When I thought of college, I had always envisioned the typical roommate struggles and weirdness in a tiny room in a big residency hall. The sheltered life of a college campus offered so many choices, be it co-ed floors, honors floors, liberal arts floors, whether to apply for the RA position someday, do I go to the dining hall in my pajamas at the end of an all nighter or put on real clothes, do i rush and move into the sorority house someday. For me, giving up these choices was the hardest part of deciding to come to Germany. There are some opportunities for student housing, but these are notoriously difficult to get into, and some of them are far off campus.
BUT: because students here are for the most part just like students there, and generally want to save money while living where other young people live, there are many opportunities to land an awesome place if you know where to look.
Many German cities are relatively cheap compared to American ones in terms of rent. Even though you will probably want to apply for student housing, you are going to want to check out regular apartments because, again, official student apartments are few and far between. One of the difficulties is that you are probably going to want to check any place out before you sign the rental contract, and if you want to live in a shared apartment with roommates, you are going to have to meet them and have them offer you the room first. These are things you obviously can only do from here, which means you are going to have to be slightly adventurous. When I came here, I stayed in a youth hostel, a Jugendherberge, for the first 2 weeks until school started, when I was lucky enough to have some newly minted friends from the university take me in and offer me a place to stay until I found somewhere permanent. The Jugendherberge cost 14 euros a night and I was able to get a bed the first night I arrived.
1. Your first stop should be the university. At every (as far as I know, anyway) university, there is a thing called a “schwarzes Brett” (das schwarze Brett, literally translated the black board). I went to University in Cologne, which is constantly competing for its title as the largest university in Germany, and there at least one schwarzes Brett in every building. These are pinboards on which anyone can pin anything, so basically they are a physical, tangible classifieds. Wanted ads, things for sale, jobs to be had, jobs needed, and APARTMENTS. Some larger universities also have a virtual schwarzes Brett on the internet, which you can find by googling.
2. The internet. Some of the best websites for looking for apartments are:
3. Asta or Studentenwerk. This is the students’ union of the university. They are the ones who organize student housing. Student apartments are generally shared flats or small room apartments. The upside is they are very cheap. The downside is they can be very far from the university or city center and you are required to move out once you finish school.
4. Facebook. As strange as it sounds, there are lots of groups with names along the lines of “wohnung gesucht in …” (apartment wanted in …).
Some useful things to know when you are looking for your first apartment are the words you are going to come across and what they mean. Here’s a short list of must-know apartment related vocabulary that you might not remember from high school German class:
- Wg (short for Wohngemeinschaft): a shared apartment. Everyone has their own room, you share a kitchen, bathroom (sometimes if it’s a really nice place there’s a shared living room or balcony, too). The rent therefore reflects your own room as well as your share in the common spaces.
- Zweck-WG: as you probably guessed, this is a sub-category of WG. Zweck is the German word for the purpose or function of something, so a Zweck-WG is a shared apartment for the main purpose of being shared. It means that your roommates aren’t into socializing around a beer or getting to know you; they only want to live in a WG in order to share the costs of an apartment. On the flipside, you will probably see lots of ads saying “Kein Zweck-WG”. This means they are the exact opposite and are looking for a roommate they can hang out and cook with and form friendships with.
- Wohnung or Appartement: you guessed it, this is an apartment without anyone else.
- möbliert: this means the apartment or room comes with furniture.
- Kalt vs. warm: these are the words for cold and warm, as you probably guessed, which in apartment terms mean just the basic rent (cold) and the cost of utilities (most often just gas and electricity). Sometimes when you move into an apartment, you have to pay utilities through the landlord. Most of the time, however, you move in and sign up with a company of your choice. (This means you have a huge selection of companies to choose from, so make sure to choose wisely.)
- Kaution: security deposit. Normally, a kaution is the amount of 3 months rent (kalt). It will probably look something like “3 MM”, meaning 3 Monatsmieten (months rent).
- Provision: this is a commission you pay to a real estate agent. I wouldn’t advise it for students because it’s expensive and you can find an apartment without paying someone else.
- mit Schrägen: this means you’ve got a slanted ceiling. Generally this means you get more floor space for your money because below a certain ceiling height, the landlord isn’t allowed to charge rent for the meter space.
- Zwischenmiete: this is someone who is subletting their place (hence the dates that generally follow telling you the timeframe). This can be a fantastic option if you are crunched for time and need to get a place fast, but you probably want to eventually find something more permanent (although I do know someone who hopped from apartment to apartment for a few years). Generally, the rent is cheaper than if you were moving in to stay but you also have most of the person’s things in the apartment as well.
Unfortunately, some German cities are experiencing a severe apartment shortage, which is driving up the price of rent, especially for students who need to live around the university. That said, prices still don’t top what you would pay in the US. You generally never want to pay more than 10 euros per square meter kalt, but depending on your city you will probably pay slightly to quite a bit more than that warm.
Rent prices are therefore variable between cities. Currently, Munich and Cologne are two of the most expensive big cities per square meter. For an apartment in a good section of Munich, you can expect to pay around 13-18 euros per sq meter (the price gets better in the larger midsize to larger apartment range, is why WGs are popular…!). For a slightly worse part of the city, you can expect the price to be around 8-13 euros per sq meter. In Cologne, you should be looking at between 5-19 euros per sq meter, depending on whether you want a good or not so good area. In Berlin, this falls to around 5-15 euros per sq meter. (source: http://immobilien-kompass.capital.de/wohnen) So you are going to want to do a little research about how much you want to spend per month.