Finding an apartment in Bielefeld, part 3: It’s not me, it’s you


Part 1 of this series of posts dealt with what to expect when looking for an apartment in Bielefeld (specifically the absence of anything in them), part 2 concerned where to look for listings, and part 3 will be about issues you may run into once you find one that you want.

Renting an apartment is very different here than it was in the USA.  In America, there are many laws that try to protect renters from ‘discrimination’.  Here, that doesn’t seem to be the case, but undertandably so…many of the spaces for rent are part of another person’s house, and the landlord still lives there.  There are many people renting out a single room on their property, rather than exclusively large apartment buildings in which your behavior has little affect on the owner.  Because of this, the owners can (and will) judge you very carefully before giving you the keys.  It seems to be customary that a landlord or current tenant will show numerous people the apartment over the course of a few weeks, and then they’ll pick the person they like best.  This made me nervous, and we did indeed get turned down for the first apartment we really wanted.  Maybe they didn’t like that we couldn’t communicate with them without an interpreter…imagine that!

During the apartment hunt, you may need to stretch the truth a little bit to close the deal.  “Yeah, I’m totally learning German at the speed of a linguistic genius!”  “No, I hate parties!”  “Bielefeld?  I think I’ll live my whole life here!”

Seriously, I had one landlord after another specifically tell me they wanted someone who was staying for 10 years or more.  Most people, and especially expats, have no idea if they’ll still be in that apartment 10 years from now.  In fact, I hoped I wouldn’t be.  So I lied, and I got the apartment.


Once you have the apartment, know your rights and don’t let anyone bully you.  Sure, you should try to be a good tenant and take care of the property, but within reason.  We’ve had neighbors demand we walk in house shoes at all times, and try not to walk at all between the hours of 1 and 3pm.  No hanging your laundry where anyone can see it on Sundays.  Don’t take showers because it is creating a mold problem.  All of these things have actually been requested, and they’re all ridiculous.  You are not legally required to do any of them.  You are, however, legally obliged to give your landlord 3 months’ notice if you decide to move.

Don’t be discouraged by horror stories…we all tend to find that being successful in this country means doing as the Romans do.  People tend to push the envelope, to try to change others’ behavior to their liking more than is usually considered acceptable.  You are allowed to ignore them and do what you want…it’s what they would do!

Please share your stories and tips about successfully dealing with your apartment and your neighbors in the comments!

Finding an apartment in Bielefeld, part 2: Where to look!


Part 1 of ‘finding an apartment in Bielefeld’ was “what to expect”. Part 2 is “where to look”, and part 3 will be about issues you may have once you’ve found a place you want.  This is meant to be a collaborative post, so please participate in the poll and add comments!  If we make finding an apartment marginally less stressful for one person, we’ve accomplished a lot.

With the theme “where to look”, two things come to mind.  The first is the medium through which to find apartment listings.  Most of us will immediately gravitate toward the internet, but be aware: there are many online companies in Germany that have attractive listings and websites that can be navigated in English, but they will charge you a “finder’s fee” if you decide on one of their apartments.  This finder’s fee is not a day’s lunch money, either….it is typically more than two months’ rent.  I had a difficult time believing how much they charge for doing 5 minutes worth of work, but c’est la vie.  For my husband and I, these agencies became a last resort.  Thankfully, the age old practice of listing apartments in the newspaper is still alive and well.  There are other ways to find listings as well.  It’s about time for a poll:

The second part of the “where to look” theme is of course finding the best area in Bielefeld for your lifestyle.  Will you have a car?  Do you have children?  Where will you be working?  What are your hobbies?  My husband and I do not have a car or kids, we work at the university, and we prefer nature over the city.  Our apartment is located in Gellershagen right next to a bus stop, with farmland all around.  If you already live here, what aspect about your apartment closed the deal for you?  Is there anything about the location that would make you turn down a nice apartment?  Let us know in the comments.

Finding an apartment in Bielefeld, part 1: Everything AND the kitchen sink


Looking for your first apartment here in Germany can be a challenge, and it also happens to be one of the most pressing, time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and first things you will do in this country. Oh boy!

In the months leading up to your move, you might be fantasizing about your new home, maybe clipping kitchen curtains out of an IKEA catalogue….but be prepared: you’re going to need to buy more than that at IKEA. When Germans move, they take EVERYTHING. The furniture, the lights, and yes, even the proverbial kitchen sink.

This was quite the shock to us when we started looking for our apartment. We walked into one apartment after another with no lights, looking like an abandoned building. The landlord says “so, here’s the kitchen”, and all you see are some pipes sticking out of four blank walls. The bright side? You get to make the apartment your own. The downside? You have one more thing to pay for and then you have to build your own kitchen right after moving here. Thankfully, there ARE some apartments that include the kitchen…look for the word “einbauküche”.

I’ve had the “why the heck do you take your kitchen with you??” argument many a time with Germans. It usually goes something like this:

Me: Why would you take the kitchen? Moving is horrible enough already. First of all, it’s difficult to find an apartment, and needing to find one that would fit/compliment your kitchen only makes it harder. Plus, the cars are tiny, the stairwells are narrow, and most buildings have no elevator. Why not make it easier on yourself and just leave the kitchen behind?

Them: Because if I left it behind then I wouldn’t have a kitchen in the new apartment….

Me: But, if everyone…if they had….if you just….nevermind.

Check back for part 2…