Moving to Hamburg

Thinking of moving to Hamburg?

If you are like me and you are taking a leap of faith moving to a city where you have never lived before, where you do not know a single person, where bless your heart you cannot even point it out in a map, let alone speak the language apart from 5-10 words, you will need to read this!

“You’re moving to Germany? Where to? Berlin? Munich? No?”

No. I’m moving to Hamburg! And I can somehow imagine my life there after google-imaging pictures of the Elbe and the Rathaus and virtually walking through its streets using Google Street View (this is not a Google-sponsored post, but Google if you are reading this and want to sponsor me call me, I’m nice).

So, the first thing I did when I knew I was moving to Hamburg was try to find accommodation in advance. I had my flight ticket for literally the day before my new job would begin so I wanted to settle in to at least a nice temporary place or at best my new room for the six months the job was lasting. Hamburg is the second biggest city after Berlin, and if you’ve ever tried to find accommodation on a short notice you know how stressful this can be. So you have to be extremely efficient about it. Here is some advice I can give you relating to my personal experience:

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  1. The Germans have this site called WG Gesucht which you can (thankfully) change to English. It will help you find a studio or a room in a WG (shared apartment). Since I was staying in Hamburg for a short time (or so I thought) I wanted to make the most of it, so I decided to find a room in a shared apartment to meet people.
  • A good thing: This site is the most popular site for finding shared accommodation, so you best believe that whenever anyone in Hamburg is looking for a roommate they will upload their request here.
  • Another good thing: It is very easy to create a template of your cover letter to the WG‘s or apartments you are interested in. You can also set up an alert which sends you an email whenever a room matches your pre-chosen criteria, so you can send them an email as soon as the ad goes out. Timing could really be the differentiating factor between you and someone else who sends their interest one minute after here, so ándale hermano.
  • An unfortunate thing: Unfortunately the goodness of this website is also its downfall, meaning that due to its popularity they receive hundreds of requests after the first second of putting the ad online.
  • Another unfortunate thing: You would think that seeing a blurry picture of a dirty room at night would put off most people, but those uploaders (and there are many), though they should not consider a job in marketing and/or photography, still get a ton of requests from desperate people (aka me).

Some wise advice: Make advantage of the template to send your cover letter to the ads you are interested in but beware: readers see straight our intentions; it is really obvious  to them when you just copy and paste your generic letter (take this same advice for your job applications, btw) so really read through their description and try to comment on it, so they know you actually read everything and really REALLY want to be chosen. After all, everyone wants to live with someone who wants to live with them, and that should be reflected in the letter.

Useful German Word: On the WG descriptions you will definitely stumble upon Zweck-WG oder (or) No-Zweck-WG. A Zweck apartment is one of purely functional and efficient purpose (enter German stereotype here), whereas a No-Zweck-WG is where one can have a more normal, shared apartment, I’m-fine-if-you-talk-to-me-when-you’re-in-the-kitchen-while-I’m-cooking kind of life.

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  1. The way that I actually found my first WG is through a little site called www.airbnb.com. You just choose ‘Private Room’ to have options in a shared apartment. My plan of action was to put one month for the duration of stay, then in the messages I sent to the hosts I told them that I was potentially hoping to stay longer.
  • A good thing: I have the impression that the hosts on airbnb get much less email harassment thanWG Gesucht, and there is even a Response Time which tells you the average time you have to wait for a reply, so you won’t bite your nails too much since you almost always get a reply (not the case inWG Gesucht) in that time frame. Even better, some hosts have the Instant Book option to fast forward everything. If you are 100% sure of it, go for it. If not it is always better to talk a bit with the host beforehand.
  • Another good thing: The image quality ofairbnb is the sole reason why I was much happier navigating through my potential homes in the first place. It is just soooo much nicer to look at. You have beautifully folded towels on your bed, little flowers in a pot, bright sunshine coming through the windows and oh, look at that! An espresso machine. Even if your apartment has all these things, the people uploading the terrible images (see above) inWG Gesucht do not bother with these (important and life-changing!) details.
  • An unfortunate thing: Most people become hosts on airbnb for a different, more temporary reason than the hosts on WG Gesucht. The most common response I got was that the room was not free for that long. But I would suggest to just try, and see.
  • Another unfortunate thing: The price. It is too high, because it includes the cleaning fee and is calculated on the basis of a daily and not monthly rate. However, I would suggest to negotiate the price to accommodate you. Since you will stay for longer, the hosts are usually complacent.

Some wise advice: The average price that I found for a nice room in a centrally located 2+ bedroom house is around 500 euros per month. Of course this really depends on the modernity of the house (could go up to 650) and if it is furnished or not etc. If you are a student/intern/20 something and you are paying +1000 euros for a room, I can tell you as a fact that you can find gorgeous places for much less, so stay strong and keep looking. Coming from two of the most expensive cities in the world (London and Paris) I was quite happy to pay in Hamburg half what I was paying there for a room twice as big.

So now, you have two good options, I would suggest you stick to those since they each have thousands of rooms and apartments available. I actually found my first apartment through airbnb (kind of), the story being that I asked someone if I could stay with them for a month, they told me it was too long but they knew someone who was searching for a more long-term roommate, so they sent me their email, and after a skype interview I was the lucky chosen one! So sometimes you have to find your own path, but at least these are very good starting points.

Also, don’t be discouraged when the descriptions are only written in German. It does not necessarily mean that they do not want non-German speakers, but that they are more comfortable writing in German. I always Google-translated the description and then wrote to them in English… I didn’t want them to get the wrong idea (the wrong idea being me as a fluent German speaker).

Found some nice rooms? Not sure about where they are, what they are close to, or how the neighbourhood vibe is like? Come back here for my Neighbourhood Guide!