Finding a flat in Hamburg, and then some

It’s funny how time flies, but not-so-funny that I’ve only moved in to a permanent place and started to settle down Tuesday night of last week.   That’s four days short of marking my first month in Hamburg.  Crazy it is.  I am writing this post not as a manual to flat-hunting in Hamburg, but take what ever you can and want from it, in case you find yourself in the position I was in- God forbid.

I left Freiburg with the hope of finding a transient place to stay in Hamburg, maybe for a couple of weeks to buy me some time to find a more permanent place.   It should have worked without a hitch.  It’s so simple.  What could possibly go wrong?  As you would have known and if you were following my travails, it didn’t run as smoothly as I wanted to be.  I slept in five different beds in a span of roughly four weeks, each lasting from one day to a week.  Somewhere in between I actually had full board hotel accommodations (no, not from the 0.5-star hotel) for six days and five nights during the Annual General Meeting of my organization.  Not bad for a homeless person.

One basically needs an internet connection, some knowledge of German, and three websites to find a place in a big city in Germany like Hamburg:

1) WG-gesucht and/or Campus Hamburg, where you can search for rooms and flats for rent;

2) the Hamburg transportation website or simply HVV;

3) and Google Maps.

These instantly became  my favorite websites.  Online flat-searching platforms are quite reliable.  You can also post your own searching ad with your specifications (e.g., non-smoking, which area of the city you want to live in, etc.), but replies can come few and far in between.  That left me the option to a more proactive searching.  Sending emails to your prospective flatmate might work, but calling to ask for a “room visitation” appointment is the best.  The room market got really bad that in some cases those who were renting out a room had to turn down people for room visitation.  Wait for a few days for an answer through an email or a call, or sometimes they don’t really get back at you, so keep on looking in between the waiting.

If you were to send an email, show something that cuts you above the rest, and worthy of earning the title: “The next best flatmate.”  I wrote that I can cook Filipino food, have no problems with household work, and can offer an interesting cultural exchange.  I was short of offering myself to modern slavery.  I cannot vouch for the effectiveness of these rhetorics, but as in applying for a job, it’s a way to get a foot or two in their door.

The HVV and the Google Maps are a fine combination that essentially answers the question:  How do I get there?  Through the HVV website, you can search the route from point A to point B, while Google Maps can pinpont where these points are.  Getting around the city and becoming familiar with the transportation connections seem to be the one big advantage of THE search.  Up to now, I run to these websites in locating places of interests (other than the Reeperbahn).

The flat-searching can take its toll on you psychologically.  At some point I thought there’s just no way of getting a room in a shared flat.  Am I not cool enough?  Or too good to be their flatmate?  But it’s not one of those things that you can simply give up due to futile efforts, and end the ordeal by shrugging your shoulders and forgetting the whole thing.  Resignation means homelessness, which is, unless you want to freeze on the street, not really an option.

I avoided staying in hostels, but it was always an option, if worse comes to worst, which I am glad I didn’t reach. Finding a place was extra-difficult because of the conditions that surrounded my room-hunting.  My arrival was two weeks shy away of the start of the new semester.  This was just the perfect time not to look for a place to stay in, when the rest of the students are doing so.

Two flat offers actually came my way.  One was in a nice and quiet part of the city, a little pricey, and too risky.  The guy really wanted me to stay in his place, among other applicants, he said.  Also, he wanted me to pay the full six-month rent upfront, and a 1000€ safety deposit.  He was nice and all when we met, which was pleasantly surprising for a perfect stranger who is renting out his house. But as I consulted acquaintances about the deal, they thought it was unusual, even shady.  I had to give it up. but not thought of hopefully settling down sooner than later.  Another was a one-room apartment in a central part of the city, which is quite near to where I am living now.  It was a bit expensive, and I had to go through some application and bureaucratic and paper ceremony through the lessor which I thought was too much for a simple room I was asking for.

Through the kindness of friends, and friends of friends, I managed to sleep on a bed and keep a roof over my head.  Despite this, the ‘unsettled’ feeling was, uhm, unsettling.  The uncertainty of where to sleep the following week or the next was always at the back of my mind.  When the search would end that could lead to my peace of mind, no one really knew.   It wasn’t any cheaper living for ‘free’.  In the second where I stayed, I didn’t seem to have full rights to the house, so I couldn’t cook my own food, and that means eating out most of the time.  Also, since I still didn’t know my regular travel route, I couldn’t buy a monthly ticket which is the more reasonable way to travel around the city.  I resorted to buying daily tickets, the cost of which piled up.  I lived in places that was as near as 30 minutes to my office, and as far as Lüneburg with a classmate back in Freiburg.  Lüneburg is technically in Lower Saxony, which is already another state (Hamburg itself is a city-state).  It lies more than 50 kilometers to the southeast that required at least an hour of travel time.

Because of this difficulty in the normal house market, I thought of tapping into a hidden, and therefore an unexplored market.  I also found it online, but it was not in anyway a flat-searching website.  I found the Hamburg chapter of the Knights of Rizal, and a church community.   I sent an email to one of the leaders of the the former, and joined one of the church service of the latter. The first time I met them the Pinoys in a Sunday Mass, I was lucky to chance upon a ‘thanksgiving’ gathering.  And we Filipinos don’t gather without food.  At the end of the afternoon I was stuffed with Filipino food, and have told a handful of my kababayan of my plight.  After a few calls, days, and a meeting with my Pinoy lessor who would become my flatmate, we reached an informal agreement to move into his place a little over a week later.

During the days and nights I would do room visits, I would get reminded of my convenient corner in Freiburg.  The thought of the comforts of my dormitory that I took for granted didn’t really do much help.  I had to plod on and keep searching.  This is the price to pay for moving on and moving in to a big city.  I’m still amazed at how things fell into place, and at the same time just relieved to weather this flat-searching and homelessness business.  The search is over after countless search, numerous phone calls, and a handful of rejections.  If you cannot join them, beat them.  Better yet, leave them and explore other opportunities.  That’s a saying not just for finding a flat, but also maybe for a guide to life.

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