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The complete guide to how you can (still) live cheaply in Berlin

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The complete guide to how you can (still) live cheaply in Berlin
Photo: DPA
21:39 CET+01:00
There’s no denying that living costs in Berlin have skyrocketed over the past couple of years, but with a little savvy, you can still get by without burning a hole in your pocket.

Ever since ex-mayor Klaus Wowereit coined that fateful phrase - arm, aber sexy (poor but sexy) - in 2001, thousands of people from around the world have been drawn to Berlin by the promise of cheap rent and low-cost living.

Naturally, things have changed rather a lot since the days when squats ruled the city and housing was in plentiful supply. Living in Berlin today, hardly a week goes by when you don’t hear of flat viewings with hundreds in the queue or sneaky landlords jacking up the rent to extortionate levels.

SEE ALSO: Berlin has the fastest growing rents in the world, study finds

Stacked up against other major European cities, however, Berlin remains one of the cheapest to live and work in - as long as you’re a little savvy. From transport to paying your bills, we’ve put together some tips and tricks for keeping costs down in the city, so you can live in true bohemian arm aber sexy style.

Housing, bills and insurance

Finding a flat here is a hard slog, so when it comes to rent, it can feel like you have little control. You can prepare, however, by looking at the cheapest neighbourhoods to live in and reading our guide on how to stand out from the flat-hunting crowd.

Chart created for The Local by Statista.

If you're set on staying centrally located in a bustling area, look into the neighbourhoods bordering the most popular Kieze. Instead of increasingly posh Prenzlauer Berg, head a little further north to Pankow. Or instead of hip Friedrichshain, go a little further east to Lichtenberg. Moabit and Wedding border central Mite but still have a number of affordable finds - whether you're looking for a flat or a WG.

SEE ALSO: People think life in Berlin ends outside the Ringbahn. They're wrong.

Often the borders of popular districts themselves have a number of good deals. In the very south of Neukölln, closer to Britz, for example, you can find cheaper flats while not being too far from the centre of Neukölln.

As well as searching through the usual channels like WGgesucht, try using any mutual connections you have in the city; sometimes you can strike gold with people who have lived here a long time and are still hanging onto ultra-cheap contracts.

There is also a “Mietpreisbremse” law in place in Germany which states that the cost for a rental contract cannot exceed 10% above the current rent index. If you believe that you may be  paying too much, you can use this free tool to figure out whether your rent can be reduced. The activists that set up this page can also provide services to help you get this reduction if applicable.

SEE ALSO: Germany's controversial rent control law works after all (at least in central Berlin)

For bills, expat Leonor Vera from Ecuador recommends “check24”, a price comparison tool. “I love check24”, she told The Local, saying that she “used it for all basic services - phone, TV, electricity and gas - first to get the best service and price and then to keep checking if my service contracts are still the best or if there are companies that can offer better deals”.

Health insurance is a legal requirement in Germany, and you can read all about what types might be available to you in our guide.

Unfortunately, this cost is usually non-negotiable, but Olivia Ruiz from the U.S., who has lived in Berlin for the past four years, recommends checking whether your insurer has any kind of “rewards” programme.

“Every year I get around 200 back from the AOK”, she told The Local, explaining that she takes part in the company’s “fit mit AOK” scheme, whereby customers can gain points for activities like company sports and donating blood.

Chart made for The Local by Statista.

Getting around

Berlin is so flat that marathon records are regularly set by runners here, meaning it’s the perfect place to bike around to save money on public transport. It’s a fairly cycle-friendly city too, with cycle paths on most roads, and a lot of routes taking you through pretty parks.

There are several places you can source a bike, the most expensive being new from a bicycle shop. With people moving in and out of the city so frequently, however, second hand bikes are never too hard to track down.

Ebay-Kleinanzeigen, buy-and-sell Facebook groups, or second-hand bicycle markets are all good places to try, though it’s obviously important to exercise some caution when buying: never send money before you’ve seen the bike, and make sure to perform proper checks on it before agreeing to part with your cash. Once you have it, make sure to invest in a very sturdy lock as bike theft is unfortunately highly common in Berlin.

If buying a bike isn’t an option for you, there are several companies that offer bikes on a pay-as-you-go or monthly pass basis. You pick these up throughout the city using the appropriate app on your phone, and drop them off within designated zones. Similar schemes also exist with scooters and even cars, if you need to get around a little quicker.

Winters in Berlin aren't as harsh as they once were, but sometimes it’s just too damn cold to even consider hopping on a bike. A standard AB monthly pass will set you back €81, but there are some ways of reducing this fare. If you’re able to stall leaving the house till after 10am on weekdays, a monthly “10am pass” costs €59.10.

If you’re currently on unemployment benefits you can get a pass for €27.50, while if you are employed, you may be able to get a pass costing €691.60 a year (around €57.64 per month) if your employer is signed up to the BVG scheme.

Groceries

On the whole, supermarkets like Netto, Lidl and Aldi tend to be cheaper than Edeka, Rewe and Biomarkt, though bargains can be found at all of these if you head a little before closing time, when certain products are marked down. You can also make a few euros by taking back bottles and cans to claim back pfand (deposit) at supermarkets.

SEE ALSO: Your guide to German supermarkets

When it comes to shopping for produce, markets - try the Türkischer Markt on Maybachufer - often have fruit on veg on offer that’s much cheaper and fresher than what you can find in the supermarket. If you manage to get hold of a small piece of allotment, you could even have a go at growing your own!

Expat Tanja Schaub from London also recommends hitting up food sharing sites like “toogoodtogo.de” and “foodsharing.de”, both of which allow you to pick up free or reduced-priced food from private households and businesses that would’ve gone to waste otherwise.

Clothes and furniture

Whether trying to deck out your new flat or find a killer outfit for the weekend, the key to keeping costs cheap is going second hand.

Second hand clothes shops are dotted all over the city, including several “Humana” shops and some “kilo” shops that operate on a weigh-and-pay system. Some of the more boutique-y “vintage” shops can be a little pricey, so for the real bargains, flea markets are your best bet.

Try to avoid more touristy spots like Mauerpark and head around the corner to the Sunday market at Arkonaplatz, or further afield to RAW at Warschauer Straße, instead to find the most reasonable prices - and be prepared to haggle!

Flea markets can also be a good place to pick up smaller pieces of furniture if you have a way to transport them. Otherwise, Facebook buy/sell/give groups and Ebay-kleinanzeigen are your friend when it comes to furniture, and can mean avoiding racking up a huge bill at IKEA.

Graph created for The Local by Statista.

Language-learning and leisure

If you’re keen to learn German but a little out of pocket, you may be eligible for subsidised “integration” classes which can cost as little as €1,95 per hour. You can read more about these courses and what they cost here. Language tandems are also a great way to learn German free or at a low cost, with plenty of regular sessions to be found on Meetup and Facebook.

For free events in the city, visitberlin.de keeps an up-to-date list which you can bookmark and come back to for inspiration. On certain days in the month, some Berlin museums offer free or reduced entry, and concession tickets for students, unemployed people and others are usually available year-round.

Meetup is a great resource for all kinds of free and/or cheap events in the city, with everything from comedy nights to fitness groups and book clubs to be found there.

As for nightlife, grabbing a couple of Späti beers to drink in the park will always be cheaper than heading to the bar, but when weather won’t permit, a good general rule of thumb is that the areas with the lowest rental costs have the cheapest bars for drinking in.

Otherwise, you can always don your darkest outfit and try blagging yourself onto the guest list - though don’t blame us if you get sent packing at the doors of Berghain.

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