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Finding an apartment in Germany

January 23, 2015

For the time being, Alexander and I are living in relative comfort in a one room (read: studio) apartment in an 18 story residential building called the “Internationale Gästhaus,” which is a part of the Technical University of Dresden.  Our room was booked for us in advance by a very helpful secretary at the Max Planck institute.  It is furnished, it is on the 15th floor (giving us a pretty nice view), it costs only €450 a month (including everything), and we can stay for up to three months.


Despite all these nice features, there are several things motivating us to move to a “real” apartment sooner rather than later.  The most important, biggest, main reason #1: The tiny kitchen has no freezer, no stove, and no good place for me to hang out and chat with or annoy Alexander while he cooks me dinner!  Do you know how frustrating it is to have no freezer???  Okay, fine – it’s not that big of a deal – but we couldn’t think of anything else to complain about.   Reason #2 is that we want to start collecting things like furniture, kitchen equipment, and so on.  But, the more stuff we buy here, the more stuff we have to move to a new apartment, and we can foresee that moving lots of belongings might be difficult without a car….

So, that begs the question: “How does one find an apartment in Germany?”

As it turns out, Germans rely almost entirely on the internet, just like the rest of the modern world.  At my work, there is an admin assistent whose job it is to help with this sort of thing.  But, her main resource is the same as everyone else’s in Germany:

This website is the main listing place for almost all rental homes.  There are a few important things to understand about searching for apartment here:

1.  Cold rent vs total rent.  All of the rental apartments are listed with both the “Kaltmiete” (cold rent) and also the “Nebenkosten” (other costs), both of which are monthly costs.  A typical breakdown in Dresden is about €400 of cold rent, and then €180 of Nebenkosten.  The “Nebenkosten” can include whatever the landlord wants: heating, electricity, water trash, taxes, fees, sewage, maintenance, cleaning of shared areas, snow plowing, gardening.  You always have to ask what is included in the Nebenkosten, because the electrical and gas bills might not be included and usually aren’t if they can be metered seperately.  Finally, the quoted Nebenkosten is only an estimate, and can fluctuate depending on your actual measured utilities usage.  Usually you pay (or get reimbursed) the difference at the end of each year.

2. Typical Floor plan. 

Most apartments here are relatively sectioned-off, compared to a modern American apartment.  The concept of open kitchens hasn’t really caught on.   In most apartments, when you enter, you are immediately in a long hallway with doors.  One door leads to the bathroom, another to the bedroom, a third door leads to the living room, and a fourth door to a small kitchen.  In the example floorplan shown below, the Flur = hallway, Küche = kitchen, Wohnen = living room, and Zimmer = room.  In our apartment search, good “sight lines” between the living room and the kitchen was one of our main requirements.  But that eliminated about 90% of our options…  so now we’re considering places with separate kitchens that are at least large enough to fit a cafe table and two chairs (wohnküche).  That way we can still hang out while one of us cooks (and we all know who that will be).


3. Empty kitchen.  The hardest part of our search is the fact that most apartments are rented without a built-in kitchen (Einbauküche).   The kitchen is usually just an empty room with water and electrical hookups.  Example kitchen shown below.  Yes, when you move apartments you take your entire kitchen with you, cabinets and all.  Why?  I’m not really sure.  It seems very odd and explains why when you visit many people’s apartments here their kitchens seem poorly laid out.


So, against that backdrop we are trying to find an apartment that has:

Convenient transportation or location.  Obviously we can’t be convenient to everywhere at once.  But it has to at least be convenient to some things, most importantly to my work.

An open kitchen, or wohnküche.

A built in kitchen (rare but findable).

2 rooms minimum, (note that here a “2 room apartment” has two rooms, a bedroom and a combined living room/kitchen, not two bedrooms).

Extras: a balcony or outdoor space

2nd bedroom, bath and shower, parking,

Fortunately, prices are reasonable.  We can easily find something with total costs in the 600€ range.  For comparison, we paid $600 in houghton for a very outdated 2 bed apartment where you walked through one bedroom to go the bathroom and that room also had a door with a window in it leading to the kitchen for unknown reasons.

We were worried that our lack of german skills would be a big issue.  But, so far most people seem willing to work with us.  Alexander went to tour six or so apartments this week with people who spoke no english, and they managed somehow.  He probably only asked if the bathroom had a horse in it once or twice.

Hopefully our search will end in success soon, Alexander has managed to make delicious food with nothing more than two pots and two pans and a tiny cutting board so far, but I think he is getting frustrated.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Zevalkink permalink
    January 23, 2015 10:02 PM

    Awesome stuff. Thanks kiddo.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Betsy jellema permalink
    January 24, 2015 8:22 AM

    We were “flured” at the tiny kitchen, also “unkitted” in J&J otherwise spacious Frankfurt apt.. The bathroom, on the other hand, is quite large, accommodating several drying racks, bec no dryer. No wonder Ikea is booming there! Hope you find something befitting Alex ‘s culinary skill! Love, AB

  3. January 26, 2015 9:59 AM

    Nice Alex and Alex, I was just wondering the other day how everything was going. It seems that you’re keeping it well documented :). Good luck w/ the apartment and getting used to the European quirks.

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