Saturday, 12 March 2016

Year Abroad Guide: Finding Accommodation In Germany

Finding accommodation in Germany - Your options and where to look | www.hannahemilylane.com
Finding accommodation in Germany
After I got confirmation of my university place, I knew my next step would be finding accommodation. I didn't know where to start! Googling 'wohnung in Mannheim' was my first step, before realising this was actually not going to be an easy task.

I waited until after our next Uni year abroad talk a couple of weeks later before doing anything, but this wasn't very helpful. The info they gave us was so outdated! So I turned to other year abroad students and the internet to find out what my options were. I ended up deciding on living in a Wohngeminschaft while I was in Mannheim and now I live in a Wohnung with my boyfriend in Frankfurt.

I'm gonna share with you everything I was told from other year abroaders and my personal experience so you can hopefully chose the best possible option of accommodation for you and give you a few tips of how to find it!




Student Accommodation


Note: This is only available if you're studying! Student accommodation works differently in every city but it definitely is an option to consider.

Pros

  • Student accommodation is usually very cheap – A friend in Munich is paying around €250 a month for his room in student accommodation, a private rented flat in the city averages around €600-700+ for comparison.
  • Living in student accommodation, like in England, is a great way to meet people as it's so social. There will usually be a mix of German and international students, but usually more exchange students like you though.

Cons

  • If you end up living with many Germans, they will often go home at weekends, leaving you on your own.
  • More than likely though, you'll live with mostly other internationals – the common language being English. Many friends have found it hard to meet Germans at university so practising your language might not be so easy!
  • The usual student hall complaints – loud, messy, dirty, problematic flatmates
  • Very often don't come with internet! German student accommodation differs (usually) from British halls, where British unis manage student accommodation themselves, whereas in Germany it's done through an outside company.
  • Can be on the outside of town, quite a distance from the uni, and not in the nicest of areas! Make sure you check the location of student accommodation and don't just assume.

Where to look:

Your exchange university will inform you about your options of living in student accommodation and when to apply. You can also look here: Studentenwerk



Wohngemeinschaft


A Wohngemeinschaft is a shared flat - it literally translates as Living Community. Either one person rents it and then subrents the other rooms in the flat to others, or its a joint contract - you will more than likely live in a WG with the first scenario though. This is very common in Germany, especially among students and is a good option for whatever you're getting up to on your year abroad.

Pros

  • Living with locals - You will most likely be living with someone who knows the area, knows the best bars and will help you out if you get stuck. My flatmate was great, she let me use her printing card to print some forms out, showed me where all my classes were because I can't read maps to save my life, and helped me with my many German questions. 
  • Not quite as cheap as student accommodation, but still pretty cheap! Will come with internet, and everything else if you're lucky! There will usually be kitchen stuff at your disposal and everything already set up. 

Cons

  • Could end up with a housemate from hell – there's always that risk. My boyfriend had another person move in while he was living in his WG and he turned out to be *enter expletive of choice* but hey, that's the chance you take.
  • Can come completely unfurnished – a friend ended up taking an unfurnished room because that was better than the prospect of being homeless, which meant he had to quickly buy a mattress and other things, and I'm still not sure if he has a duvet! Year abroad accommodation is obviously not that permanent, so you don't want to be shelling out loads on wardrobes and beds!

Where to look:

WG-Gesucht is the go-to place, but be prepared to send out dozens of emails and not get many back in response – it moves quick. Also be prepared for skype interviews! These are for both of you, to see if you'd be compatible as roommates. Facebook can be another resource, there are often Facebook groups set up for people looking for a Mitbewohner/in. What I found is that it's better to look for adverts that state the previous roomie is going on a year abroad, as you'll often need the room for the exact time it's available, and chances are they'll leave their furniture as they're coming back! This is what I did and she even left me bed sheets among other things which was so handy.



Finding accommodation in Germany

Wohnung


What I mean by Wohnung is a flat for yourself where you directly rent it, no subrenting. This is kinda what I'm doing now with Tom, and I know other people who've rented their own small flat.

Pros

  • Your own space - You get to live in your own space, no dealing with other people's mess and no having your food 'borrowed' from the fridge. You can leave your washing up for an extra day if you want and you won't have anyone acting all passive aggressive towards you, and you can keep the flat to your own levels of cleanliness and you can decorate it how you like (within your contract's boundaries).

