The Wohngemeinschaft (WG) – Your Guide to Subletting in Berlin (2017)

Read more to learn how to navigate the Berlin WG-scape.

The Wohngemeinschaft (WG)

If you are moving to Berlin as a student, young-professional, starving artist, or are budget-conscious, you will soon become very, very familiar with the term and rental taxonomy, Wohngemeinschaft (WG). WGs are sublet rooms in apartments that are either rented or sub-rented, in which each cohabitant has their own room and shares a kitchen and (if you are lucky) a living room. If you want to learn more about finding housing in Berlin, read our Guide on Moving to Berlin.

Types of WGs in Berlin

The vast majority of WGs are typically not categorized. They may be comprised on young professionals, students, or older professionals seeking a communal lifestyle. However, some WGs tend to categorize themselves to make clear the type of living arrangement.

  • Zweck-WGs (“Functional WGs”) – this is for people who are looking for cheap accommodation but who are not interested in spending time with each other, going out for drinks, or cooking together. If you are simply looking for a cheap place to live and don’t mind an asocial living arrangement, this is perfect for you. They tend to be cheaper and not as nice, since the cohabitants are living together simply to save money. If you see “keine Zweck-WG” on a listing, this means that they DO NOT want a Zweck-WG, and are instead searching for a more communal atmosphere.
  • Student WGs – this is pretty self-explanatory. Student WGs tend to look for other students, so unless you are one yourself or fresh out of university, you probably won’t get shortlisted. Student WGs are much more communal. During the week, everyone tends to work and stick to themselves, but at weekend you, your roommates, and your respective friend groups will join up in the apartment or nearby bars for nights out. You will also cook together and spend time in the common areas (or with whoever has the largest bedroom)

Required Documents

The document requirements to rent a WG are much less stringent than renting an apartment. Most WGs will not ask you to provide pay stubs, liability insurance, or any other documents. Instead, all you will typically have is an informal get-together with the roommates where they will show you the apartment, chat with you, and ascertain whether you are a good fit. This can sometimes be a group event, so get ready for some awkward jousting for attention between other shortlisted hopefuls.

Typically, one habitant will function as the Hauptmieter, or principle renter, which entails having their name on the contract and being the contact person for the landlord. If you agree to join a WG as the Hauptmieter, be prepared to provide the same documents as you would need for an apartment. If you are not the Hauptmieter, you may or may not be an official tenant

Looking for WGs Online

WGs are typically advertised on online listing sites, such as Wohnaroo. Because the market is dominated by students, there are noticeable fluctuations in the price, competition, and number of WGs that roughly corresponds to university semesters and vacations. If you wait until September to look for a room in October, you will undoubtedly find yourself competing against a cohort of German university students looking for accommodation. Likewise, in May you will see a surge of listings for the summer, as students leave for internships and travel.

If you are a young professional or otherwise not subjected to the university calendar, it is strategic to look for rooms during the off-season such as in March or November, when most students have already found places to live. Here, you will find rooms that go for cheaper and that typically have cohabitants who are not students themselves.

While WG rooms are typically seasonal, it is possible to find open-ended WG rooms in more established WG apartments. If you want a longer-term WG at a relatively low price, keep your eye out for WG Gründen listings, which are solicitations to Gründ (establish) a WG with others. While this can be an involved process – you need to find, rent, and furnish an apartment – it can pay for itself if you are planning to stay in Berlin long-term.

You should supplement your online search by joining Facebook groups like WG-Zimmer & Wohnungen Berlin that have frequent posts for available rooms. Here, you can privately message posters to help immediately establish a more personal touch.

If you are lucky enough to have acquaintances who live in Berlin, ask them to spread the word that you are looking for a room. Some of the best deals and quickest turnovers happen by word-of-mouth. If you are out of the country and unable to meet for apartment visits, this can also be a way to bypass that step, as your friend can vouch for your sanity. Posting in Facebook groups with a little profile about yourself and your predicament may also lead to people reaching out to you with a room to offer.

Paying for your WG

Make sure that you have several payment methods arranged before you begin your search. Nothing is more frustrating that finding a room only to be turned down because your roommates don’t use Venmo. While you may be able to pay via PayPal, which is making inroads in Germany, most WGs will ask you pay via bank transfer — from a German bank. Certain banks are much easier to sign up for as an expat than others. If you don’t have an account yet, you can read our guide.

You will also typically be asked to sign a standard contract and pay a (returned) deposit, which is usually around two month’s rent. Pay attention to whether the room is Warmmiete (“Warm rent”) or Kaltmiete (“Cold Rent”). Warmmiete means that all utilities are included in the advertised cost. Kaltmiete means that utilities are not included. If you do not see a price breakdown on the listing, be sure to ask what a typical month’s rent is during the winter a summer costs, so you don’t get any bad surprises when the heating bill typically costs 50 Euros.

Do you have any other tips for this article? If so, please contact me at: jacob@wohnaroo.com