The Dummkopf’s Guide to Subletting

by James Glazebrook

When you arrive in Berlin, chances are you’ll end up in a flatshare or a sublet. While we’ve no experience of the former, having too many things (and cats) to squeeze into a single room, we can impart some wisdom about the latter. On paper subletting is straightforward – you pays your money (bills included) and move into an apartment which is set up with everything you’ll need for your first few months in Berlin. In reality, it’s anything but simple.

Here are some tips to help you circumnavigate the surprisingly tricksy waters of subletting:



Berliners may be liberal compared to other Germans, but the fact that you are looking after their home means they expect you to take extra-special care of it. They might act all cool and “whatever” and “mi casa su casa” but they expect to find it exactly how they left it (if not cleaner). When the tenants of our first sublet returned, they grilled us on the whereabouts of a mouldy old bathmat, a bowl made out of banana skins (something I think we would remember seeing) and some missing coathangers. Because, in their minds, we moved in, used their stuff and put it back in all the wrong places. Cheeky, huh?


It’s not enough that Berlin is one of the greenest cities in Europe (with 2,500 public green spaces!); its residents are all about bringing the outside indoors. They all have plants, and they love those plants – even more than we love our cats, which is worrying. So when we asked one tenant what we could do with plants that may have been poisonous to our kitties, we should have known that the response “I don’t care” meant something like “leave them with my neighbours” not, say,”just throw them in the trash”. Oopsie!



So we’re probably sounding like nightmare guests right about now. This one’s my bad. Within our first month, I’d managed to drop a set of keys down those grates that are conveniently located in front of every door in Berlin. The set with the keys to the post box attached – so we had to replace that as well as trying to replace the keys. You should know: the chunky keys to the front door of your building, with the ID number on, are basically impossible to replace (I think the tenant has to submit an application to the building manager). So, as we were helpfully told at the latest handover, “if you’re going to lose a key, don’t lose this one” – as he handed it to us, attached to the rest of our single set of keys.


All Berliners are, to some degree, hippies. That’s why they live here and not, say, downtown Manhattan. That’s why they all have plants, and that’s why they need very little else. Pretty early on, we faced up to the fact that a dishwasher is a luxury, but here are just a few of the things we were amazed that people could live without: a kettle; a toaster; a can opener and, more importantly, a bottle opener; curtains; warm showers. We did, however, find plenty of dirty socks and underwear, and healthy chunks of hair clogging up the drain of that freezing cold shower. Nice.


The actual tenants of your sublet are going to be back before you know it. Even if it’s not plain sailing, chances are you’ll fall in love with your nice big (compared to London or New York) apartment, and your new life in it. Just bear in mind, you’ll probably burn through another four of these before you finally settle down, so don’t get attached!

PS for major LOLS from the tenant’s point of view, check out this great blog on Vice from someone whose neighbour sublet his Berlin apartment while he was away.

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