Housing how-tos: Berlin flat-hunting basics (part 1)

Row of white, sand, pink and yellow colored Prenzlauer Berg apartment buildings in Berlin.

Have questions about finding a place to live as a graduate student in Berlin? Here’s an introduction.

The prospect of finding an apartment can seem daunting, especially if you’re coming from outside of Germany. In this blog post, we’ll be talking about all things accommodation – starting with the various types of housing available to students, different neighborhoods in Berlin and the ballpark cost of living in them.

Different types of accommodation

There are different options depending on your requirements:

  1. Student dormitories – Usually affordable and functional. The rent upfront typically includes cleaning and maintenance costs. Overall, it’s a great option if international, dormitory-style living with students from other Berlin universities is what you’re looking for. StudierendenWERK, House of Nations and Berlinovo are some examples.
  2. Modern alternatives to student dorms – Some private housing providers like the Student Hotel, the Urban Club and Neon Wood offer an alternative to traditional student dorms. They can act as a combination of student accommodation, long-term rentals, hotel rooms and communal/co-working spaces. Their modern concepts for student accommodation and sleek designs can be very attractive but also pricier than regular student dorms.
  3. Furnished/unfurnished room in a shared flat (“WG”) – A Wohngemeinschaft or WG is a shared apartment. Sometimes students on a year-long exchange or working professionals going for a project abroad will sublet their rooms and post openings on housing search websites and social media groups. By subletting a room, you also save on having to furnish the apartment yourself.

    You can also create a WG of your own if you’re looking for a place with other people. You can apply for empty apartments that you can then furnish with the people you’re moving in with. This could be nice if you wish to stay put in the same apartment during your studies and even after graduating. This typically would involve a long-term contract and consequently more effort on your part, but it would also mean not having to think about moving every year. Do note that renting furnished flats can be much more expensive than renting an unfurnished one.
  4. Studio apartment (furnished/unfurnished) – If you’d rather have your own space altogether, studio apartments are the way to go. These tend to be a little more expensive since you’d be bearing all the costs. But if your pocket allows, renting a studio may be a good option. As with furnished WGs, renting pre-furnished studio apartments will be more expensive, but you would save the trouble of furnishing it yourself.

Access to public transportation is key

One of the best aspects of living in Berlin is its efficient and reliable public transportation system (read our previous blog post about Berlin’s public transport system to find out more). With a combination of buses, trams, trains, and bikes, travelling within Berlin is convenient. Berlin’s best ally is the Ringbahn, a 37-km-long train route that creates a ring around the city. When looking for a place to live, keep an eye out for nearby public transportation stops. Even if you find something farther away from the Hertie School than you’d like, if you’re near enough to a public transportation stop, you’ll be good to go. Plus, the costs of commuting within Berlin’s ABC zone are included with your student pass!

Which neighbourhood to live in?

It’s your first time in Berlin, the streets are unfamiliar, the names seemingly unpronounceable. Where should you live? While proximity to public transportation stops is key, you might even want to find a place within the Ring to ensure a swift commute. Note: The rents stated in the neighborhoods below are general estimations, and prices can certainly vary a lot within one neighbourhood.

There are certain neighborhoods (Kieze) in Berlin that are usually more affordable than others. These would be Neukölln, Reinickendorf, Wedding, Pankow, Moabit, Lichtenberg and Spandau. The rents differ between them, but the average amount for a room in a shared flat would be around €350-€550. Of course, the rent depends on the size of the room, furniture, duration, etc. Given that the rents are on the cheaper side, these areas have a large student population and therefore are quite international and diverse. You can also find some of the most delicious food here!

For a higher budget, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and (parts of) Mitte are great neighbourhoods with a buzzing nightlife. Costs here would be €500-€700 per month depending on the exact location and size of the room. Signature to these neighborhoods are their cozy and quaint cafes, queer pubs and bars, and boutiques and stores for shopping. These areas are also very well connected by trains and trams. Travelling to the Hertie School would take you anywhere between 15-30 minutes from any of these neighborhoods.

Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Schöneberg are mostly quiet and family-friendly neighborhoods in Berlin. They usually have a large expat crowd and are slightly more expensive, but the greenery, peace and quiet can be worth it! The rent here would be around €550-€700 a month. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city (believe me, Berlin can be loud!) these are great areas to shoot for.

My recommendation for the apartment-hunt? Be open to different neighbourhoods! Keep an eye out for good and affordable options in other areas, as sometimes better deals may arise.

How to get started

While you can certainly start browsing search engines from abroad, the best way to look for housing is to be in Berlin and search on the ground. Going for viewings spontaneously and even visiting a place multiple times is easier when you’re here in person.

A simpler option to find a short-term spot from where you can peacefully carry out your apartment hunt would be to get an Airbnb. This would give you a functioning place to stay, and you need not worry so much about it being shady. Since it can be costly to stay at an Airbnb, you could also try staying at a hostel instead.

In part two of our guide to the Berlin flat-hunting basics, we’ll share tips on platforms you can use to start searching, what you should know before sending off that first message, plus an overview of the documents you’ll need to apply!


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