Let’s start with the obvious: As an expat, finding an apartment in the German capital is far from easy. You’ll have to compete against countless other applicants (depending on the neighborhood, it could be more than 800!), understand the intricacies of the German rental market, which is likely very different from the one you left behind, and on top of all of that, you’ll need to understand rent-related terms in German (Like what a ‘Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung’ is exactly).
The good news is, you’re not alone. Berlin has a huge foreign population consisting of 170 different nationalities, and a whole 20 % of its population was born outside of Germany, according to the Berlin-Brandenburg office of statistics.
And most importantly, we’re here to help you out.
These are the topics we’ll be covering:
- Where in Berlin should you look for an apartment?
- Practical tips for finding an apartment in Berlin
- Everything you need to bring to an apartment viewing
- Some additional facts about renting an apartment in Germany
Where in Berlin should you look for an apartment?
If you’re expecting a one-size-fits-all answer, sorry to disappoint. However, we can definitely offer you a guide: Together we’ll review the most important criteria to help you decide on a ‘Kiez’ (aka city neighborhood in Berlin)—including access to public transport, number of applicants per flat, and crime rate. Let’s go!
Public transport to the city center
Here’s the insider secret: Your new apartment should be located inside the ‘S-Bahn Ring’, meaning it should be accessible by tram. Spoiler: If you’ve arrived in places called Spandau, Koepenick or Marzahn, you’ve veered too far from the city center.
If you’re considering living in an apartment that isn’t located in the heart of Berlin, you should at least make sure that it’s got an accessible tram line that can get you there. Let’s be honest—you won’t want to spend 90 minutes on public transportation just to be able to enjoy a glass of wine in Berlin Mitte.
Number of applicants per apartment
Want to know about the hottest neighborhoods? Just go with the areas people won’t stop talking about, like: Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg or Neukölln, which are high up there on the coolness factor.
Btw, in 2021 Berlin Neukölln was ranked the 11th hottest neighborhood in the world by Timeout Magazine.
However, one downside to their popularity is that the hottest neighborhoods tend to attract the most applicants. A popular neighborhood means less of a chance to secure yourself a place to live.
Immobilienscout24.de, the largest German online marketplace for real estate, analyzed the number of candidates per apartment in a particular Berlin neighborhood in 2017–2018. They found that 836 (!) candidates applied for a 54 square meter (approximately 580 square feet) rental in Neukölln . Demand in Kreuzberg and Friendrichhain appeared to be similar, with an average of 635 and 595 applicants per apartment, respectively. In contrast, apartments in Wartenberg received the least applications (17 applicants per flat).
Take a look at the full (German) list here.
Berlin’s not Capetown or Acapulco, but there are still a few Berlin neighborhoods best avoided when strolling around alone at night. According to the Berlin police, you should be cautious around these places:
- Görlitzer Park/Wrangelkiez
- Hermannstraße/Bahnhof Neukölln
- Kottbusser Tor
- Rigaer Straße
- Warschauer Brücke
Last but not least, one of the most important aspects when looking for an apartment: Money.
Ok, rent is a tiny bit more complicated. But don’t worry, we’ll get down to it.
In Germany, two different types of rent exist: ‘Warmmiete’ (warm rent) and ‘Kaltmiete’ (cold rent). The former includes additional expenses such as electricity and water costs, whereas for the latter, amenities are excluded.
Now that we’ve explained some basics—what’s a fair amount of money to pay for a rental apartment in Berlin?
Our answer: Check out the current ’Mietspiegel’ (Rent Mirror). The resource provides you with information regarding average local rent (beware: Kaltmiete) in certain neighborhoods. According to the Mietspiegel, the current average rent in Berlin is 23,39 € per square meter ( 10 square feet).
At the low end, it starts from about 12 € per square meter in a neighborhood called ‘Waidmannslust’, all the way up to 43,09 € per square meter in ‘Oberschöneweide’.
FYI, Berlin rent has increased around 39 % over the last 2 years! According to the Mietspiegel, the average local rent in 2020 was only 16,80 € per square meter!
And now that you’ve (hopefully) narrowed it down to a few Berlin neighborhoods, you might want to live in, let the actual apartment hunt begin. We’re kicking it off with some hands-on tips.
Practical tips for finding an apartment in Berlin
- Be the early bird
As you probably know by now, Germans love being organized and planning ahead! The same applies to renting out their apartments. This means that you should start looking for a new apartment earlier rather than later. But what’s considered early?
Usually, once you’ve made up your mind, you’ll have to give your (former) landlord a 3 month notice before you plan to move out. So, you should start looking for your next Berlin apartment roughly 3 months in advance.
- Involve friends and acquaintances in the apartment hunt
German language nerd alert: In German, getting help from someone you know is called using ‘Vitamin B’—where B stands for ‘Beziehungen’ (relationships).
What does this mean? There’s always your one friend who’s roommates with this guy who might have heard of a great new apartment listing. An additional plus to this method: Potential landlords might be more likely to consider your application if it comes with a recommendation from someone they actually know—especially when it comes to expats.