Cons

  •  Cost – Most likely the most expensive option because you're not sharing those bills! 
  •  Meeting people – For some this won't be an issue, but if you're not the most outgoing, I wouldn't recommend living on your own. My flatmate in the WG I lived in introduced me to loads of her friends and I met a lot of people through her. Especially in the first few weeks when you'll inevitablly be a bit home sick and not have a wide circle of friends yet – coming back to an empty flat might amplify this. 
  •  No-one to blame for leaving the milk out and it now resembling cheese. 

Where to look:

I lived in a WG for my first half of my year abroad and now I live in a Wohnung with my boyfriend. I found finding a Wohnung far more difficult and stressful than finding my WG and I was in England when I found that! There are more hoops to jump through when signing a contract for a private Wohnung, and I could write a whole post on it, but I'll try keep it short (if you have questions, email me!). Basically, you are the sole person responsible for covering the flat's rent, which means estate agents and landlords can (and will) ask for a million and one documents with your financial details to prove you can afford it. They can also ask up to 3 months rent in deposit. You will most likely have to view the flat in person (and I would highly recommend it!!). You have two options here as well: going through an estate agent or not. There's benefits to both, and if you choose to rent a Wohnung I would recommend doing some research. We found our flat on ImmobilienScout24 – it moves quick on there and we sent so many emails, most of which went unanswered. There are other sites, but we found this to be the best. There are lots of things to look out for in an advert and contract, such as minimum rental period (usually it's 12 months), number of people allowed, does the flat have a kitchen, is it furnished (also usually not), whether bills are included, wifi, and the deposit. Make sure you ask lots of questions and thoroughly read the contract!



Host Family


I don't have much experience with a host family as it's not something I really ever considered, but I know for some it may really appeal to them. I asked my friend Bethan who's also on her year abroad, doing a teaching assistantship with the British Council, for her opinion and experience of living with a host family and she gave me a fantastic response!

"I didn’t even have to look for accommodation. My mentor had already put out an ad on the school website, and when I contacted the school for the first time I was basically told I had somewhere to live. I wasn't sure at first whether I had my own flat, or just a bedroom, or whether it was catered. It turned out I had a large bedsit-type-thing in their basement with a kitchenette and a separate bathroom, although I didn't find out until I got here that the family have to come in to the bathroom to use the washing machine, which can be a bit awkward. They offered to cook me breakfast every day but they wake up crazy early so I tend to only eat with them at the weekends. In some ways it's a really good situation: everything's included in the rent, so I don't need to worry about wifi or gas bills. The family are really keen to help and have lent me a bike for the whole year, which saves me the 50 minute walk to work or the shops. They even took me to Munich to Oktoberfest with them and they sometimes take me out for pizza on Fridays. In other ways, it's not so great. There's no official contract and the rent is paid in cash, and although I'm lucky that they’re nice, different landlords could have very easily taken advantage. My kitchenette is pretty basic with a little portable hob and no microwave, and it wasn’t installed until 2 weeks after I arrived, so at first I had to make do. There's also very little privacy and my landlady likes to mop my flat on the quiet while I’m out. I tutor two of the kids and help them with their homework, and I’ve even flown kites and been invited to go skiing with them, so they really try to include me in the family. It still gets very lonely though, and if I’d been in a bigger town with more choice of accommodation, I would have gone for a WG, just for the company and the chance to meet people in my own age group and be introduced to their friends."

You can check out Bethan's year abroad blog here for some great posts and her year abroad experience.




There are other options such as living in an AirB&B but the ones I've talked about are the most popular options so I've focused on them. Finding accommodation is not an easy task, it's actually pretty time consuming. I woud definitely recommend spending your time on it and making sure you've chose the right place for YOU. Living in a horrible flat has the potential to ruin your year abroad, so make sure you start looking early. As a rough guide, I started looking for a WG 3 months before I was due to leave, but there weren't many options. Around 4-8 weeks before you go is probably the best time, and I got my flat contract signed around a month before I left. If the option is available to you, talk to people who've already stayed in your city, as they'll be able to give you information you just can't get from the internet, such as the best areas of a city and whether there's any particular accommodation they would recommend.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me! I'll do my best to help.

Do you have any tips or experience of finding accommodation in Germany? What would you recommend?


Hannah Lane


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