolate he made for her birthday a few years ago. But it was Chocri, the chocolate delivery service he then opened in Berlin, which got the sweetest deal. Business is booming on the website where customers can choose from hundreds of ingredients online (gold powder, roses, chilli and salt are on the list) to assemble their very own chocolate fantasy, which is then delivered by post.

Considering all the curious ways you can pursue fun in Berlin – like sleeping in a socialist design hotel, dancing in a preserved 1920s ballroom, or dining in the old Jewish Girls School, you can get an idea of the almost scary amount of creativity Berliners bring along.

Here, nothing is too much and nothing is too little. Those sleepless people must have rewritten that famous saying: “Don’t live for work, work for… fun!”

Lavinia Pitu-Schwartz

Previously published on

dog, Berlin, Berliner Dom, summer, fountain, mitte

24 hours Berlin

When friends visit and you show them around, sights of your city that you see on a daily basis suddenly look different. When photographer friends happen to visit, it’s a win-win situation: they get first-hand Berlin and you get Berlin from an artist’s eye.

This was a short – very short – trip. Here’s what you can see in central Berlin in one day.

Thank you, Cristian Iohan Stefanescu

GDR is none of your business, it’s Berliners’

Parking a Trabant (aka ‘Trabi’ in Berlin) in front of Starbucks or sleeping in a socialist hotel in the heart of a democratic country is probably impossible on your side of the planet.

Trabant, Trabi, Berlin, GDR, DDR, pig, business, find, idea, street

Photo: Andrea Crisante

The owners of Ostel, a Berlin hotel reminiscent of the socialist era, could have never imagined that the guests would start stealing the portraits of Erik Honecker which hung in each room. The former leader of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) himself would have trouble believing that his value in capitalist Berlin is equivalent to that of a Hilton bathrobe. But in the capital of paradoxes, Ostel (Ost is German for East) is not only admired, it’s usually fully booked.

More than two decades after the fall of the Wall, the GDR has become a trademark in Berlin. And, as everyone knows, in an “evil” and “exploitative” capitalist system, competing brands sell, and sell, and sell. Consumers – aka tourists – buy the often distorted image of socialism with the same ardor East Germans would have killed for a kilo of bananas in the 1980s.

The already famous hotel in East Berlin is certainly not the only (n)ostalgic good available for purchase in the city. Add a Trabant safari to the Stasi Suite you’ve just booked and the fun will be complete. Almost.

Collecting grey nothings

Treasures from the past can be found all over the city. And I’m not talking here about the Pergamon from Ancient Greece or the Nefertiti’s bust. I’m referring to a much less glamorous era. No matter how grey and drab, GDR fashion, furniture, food, shops, cars and souvenirs are everywhere.

And sometimes the more useless they are, the more expensive. A friend of mine was very proud when, after years of tirelessly scouring Berlin’s flea markets, she finally found (for an outrageous sum) a hairdresser’s chair from GDR times. What for? Well, I’m still not sure – but who cares? It’s an object from the GDR and one day she will probably leave it to her descendants in her will.

Fleamarket, Flohmarkt, market, Berlin, Mauerpark, second hand, find, buy, sell, hippie, hipster, summer

Photo: Eldad Carin

Flea markets, by the way, are one of Berliners’ favorite destinations for weekend mornings. And admittedly quite a journey that starts with antique pieces and unusual jewelry and ends with empty boxes of East German detergent, posters, music and even shirts and shoes from the past. In those times, a pair of imperialist jeans, sent by auntie on the other side of the border, was received like something from an exotic island.

Nowadays, it’s just as exotic for those thousands of tourists who pay a few euros to get a GDR border stamp on their passports at Checkpoint Charlie. All the money in the world wouldn’t have been enough to get you across this main border point on the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.

Cold or warm, the Russian fur hats along with former military uniforms and decorations are constantly in high demand at all the top sightseeing spots in Berlin. Street salesmen trade them for unbelievable prices. Does anyone really wear them? I doubt it, but that’s not the point. They have something to do with the GDR.

 Buy this!

For those who need a little bit of serious East Berlin history, there are plenty of museums, memorials and even – quite nice during the summer – bike rides along the former Wall.

And if you haven’t grabbed Honecker’s portrait off your hotel wall yet, you can buy a piece of the Berlin Wall in any souvenir shop. If you put all the pieces together, you’d probably have a wall long enough to span the globe.

GDR mania isn’t showing any signs of letting up in Berlin. Perhaps it’s a city far ahead of its time. It’s made up the most fabulous absurdity: a capitalism that successfully sells socialism. And that, my friends, you’ve certainly never heard of before.

The Bermuda Triangle for vacation freaks

Going to Berlin’s travel trade show, the ITB, is like entering the Bermuda Triangle: you’re lured into it, to only get lost in the end – lost in the reverie of your next vacation.

Beach, vacation, exotic

Photo credentials: Cristian Stefanescu

Having sand on my shoes after a visit to the ITB in Berlin, the world’s leading travel trade show, is something I have gotten used to. But the agony of choice about where on Earth to go on my next vacation, while being confronted with the fair’s miniature replicas of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, is the kind of challenge I still haven’t risen above. And when I say replicas, I don’t mean posters. I mean waterfalls, beaches, palm trees, jungle huts and whatever else comes into the exhibitors’ minds. Some airlines even reproduce interiors of their airplanes.