Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Dust Bunnies

So how's the move going?


It's not. Or, rather, it is, sort of. On Thursday, I'll meet at noon with the heating people to figure out how to make the gas radiators work (and maybe have them check the stove to make sure it's okay), and then a truck should appear with a couple of students with a moving firm carrying two sofas I inherited from the sad closing of the McClatchey Papers' European bureau. So I'll have two couches in the apartment, and nothing else.

Yet. Clearly I have to get stuff out of here, but I made a couple of disheartening discoveries along the way. One, I didn't have as many boxes as I'd thought. And, with the current five-day holiday weekend in full roar, no way to get more. Two, once I did get some stuff in boxes, I didn't really have any place to put the boxes. So filling more of them doesn't make sense yet.

The phone gets transferred on the 2nd, probably (I'm waiting for confirmation from Deutsche Telekom...stop laughing), so it'll make sense to have moved in at least partially by then. I won't need most of the books and CDs yet, so I'm thinking a partial move over this coming weekend, followed by a fuller one later.

But today, I'm going to do next to nothing about any of this and relax and blog and try to digest this deep-fried Hungarian thing I got at the Weinachtsmarkt over by the nearly-destroyed Palast der Republik. That alone should take most of the rest of the day. Oh, and maybe throw a few more things into boxes. I can't not do that, as long as I actually have boxes to throw stuff in. Where they go, well, I haven't figured that out yet. The bathroom is full of boxes, and I have to get rid of them before I can put more in there. There's no room for more.

It's like working out a puzzle, only with some handicaps built in. For one thing, I've developed arthritis in my right knee as the weather got colder. For another, after hoisting heavy boxes, I discovered something: I'm almost 60, and I'm not as capable of sustained exercise as I once was. It was eleven years ago that I moved in here, and I've acquired a lot of stuff -- mostly books and records -- in the meanwhile. Getting them in was easy. Getting them out will be far less so. And figuring out where to put them, even in an apartment with one extra small room and an overall ten-square-meter gain on this one, won't be easy.

I wish I could push a button and have it done. But I can't. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

My head hurts. I've just spent another hour looking at people's living spaces on Immobilienscout24, the website where people post offers of apartments and they have a search engine set up so you can find what you can afford in the neighborhood you want, plus sign up for an e-mail alert service which'll clog your in-box or your money back.

My first time through, I punched in some criteria: 1 1/2 to 2 rooms, in Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg, rent 200-400 a month, cold. Push the search button and see what comes up: 12 pages of offers. Now to winnow out the things the search criteria don't offer: not too many stairs (I've developed a bum knee with the cold weather, which clearly means I have to move to a warmer climate!); not in one of those grim communist Plattenbau or even grimmer post-communist shoeboxes; in a neighborhood I may actually have heard of (although this is proving a great way to discover places I'd never seen before). Then start reading the descriptions.

No, Wedding is not Prenzlauer Berg, although it may please you to think of it as such for the purpose of drawing eyeballs, Mr. Real Estate Agent. No, oven heating is not "romantisch," as someone put it. I prefer to think of it as "unhealthisch." No, I don't want to "live over the roofs of Berlin" if there's no elevator.

* * *

That's as far as I'd gotten with writing this post on Monday when the phone rang. It was a Makler, a real estate agent, calling to ask me if I'd like to look at one of the apartments I'd found on Immobilienscout24, a particularly affordable one on a street I'd checked out and liked in Prenzlauer Berg. Naturally, I said yes, and there went the rest of the afternoon.

It looked good, it really did. Not particularly light, I suspect (although by 3, when we met, the light was going anyway), but with a lot more space than I have here, and that particular object of lust for someone who likes to cook as much as I do, a gas stove. Easy stairs, shopping nearby (I can't believe how many people here live far from grocery stores and other necessities), and, well, I liked it. Met the landlord yesterday, and if the lease doesn't have any hidden trap-doors in it, I'll go in Monday to finalize the deal and pick up the keys; I can move stuff in gradually and the clock won't start ticking until January 1.

But what I wanted to do with this post was to outline, for those of you who are contemplating living here, what the various real estate listings mean by what they say -- at least, to the best of my knowledge. I'm sure smarter commenters will come along to refine and correct what I say, so read the comments. Given the number of searches for "long-time apartment Berlin" and "long-term rental Prenzlauer Berg" and so on, I know there's interest out there.

Now, the first thing you want to do is look at the rent. This is expressed as "Kaltmiet," or cold rent. In almost every case (except when the sole heating is coal), the landlord pays to heat the building and adds "Nebenkosten," or service charges, to the rent. Nebenkosten also include the fees for garbage and recycling pickup, cleaning the halls, and maybe cable television. So the rent on this place is €350 a month cold, €480 warm, including a €50 charge for the gas.

In addition, I'm going to have to come up with €833 as a one-time fee (Provision) for the Makler, in addition to the €500 "Kaution," or deposit, for the landlord. Note that not all apartments are offered through Maklers, and many folks who aren't in as much of a rush as I was like to avoid them. You can find "Provisionsfrei" apartments that are part of a co-op arrangement (Genossenschaft) or offered directly by the landlord. Another way to do it is through becoming a "Nachmieter," a term which doesn't really translate -- next-renter? The way that works is that one way you can get out of your lease quickly is to fine someone to take it over. If I remember how this works correctly, you have to come up with three potential renters, and the landlord meets with them. This satisfies the legal requirements, although some landlords will be happy to say they've met people they haven't or let you come up with two friends who have no intention of moving but go through the motions, then the person you've selected as your Nachmieter.

Once you've got your place, of course, the fun really starts. You have to arrange for electricity and telephone service. This last is the most fun because Deutsche Telekom likes nothing better than saying no. They'll take your order and then get back to you and tell you that, due to a lack of new telephone numbers, you'll have to wait until 2048, but they'll be happy to cut you a deal on a mobile phone (which the Germans call ein Handy, after the extremely early Motorola Handy Phone), the details of which, once you whip out a magnifying glass to read the extremely fine print, resemble three years' indentured servitude.

And then there's furniture, and, well, the most fun of all.


That's the part I'm really looking forward to. I remember when I left Texas, on the real crunch day of the move it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 41.667 degrees Celsius) and suddenly all the people who'd offered to help just weren't there. I'm sure there'll be a series of ice storms or something similar as this month draws to an end. But here goes another adventure.