How do you live?

The Housing Problem

I was 19 when I first went to Germany. Since then, I’ve been going there often as part of different student exchange programs, and thus had the chance to try living in all kinds of places: in dormitories, in a communal apartment, in a wealthy pensioners’ house and in several rental apartments. This is why I was interested in various aspects of the housing problem in Germany and in Russia.

Guests on schedule

My first introduction to German housing was in a dormitory in Hamburg. It wasn’t like Russian dormitories and was more like a communal apartment with several single occupancy rooms in one block that also included a bathroom and a kitchen.
Compared to our “Number 10” in Novosibirsk State University, where the four of us had to live in one room, this seemed like some European kind of luxury. Another important distinction was the absence of janitors, who constitute such an integral part of life in Russian dorms! I still remember our “baba Valya”, a strict janitor who fervently monitored our comings and goings and always locked the doors after 11:00 pm. After that, she would either let students in or ignore their knocking and begging altogether, depending on her mood and their negotiating skills.

Renting instead of buying

Most Russians would probably laugh if asked which is better: to rent property on favorable terms for a long period of time or to buy your own on credit with considerable interest.
According to the newest data, 35.36 million people in Germany live in rented property, while only 4.47 million own their homes. Russian figures are 3–4 times smaller, and our rented property market accounts for only 25% of the total housing market.
In other words, Germans like to rent, and Russians like to buy. Of course, it doesn’t mean that people in Germany don’t become property owners. They certainly do. For example, my Greek friend Dionysios bought a small studio apartment in Berlin. Despite owning the property he has to pay at least 250 euros a month for communal and other services. Moreover, German owners must chip in for capital repairs to the building, which is not to everybody’s liking.
This is why young and mobile people without children and other responsibilities prefer renting. This way they can cancel their agreement at any time to move to another city or, for example, to travel to Africa for a year without having to pay interest on their mortgage.  

No living with parents after 20

In Russia, renting is usually for people who leave their parents and move to another city. Besides, here it is not considered embarrassing to live with your parents after you’re 20 or even 30.
In Germany, however, people find it weird when a man still lives with his parents after he’s 20. This is why young people try to move from their parents’ house into a dormitory or WG, which is a typical European communal apartment. You will hardly ever meet a German who has never lived in WG. My experience of living in a communal apartment was not of the best. My Italian neighbor liked to cook vegetables with an abundance of aromatic seasoning which sent strong smells throughout the apartment, and he also enjoyed long and loud Skype conversations in his native language. The girl next door had a thing for shopping and received deliveries from Zalando on a daily basis. She would send most of those back after trying them on, but the boxes took up all of the available space in the corridor. The bathroom was rarely free. But all in all, WG is a unique world where you can save money, find new friends and discover what communal life is like, which is always interesting for someone who has just moved away from their parents.
Of course, not every Russian student can afford to rent an apartment. Often this is because, in terms of finances, German students are usually doing better than Russians.
Another peculiar thing is that in Germany you can learn surnames of all your neighbors because apartments don’t have numbers. They simply state the surnames of their inhabitants, most of whom will become your acquaintances at some point due to the deliveries that your neighbors often get for you when you are out.

Despite cultural differences, you can live nicely and comfortably in any country and with any neighbors, because the main thing is to be glad to return home.

© Anna Andrievskaya

Anna Andrievskaya

Journalist from Novosibirsk, she has graduated the Novosibirsk State University. Currently lives in Berlin and studies East-European Studies at the Free University. She works for different projects of the Goethe-Institute in Russia and as the editor of Recyclemag at the same time. Anna is highly interested in ecology and initiated several ecological projects.


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