Let’s say it out loud: finding a room in Berlin is a bitch, especially if you’re a foreigner and your german is Scheisse. If you obsessively refresh WG-gesucht‘s home page every fifteen seconds and you’re haunted by words like Genossenschaftsanteil o Parkmöglichkeiten, then you know what I’m talking about.
I wrote three case studies to report my nightmarish experience, in the hope i can be useful or at least take some drama off the whole looking-for-a-room-process.
1) Horror Vacui
Vera and Katia welcome me in their huge, cool, ultra-furnished flat in Adalbertstrasse with a (stereo)typical cold german kindness. After some small talk in the kitchen along with the most typical interview-food (peanuts and gummy bears, never a surprise) we move to the room that could become mine. Once they open the door a mix of fear and disgust shows up in my face. Not only the room is smaller than Guantanamo cells and completely unfurnished, but the white walls are decorated with random schizophrenic stripes of color. It looks like one of the paintings from Ruby the elephant, from her post-modern period. The two hostesses turn to me asking for a first impression, and my mind goes completely blank. I stay silent like i did when the Analysis professor asked me to multiply matrixes (who am i? Jesus?). I stay silent, and I blow the interview.
The first golden rule when you’re looking for a room, therefore, is always being prepared to give a positive feedback about said room, no matter how terrible the first impression is. Of course this requires time, but with some practice you’ll learn how to hold on to the most insignificant details and still look convincing. And if you’re really, really out of ideas, you can always rely on one of the most classic but useless comments: “I like high ceilings!”. Even if you’re one-meter-and-a-smurf tall, therefore genetically suitable to live even in the seven dwarfs’ house, go with the high-ceilings-feedback and you won’t regret it.
2) The Bitch
When I reach Wedding, Monty and Alex are about to eat dinner, so they ask me to join them. We talk about music, books and of course Italy. Like many germans, their image of Italy is slightly distorted, but I don’t mind speaking about the most horrifying things: whenever I’m away for too long, I start missing even horrible stuff like the mafia, corruption or Laura Pausini. Chatting with them is nice, and eating real homemade food which is not shaped like a bear is even nicer. Everything seems to be going fine until, ten minutes later, the doorbell rings. “Another person asked to come earlier, so we thought the two of you could share this interview. Is it a problem?”. Of course not. I’m an adult and I’m fully capable of managing a situation like this with the right detachment and without feeling smashed by the competition.
Or maybe not.
The bitch enters the room with her boobs in the air and three beers in her hands, saying something extremely young and annoying that in my mind became “I’m coming up so you better get this party started”. And all of a sudden the magic is broken. The new southamerican guest monopolizes the conversation hijacking every single one of my interventions. And then, at some point, her lips pronounce the sentence “I get drunk very easily”. I’m shocked. The only cheaper thing she could have done is slipping 50 Euros in the underwear of one of the guys and whisper “It’ll be our little secret”.
So the lesson here is not to overdo it. Be yourself, maybe a better version of yourself, but not MORE than yourself. Trying too much or being too pushy is something that, especially with germans, doesn’t pay out.
3) Overly tired girl
Kat welcomes me in her flat at the one millionth floor of one of those huge buildings in Mitte. “Would you like to drink something? Water or beer?”. I take the beer. I want to be “semiotically” young even though deep down I’d rather be in bed with a cup of chamomile tea reading some classic masterpiece from Russian literature. We sit on the balcony to slowly sip our young and frozen Beck’s, and Kat informs me that she’s tired. Of what? Maybe her job? Life? Dirty Dancing reruns? No, Kat is tired of interviewing people for the room. “You don’t know how stressful it is”, she adds.
Now. I’m at the fourth interview of the day (and, like, the fifteenth of the month) and I’m not sure whether I’ll have a roof over my head in one week. I have a headache and three layers of gummy bears spreaded on my molars (at this point removable only with surgery). I’m supposed to look all nice and happy when inside I have the same joie de vivre displayed by Gossip singer in the new posters (I would spray cocaine up her nostrils if i could, just to avoid staring at that sad face). And you, little wursthead, you tell me that you’re tired?
Third golden rule of the room-searcher: self-control, self-control, self-control. Resisting from strangling your counterpart is not always easy, but it’s necessary. And then, if the other person chooses you and it’s the beginning of a great friendship, some months later you’ll giggle together about that time you would have happily slapped her with an anvil. On the other hand, if this is not the case, you have her name and address, and you can always hand it to the first volunteer of Amnesty International / WWF / persons-dressed-as-clowns-who-terrify-children-in-hospitals who stops you in Alexanderplatz.