Monthly Archives: August 2010

apartment hunting, ugh

I’m searching for apartments still. It’s really quite frustrating, since I hate dealing with bureaucratic nonsense.

One thing I learned is that nobody uses cheques here. Everything is done by electronic bank transfers. Overall, the bank system here is much more modern than the Canadian system. Back home, I had to get part of my RRSP transfered from Royalbank to the Vancity branch across the street from it, but even though both banks were informed of the process by me, it still took them over a month to complete all the necessary paperwork by hand. It’s also really difficult to simply transfer money between two peoples’ bank accounts in Canada unless both people belong to the same bank and the bank offers that service (like Vancity, which I use).

Here in Germany, everyone has a “Girokonto”, which I guess would be the equivalent of a chequing account, but for money transfers instead. With such an account, you can transfer money for free to anyone else in Europe pretty much. You use it to pay your bills, or buy something on amazon.de, etc. Credit cards are slightly different too, since the balance gets auto-deducted from your bank account every month (which obviously causes problems if you don’t have enough in your account to pay it), so it doesn’t really have a separate balance like it does in Canada.

Anyway, back to apartments. I wanted to get a phone to help with the apartment thing, but I needed a bank account to get a phone. To get a bank account, I need an official address, and for that I clearly need an apartment. Luckily I was able to short-cut the process by going to the bank with my friend (with whom I’m currently staying) and getting her to tell them that my address should be the same as hers. After we convinced the bank people that it was ok, then I got my account set up.

Hunting for apartments online is a bit confusing, since there’s a lot of terminology to learn. I think I’ve got it mostly straightened out now. One of the essential terms is “Einbauküche” (“built-in kitchen”), which refers to all of the kitchen furnishings like cupboards and countertops. Without an Einbauküche, you basically just get a sink and a stove, nothing else, since you’re expected to get the kitchen furnished yourself.

Another term is “Provision”, which refers to some sort of “finder’s fee” that you pay to a middle-man. Basically, to get the apartment you pay some ridiculous fee (like 2.38 x the month’s rent), and you never get it back. Why would I want to pay a $1200 ransom to some company for the privilege of “finding” me this apartment? Screw you. Luckily there are plenty of other listings that don’t have a Provision, so I can just ignore those bastards.

Also, the room listings are slightly different. In Canada, a “2 bedroom” apartment will always be 2 bedrooms and a living room, but it seems that most of the listings here are just by the total number of rooms. “2 Zimmer” could mean what I would consider a 1BR apartment (1BR + 1 living room), or it could be designed slightly differently as more of a 2BR + no living room type of thing. Kitchen and bathroom never count as part of the room-count.

So, the next part of the process is to call these various people about apartments, and arrange a viewing appointment (“Besichtigungstermin”), but you’ll almost never be able to set it up on the same day you call. It seems that any appointment, whether business or social, always gets set up in advance in Germany, so if you call someone up and say “hey, how about dinner at 6pm?” they’d automatically assume you mean 6pm tomorrow because who in their right mind would book something on the same day? Unthinkable! 😉

The other thing is that it apparently takes a while for them to accept all of your paperwork. The apartment might be sitting there empty, but it could take a week or two for everything to get approved before you can move in.

I should get back to work on this now. I have one appointment for today, but still need to look some more.

beer fest

We went out to the big beer fest here on Saturday. It was scheduled for Friday to Sunday, but we skipped Friday because it was raining.

The festival was located along a 2.2km stretch of road pretty slightly east of the city center, in the district of Friedrichshain. It was a major road with a large sidewalk and grassy area off to the side, so there was plenty of room to fit various beer tents and lots of seating. Every 150m or so, there’d be a small stage in the grass and some sort of musical act, in front of a huge collection of benches for the beer drinkers. The beer sellers were arranged along both sides of the sidewalk.

The beer was arranged in vague sections, with international beers in one part, and then most of the rest arranged by the German state they were from. Some big name crap beers were present, but most of them seemed like actual good beers, since Germany has a lot of them. Some booths were staffed by knowledgeable people selling their own stuff, although others were being run by “booth babes” in skimpy outfits.

I wasn’t super impressed by the varieties of beer present, since Germany’s microbrew culture doesn’t seem to be the same as Canada’s. Very few were selling varieties of beer outside the normal range of styles. But within the normal categories there was actually quite a bit of variation. For instance, I’ve never really been impressed with any pilsners that I tried in Canada, or the regular ones I’ve tried here either, but I had two different pilsners at the festival that were really fantastic. If I saw them again, I’d buy them instantly…super good.

We tried some dark beers too, and tried to locate some local Berlin beers that we could buy again later. There was a local place from Friedrichshain that I’m definitely going back to. They made a terrific pilsner and a nice bitter dark beer (which seems to be hard to find in Germany….many of the darks are sickeningly sweet here).

About half-way through, we discovered that if we bought a small 200mL mug from the info booth, then we could get that filled at any beer seller for €1,50, so we started doing that. Much cheaper, since many of them were selling 300mL for €2,50, but 200mL seemed just right for the tasting that we wanted to do. We weren’t trying to get slammed there, but we did notice a small number of people who were.

Most people seemed to just be going there to enjoy a couple of good beers and the entertainment. There was lots of different food too, although much of it was traditional German faire, like a dozen different types of sausage and other meat products. I did have a really nice gourmet slice of bread with fancy cheese, tomatoes, and herbs though. I also had some deep-fried Kohlrabi (a vegetable with a crisp apple-like texture, from the broccoli family) with Kräutersoße. mmmmmm. What I thought was really great was that you’d just buy a beer, and wander around drinking it. Yay for sane German drinking regulations 🙂

Actually, I should mention that it’s totally normal to buy a beer and wander down the street with it. Not super common, but still normal. I also commonly see someone enjoying a beer on the subway. My friends showed me a Dutch video the other day where someone was investigating the trend of wandering around town with a beer, claiming that it was just the “cool” thing to do in Berlin (although it’s allowed anywhere in the country, AFAICT).

Anyway, definitely a fun day. My faith in pilsners is restored, and I found a good microbrew to buy more beer from later. And it was nice to see a 2.2km stretch of hundreds of beer sellers and thousands upon thousands of beer-drinkers wandering around freely with their beers, and absolutely no rowdies or troublemakers. Come on Canada, get your act together 😉

cajun food in berlin

I’m still trying out more restaurants here, as my friends introduce them to me. Today we went out for some Cajun food in Kreuzberg. I ordered a dark beer, as usual, but this time I was pleasantly surprised by a nice czech Porter. I’ve found that German dark beer is usually disgustingly sweet, or it’s a dark wheat beer (which I somehow never expect when I don’t specify “wheat”).

Despite some delays due to having so much fun, the tasks for this week are to get a phone, get a bank account, and continue apartment hunting. I’ve been on a decent program of studying lately, and I’d like to increase the amount of studying, but I guess that should probably wait until I’m properly set up with my own place. At least procrastinating is still involving getting some good work done 😉