In Berlin, the tenants’ paradise has gone to hell

Wear a suit and your I-am-successful face if you’re ever looking for a decent flat in Berlin. Long famous for cheap rents, getting a nice place in the German capital is beginning to resemble a job interview.

Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, tourism, Mitte, Europe, travel, street photography, summer, vacation

Photo by: Cristian Stefanescu

The apartment my friend and his flat-mate have been endlessly looking for in Berlin is finally there: a perfect top floor place in Charlottenburg, nicely renovated, good location, unexpected low price.

But the price they paid to actually be chosen, out of the tens of other possible renters, was a different one.

“We had to pretend we were gay, in order to get it,” my friend told me. The landlord didn’t seem too keen on flat-mates, so they gave a firm positive answer to the question: “Are you a couple?” and gave short sigh of relief when no one asked for proof of their relationship.

Many other kinds of proofs are required though, because renting a flat in Berlin is not the careless affair it used to be. Unless you opt for some dodgy corner of the city, Berlin flats have started playing hard to get. Landlords want recommendations and proof you have a regular job and a credit history. And this being a bureaucratic process, multiple copies of everything, please.

MoML: Museums of Modern Living

That’s all in addition to the many other unwritten laws. The criteria one better meet and can guarantee plus points in the fight against your many home-seeking competitors. I once saw 49 people in front of a building, waiting to see an apartment for rent. If I didn’t know the area was devoid of tourist attractions, I would have bet they were queuing up in front of a museum.

Some acquaintances in Berlin are still in search of the perfect – and affordable – place to live. “If you like something, pull out the big guns from the first appointment,” they have advised me. That means a nice outfit, a friendly face that says “I’m successful, I can pay, and I’m so quiet you won’t even notice me around.” Most importantly, drop the name of your hopefully very famous multinational employer.

In other words, if you’re new in town, looking for a job, you can almost forget about renting a flat of your own in Berlin. At least a decent one. The regional director manager for Microsoft is probably going to kick you out off the list. I heard about such a case the other day, in which the real estate agent himself had advised a woman to fake some information in the rental application to be accepted by the building’s owners.

I can hardly believe that when I moved here, I made the arrangements for the rental of my flat via e-mail. After a few days I saw it, liked it, signed the contract and moved in. Simple as that, no proof of income, no pile of documents in triplicate. Obviously, the cooler and more attractive the city gets – and let’s face it, Berlin is absolutely getting cooler – the more pretentious the conditions to live here. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, right.

Berlin is slowly becoming London

Berlin, London, emoticon, rental prices, expensive, Europe, square meter

Graphic by: carbouval

Even though the real estate prices are still much lower in Berlin compared to London or Paris, I’m afraid the times when my city used to be known as the tenants’ paradise are over. And it’s getting worse by the day. Only a few years ago, places in beautiful 19th and 20th century buildings, charming flats with high ceilings and old wooden floors, would be available for cut-rate prices. The charm is still there, but if you want it, you have to throw much more money at it.

The Berlin rent index for 2014 shows an explosion of the real estate prices over the last year, that is, an average increase of about 6%. Meanwhile, in the Mitte neighborhood, the central area of Berlin, one pays an average of 10 Euro per square meter.

But there are good news too. According to a recent law, landlords are not allowed to sign new rental contracts at prices more than 10% higher than the average in a particular area.

Even flats with a shower in the middle of the kitchen (if you want to become a true Berliner, you should get used to things you once described as nonsense) or apartments with coal heating, have become more expensive, but they are still being fought over.

It seems like the whole world wants to live here, lately. If you’re lucky enough to see a flat you like on the Internet, get an appointment and get dressed up to prove you deserve it because it’ll be gone fast. You may want to also leave your scruples wherever you call home because for the right place, no one seems to be above faking documents – or even their sexual orientation.

Lavinia Pitu-Schwartz

Previously published on


Categories: life in Berlin

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