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HOUSING

High costs, long queues and discrimination: What it’s like to rent in Germany

Finding a place to live in Germany is “extremely difficult”, often "discriminatory" and one city in particular stood out. Here’s what internationals had to say.

High costs, long queues and discrimination: What it's like to rent in Germany
A protester holds up a sign that reads: 'Apartments for all' at a demo in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Following mass nationwide demonstrations this year where protesters have called for an end to 'rent insanity', it's clear that housing is a big issue in Germany.

But when we reached out to our readers to ask their views on the housing market in Germany, particularly when it comes to renting, we were blown away by the responses. Internationals here have lots of concerns about the renting process, from rocketing prices to discriminatory landlords.

It comes after a German court ruled that a landlord had discriminated against foreigners after he placed an advertisement that said he would only lease his apartment “to Germans”.

Here are some of our readers' experiences.

SEE ALSO:

High rents make living in Munich 'impossible'

A recent report showed that on average Germany-wide, anyone who moved homes in autumn 2018 had to spend €7.06 per square metre per month for their new apartment – 3.9 percent more than in the previous year. These costs are for the Kaltmiete (cold rent) – before adding on bills and other costs.

In Munich, anyone who moved homes in the last few months of 2018 on average had to spend €16.54 per square meter, making it the most expensive place to rent in Germany. For our readers, Munich also stands out for that reason.

“Munich has a housing crisis, unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it will get better any time soon,” Carl, 43, from Sweden said.

“The rents are incredibly high even for a simple one or two bed apartment, but the worst thing is that the market is so competitive that it's almost impossible to even get a viewing.”

SEE ALSO: The ultimate guide to living in Munich on a budget

Others agreed, saying it's difficult to get a place in the southern state of Bavaria.

Omar, 27, from Egypt, said he found it “cheap and easy” to rent a place in Dresden, Saxony, but in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, “it was so expensive”.

But he said Munich is the worst. “It is near impossible to find reasonable rent prices,” he said.

Other readers had a similar thing to say, adding that the city is “very costly”.

“For a family you won’t find anything less than €2,000 (per month),” one respondent to our survey said.

Flats in Munich where it's difficult to find a place, according to our readers. Photo: DPA

Another reader who lives in Munich, said the outlook for renting in Germany is “terrible” and “extremely expensive.

“There are hundreds of people in a queue before you, for a single apartment, even when you’ve applied immediately.”

Rents better than home

Grant, 34, from Australia lived in Hamburg for five years and has just moved to Munich.

He said it’s a mixed picture in Germany, but that renting is much better value than his home city of Melbourne.

“The housing market in major cities in Germany is actually better and cheaper than my home (Australia) so I'm very happy about what you get for your money here,” he said.  But he added: “Munich seems to be over-priced; however Berlin is unbelievably cheap.”

Another reader from the US said prices in Munich “are really crazy”.

Tamer, 35, from Egypt and now lives in Munich, said: “The rental prices are very high in Munich, it takes a significant part of your income and at the same time it's extremely hard to get one (an apartment).”

Another reader, Ajith, 32, who’s from India who also lives in Munich said the city is “unreasonably expensive”.

SEE ALSO: Three German cities ranked in the top 10 of the best places to live

“I have been searching for a house in the south of Munich for the past 4 months,” said Ajith. “It’s even hard to get a viewing. When we get a viewing opportunity there will be 25 people standing in a queue.”

Silviu, 38, from Romania, described the costs of renting in Munich as “exorbitant”.

City living doesn’t come cheap

Our readers found some other parts of Germany were also quite pricey. Cities such as Hamburg in the north, were deemed expensive for housing.

Tony, 31, from Ireland said renting costs in Hamburg were reasonable when he arrived two years ago. “€590 cold rent for two rooms was a good deal considering Dublin rents are triple that,” he said. But costs have increased dramatically now.

“Anything larger than 1-2 rooms is €1,100 cold,” Tony added.

Another reader from India, said it was “generally expensive” where he lives in Tettnang, Baden-Württemberg.

He remarked on the long drawn out process of trying to secure somewhere to live in Germany: “I stayed in Friedrichshafen before. It takes around 6 months to find a place.”

Annil, 39, from India who lives in Friedrichshafen, said it all depends on the demand and supply where you are.

“I think the prices are reasonable according to the flat sizes,” said Annil.

Vignesh, 28, from India said there was a “huge shortage of accommodation” in the area around Eningen in Baden-Würtemberg.

