Holiday rentals through the roof
Tourism in Berlin is booming. The combination of culture, art, history and shopping is pulling in the crowds, and it seems more and more of them are opting to stay in holiday apartments rather than hotels. Relatively cheap pricing and ample availability are both important influences. And it's big business – even large hotel chains are buying up land in order to build blocks of self-catering apartments rather than the hotels of the future.
So what are the advantages of choosing a home away from home, and should you be considering it for your next trip to the city?
Pondering the positives
-Save money:Apartments cost less than hotels, and being able to make your own food saves a fortune on the costs of eating out.
-Suit yourself:No room service knocking on the door or set hours for breakfast gives you much more independence.
-Live with the locals: Being in an apartment means you'll experience what life in the city is really like for its residents.
-Cook up a storm:One of the benefits of renting an apartment is the ability to experiment with local ingredients and create your own take on regional classics in the kitchen.
-Socialise!Sharing an apartment with your friends or family on holiday makes it much easier to hang out together than when you're all in separate hotel rooms.
If all this is sounding interesting, what are the main things you need to think about?
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo…
After cost, where to stay is usually the biggest consideration for travellers. It's arguably even more important when it comes to choosing an apartment than a hotel – get the location right and it goes a long way to making you feel properly at home.
Most people new to the apartment hunting process start with Mitte. It's the city's most central borough and takes in six different localities, including a smaller area also known as Mitte, just to confuse things.
But Berlin's a huge place, so we got in touch with All-Berlin-Apartments.com for an insider's take on which areas would suit different types of people. (Having been in business for 14 years, the firm has recently been chosen by the city of Berlin's official website as its exclusive provider for holiday apartments within the capital).
Their advice was that Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are probably the districts for you if you're travelling with friends and want to be close to bars and clubs. Families might enjoy Charlottenburg, which is a relatively quieter area. Then there's the Prenzlauer Berg area - sort of a mix of the two, and known for its quality restaurants. The city also has a thriving gay scene, with Schöneberg home to a particularly large gay community.
You could also look further afield to some of Berlin's famously leafy suburbs, for example, Steglitz-Zehlendorf. With its lakes and forests (including the famous Lake Wannsee), it would be ideal if you're into water sports and other outdoor activities.
Everything but the kitchen sink?
If you're more au fait with hotel bookings you might well be wondering what you do and don't need to take along to your apartment. What household supplies are provided depends a lot on how generous the owner is, so best to ask beforehand to avoid any surprises. Even if you plan on spending very little time in the flat, you'll soon notice the absence of something vital.
Like a Wi-Fi internet connection, for example. More apartment owners are now including this, but it's not a given. If stairs are a problem for you or you're travelling with kids or elderly people, make sure that the apartment has a lift – many rental apartments in Berlin don't.
Then of course there's the weather. Berlin can get pretty nippy in winter, with the mercury known to dip to minus 14 degrees, so it's worth double checking your apartment has central heating. On the other hand, bear in mind that air conditioning isn't the norm.
Sidestepping the cracks on the garden path
Let's face it – the world is full of rogues and charlatans, and the internet at times seems to have more than its fair share of them. A particularly notorious scam involves advertising holiday apartments that look great on screen, but that don't actually exist when the unfortunate tourist shows up, suitcase in tow.
So, here are a few pointers to make sure your booking isn't too good to be true.
What sort of bunch are you dealing with? Don't be afraid to ask the most basic questions, like how long have they been in business, and whether you'll be able to call them in your native language. Have a look as well on travel forums to see what other people are saying about the company.
Before you even think about handing over your credit card details, do a quick recce. A secure site will have certain seals of approval, such as those issued by VeriSign and Thawte. The browser's status bar (at the foot of the screen) should also change when you're at the booking stage to show you a closed padlock icon.
There's nothing worse than finding the flat of your dreams, going to the hassle of entering credit card details, only to be met with a message that says “sorry, we'll need to check availability and get back to you”. Look for companies offering instant confirmations and save yourself the wait.
Wading through small print may not sound like fun, but one thing you should pay attention to are any ‘hidden' charges. These could be in the form of booking fees or surcharges for having the temerity to use your credit card. Some firms charge and some don't – if yours does, they should at least make this clear at every stage of the booking process.
And one last tip we picked up from All-Berlin-Apartments.com - keep an eye out for previous guests' reviews of the accommodation. Such insights can make all the difference in whether you choose apartment A or B. (Make sure they're bona fide, though. Check if the apartment's rating is actually backed up by the reviews, or whether the company might have given itself an undeserved pat on the back.)
Article sponsored by All-Berlin-Apartments.com.