- Use your digital network such as Facebook groups
If you’re brand new in the German capital and don’t have any friends or acquaintances to help you find a suitable apartment, don’t worry. There are tons of Facebook groups you can join for that purpose. Some great examples include: Freie Wohnung / WG in Berlin (if you already speak some German) or groups for expats such as Berlin Apartments – Rent – Share & Sell flats & apartments in Berlin & apartments in Berlin , or more general ones such as +Expats in Berlin+.
- Make use of online marketplaces
You might have heard of them by now, but the most known German portals for your apartment hunt include: Immoscout 24, Immowelt, and Immonet.
For Immoscout 24, it might be worth getting their subscription called ‘Mieterplus+’. It will allow you to gain an insight into all kinds of statistics as well as have your messages appear first in your potential landlord’s postbox. Nice bonus: With the premium account, you’ll be able to send in all of the needed docs in a super organized way (and make all the Germans very happy!).
In addition, you should set up alerts for all of these marketplaces—so you can react straight away if you see a new listing pop up on your phone. Time’s money when it comes to any apartment hunt—but even more so for Berlin’s highly competitive housing market.
- Check out some alternative channels
If you’re currently a student, your university might offer an updates board where people offer their services, or alternatively, advertise their apartments. Also, the university itself might have counselors who can support you in the process of finding an apartment.
In addition to that, make sure you visit the classified ads plattform Ebay-Kleinanzeigen—you can literally find anything and everything there—including moving boxes and second hand furniture.
If you’re looking for a shared flat with roommates (called WG, or Wohngemeinschaft in German), we’d recommend you check out the website WG-gesucht to find your perfect flat match.
- Get a realtor?
Also, if you’re becoming more German by the day, have planned ahead, and put some cash aside, it might be useful to involve a real estate agent—especially if your German’s not fluent yet. The upside: You’ll only have to pay the agent’s commission once they have found an apartment for you. Also, their commission shouldn’t exceed two month’s rent plus VAT. Don’t let anyone fool you here.
So, you’ve finally been invited to the long-awaited apartment viewing. Your next question’s probably what you’ll need to bring with you. We’ve got the answer.
Everything you need to bring to an apartment viewing
Make sure to bring all of the following items:
1. Schufa-Auskunft. This is basically like a credit report. It shows your landlord that you’ll be able to pay your rent every month. However, if you’ve just moved to Germany, this document might be blank. If this is the case, make sure to bring an alternate document that shows that you have sufficient funds, like a work contract or your tax returns.
2. Your last three payslips. If you’re a freelancer, bring a statement of income from a tax advisor instead. Just so you know, in Germany, roughly one third of your salary should be budgeted for your monthly rent.
3. Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung. Quite high up on the list of longest German expressions ever, but what does it mean? This document confirms that you’ve always paid your rent and don’t owe your previous landlord any money (Here’s a template).
4. Your ID—plus a copy of your ID.
5. Bonus: Proof of your personal liability and contents insurance. Contents and liability insurance (which taken together are quite similar to US renters insurance) aren’t mandatory in Germany. Nevertheless, landlords might ask you for proof of both personal liability (“Privathaftpflichtversicherung”) and contents insurance (“Hausratversicherung”). According to the German Tenants’ Association (“Deutscher Mieterbund”) this request isn’t legally valid. However, reality looks slightly different. As you know by now, there’s lots of competition when it comes to affordable housing in Germany. Therefore, you should give yourself a head start, and consider getting yourself both insurances.
Here’s what they cover:
- Personal liability insurance. This insurance covers you if you accidentally injure others or cause damage to their stuff—including your rental apartment. No wonder landlords really want you to get this insurance.
- Contents insurance. Your contents policy protects your stuff, more specifically everything you’d take with you if you were to move, from damages caused by things like fire, tap water, or a burglary.
Some additional facts about renting an apartment in Germany
Calculating German apartment sizes
For German apartments, everything (also the living room) counts as a room (‘Zimmer’).
If you’d like to live in a 1-bedroom apartment, you’ll have to look for a ‘Zweizimmerwohnung’ (2-room apartment).
Unfurnished versus furnished apartments
Most German rental apartments are rented out unfurnished, meaning they might not even include a fully-equipped kitchen. So, if you don’t own any furniture and prefer not to buy any either, you might want to consider living in a sublet, short-term apartment such as Airbnb, or in a shared apartment that comes with some basic equipment. Alternatively, you can filter the apartment ads to include a so-called ‘EBK’ (Einbauküche), so you can expect a fitted kitchen to come with your apartment.
German rent deposit
The rent deposit (‘Kaution’) serves as a security for your landlord, and can be used in case you accidentally damage the apartment furniture, fail to settle outstanding bills, or simply haven’t paid up on time. The maximum amount your landlord can ask for in a security deposit is three months of rent (‘Kaltmiete’).
Btw, if your landlord refuses to pay back your deposit after you move out, check out these tips to help you get your well-deserved money back.
We really hope our tips were helpful! If the apartment hunting process takes a bit longer than you expected—don’t give up. In the end, finding a new home for yourself in Berlin will definitely be worth the wait!