Demonstrators against rising rent prices in Dresden on Saturday. Photo: DPA

“Prices in the region are too high,” Vignesh said.

Shaik, 30, who lives in Stuttgart found a similar situation. “It's very difficult to get a home. Forget about preferences to say the least. Costs are high and not negotiable due to high demand.”

Hauptstadt a mixed bag

In Berlin, although some people said rents were increasing dramatically, the issue of availability appeared more pressing.

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

Carolyn from South Africa said it had become “notoriously difficult” to find a place in Berlin.

David from Chicago said rents are “sky-rocketing”. He said his 40 square metre apartment in the Kreuzberg area is “over €1,000 per month”.

“I’ve moved 18 times in the past six years,” he said, indicating that it can be hard to find a place to settle in Berlin.

Lots of readers pointed out that the process to secure a flat was difficult, too.

Meanwhile, Hilary, 33 from the US, said costs were reasonable in Berlin compared to New York.

“The number of applicants make the rental process particularly competitive,” she said. “We went to one viewing that definitely had over 20 people at it.”

SEE ALSO: Plan emerges for 'radical solution' to lower rising rents in Berlin

According to Mehdi, 30, from Iran, rents are increasing at a “rapid pace” in Berlin.

He said the process can be frustrating for foreigners, because private landlords might ignore the email “when they see a non-western name or an email written in English”.

Another survey respondent said costs to rent in Berlin have certainly gone up “but it still seems reasonable compared to other European areas”.

Robert, 50, from the US said:  “Being a foreigner and freelancer, it is very difficult to get a landlord's attention when they have so many offers to choose from.”

Discrimination when house hunting

Rachel, 25, from New York said costs were “reasonable in Berlin but the process was “terrible”.

“The process not only allows but encourages landlords to act on their worst instincts and develop stereotypes based on attributes like gender and country of origin,” she said.

“The result hurts everyone: those who are not selected for arbitrary reasons are often forced to pay more for short-term options like Airbnb that drives up costs for everyone.”

SEE ALSO: Germany's housing crisis: Is development without displacement possible?

An ad from a student looking for a flat in Freiburg. Photo: DPA

Adarsh, who’s from India and lives in Munich said the process of finding somewhere to live is “daunting and frustrating for young male immigrants especially from Asian countries”.

“I seldom get calls to visit a house and in one instance was insulted by jokes about me blowing up the kitchen by cooking chicken curries,” he said. “When I said that i was vegetarian it got worse for me as it confirmed in the eyes of the landlord that I would be ‘cooking’ a lot.”

Adarsh said it frequently felt like landlords or people living in shared flats showed disinterest in him and would say within a few minutes of him entering that they were ‘looking for someone else who would be better fitting’.

Eno, 56, who lives in Heikendorf in Schleswig-Holstein said he found the flat-finding process to be “very discriminatory”.

'German housing market is unfriendly towards foreigners'

Another reader who lives in Saarbrucken in Saarland said finding an apartment there has been difficult.

“There is an easily observable passive discrimination towards non-German residents, which coupled with the limited housing market makes the whole situation quite messy.”

The reader, who asked to remain anonymous, added: “One instance of racism I faced was when a colleague of mine offered her apartment to me, and I sent my documents to the landlady, but I was refused, without any reason given.

SEE ALSO: How to join a Mieterverein (renter's association) in Germany

“So, on the whole, the German housing market is very unfriendly towards foreigners, or at least people from outside the EU.”

Tamer recounted some bad experiences.

“Being a Muslim family where the wife wears headscarf (i.e. Hijab), we got rejected just because of this headscarf,” Tamer told The Local. “ It was not communicated formally for sure but was just mentioned verbally through our relocation consultant.”

Sowmya, from India, lives in Hanover and said although rents are increasing, people are becoming a bit more open to renting flats out “to people from other countries”.

But language difficulties can be a problem.

“We always got negative replies for appointments and even sometimes when we got positive replies, after the appointment we stood no chance in the competition with other (German) clients,” said Sowmya.

Apartments with no kitchens

Pranshul, 21, an Indian resident from Dubai, who is studying in Jülich, North Rhine-Westphalia, said there are some points of the process that can be confusing for foreigners coming to Germany.

Those include the lack of furnished apartments when renting in Germany, including the fact there is sometimes no kitchen or flooring in properties, and tenants are expected to pay to build these “additions” themselves.

Other negative points included vague contracts that are difficult to understand and “the assumption by landlords” that everyone understands the process of renting an apartment in Germany, even though they may have just recently arrived in the country.

Grant added that he was surprised when he was about to move into a flat and found it completely stripped bare by the tenant “including the kitchen sink”.

'Somewhere to live for all' protest sign at the recent 'rent madness' nationwide demonstration. Photo: DPA

“I was particularly shocked when I first saw electrical wires hanging out of the ceiling,” he said. “And having to pay extra for a kitchen (or to buy someone else's) is just bizarre.”

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For members

HEALTH

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Going to the doctor when you're living abroad is a necessary part of life, but it can feel a little daunting. Here are some cultural quirks to look out for in Germany.

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Germany is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. 

But there are some cultural differences that can take a bit of getting used to when you’re not from the country. 

Here’s a look at what you should keep in mind. 

You might have to pay at the doctor

People used to a healthcare system that’s free at the point of contact, such as the NHS in the UK, may be a little confused if they are asked to pay money at a doctor’s appointment. 

But the fact is that certain things will not be covered by your health insurance in Germany, and some optional extras could require that you have to dip into your wallet. 

For instance, many gynaecologists may offer to carry out an optional pelvic ultrasound check during a Pap smear test. If it’s not covered by your insurance, they will state in the appointment that it is an extra cost so you can decide if you want to pay for it or not. 

You should also ask if you have to pay for it upfront at the practice or if it will be sent out as a bill. 

Similarly, other specialists may also offer extra services that you could pay extra for. 

READ ALSO: ‘It works’: Your verdict on the German healthcare system

You’ll get different types of prescriptions

Another point to watch out for is that there are different kinds of prescriptions. A prescription (Rezept) given out on pink slips is usually given to people on statutory health insurance. People have to pay a reduced contribution – usually around €5-€10 – when picking up prescription medicine at the pharmacy. 

Patients with private insurance in Germany are more likely to be given a blue-coloured prescription slip. Private customers have to pay for their medicines in full before their insurance company reimburses them. You can also be given a blue slip if your public health insurance doesn’t cover the treatment.

Green slips include treatment that the doctor recommends. Meanwhile, yellow prescriptions are issued by the doctor for special controlled substances and are only valid for seven days. 

Polite waiting room etiquette

Germans may not be well known for being super friendly. But there are a few unexpected spots which are very welcoming. And one of those places is the doctor’s waiting room. 

Yes, it can be very surprising for foreigners when they are greeted with a little “Guten Morgen!” or “hallo!” in the waiting room when someone arrives. It’s customary for patients to give a polite hello and goodbye in the waiting room.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

… But you may face a stern receptionist or doctor

Ask a group of international residents about their experience of going to the doctor in Germany – or indeed other German-speaking countries – and you will likely hear about how the bedside manner is “different”.

This is because some doctors, and even receptionists, have a stern and direct approach when dealing with patients, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the country.

It can also be a little weird if you have to take some clothes off for an examination. You probably won’t be handed a gown, towel or even asked to undress behind a curtain. Everything is out in the open in Germany!  

Don’t worry though – none of this is personal. It’s just a different way of doing things. 

If you do come across a grumpy doctor, the best way to handle it is to either accept it or find a different doctor.

Be prepared to wait

Most Hausarzt (GP) practices in Germany operate on a drop-in basis during set times, known as Sprechstunden (consultation hours).

This means you can simply pop in during a two or three-hour window. During these times, it’s also first-come, first-served.

The advantage of this system is that it’s possible to see a doctor, for example, on a Wednesday morning without an appointment, as long as you have time to wait.

But if you are in a rush, or have a strict schedule, then the drop-in approach can be time-consuming. Depending on when you arrive, it could mean a short wait of several minutes or up to an hour.

The best advice is to arrive just as the doors open to secure a place near the top of the queue.

You can also book an appointment or Termin. But even if you book, you’ll probably still face a wait of at least 15 minutes. 

You are usually referred to a specialist

In Germany, if you are covered by public health insurance, you usually have to visit a GP to be referred to a specialist doctor.

There are exceptions in some cases, such as for gynaecologists and ophthalmologists where you can make an appointment without a referral.

If you have private insurance you can book appointments with specialists more easily.

READ ALSO: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist in Germany

Visit (or call) a GP for a sick note

If you’re sick from work then you have to get a sick note – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung or Krankschreibung – after three days of illness to give to your employer. Some bosses may require this sick note earlier, so check your contract or ask HR. 

Generally, you have to visit your doctor to get this document. But during the pandemic, people have been able to get a sick note over the phone from their GP for mild respiratory illnesses, including Covid-19. 

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill in Germany 

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