Berlin Expat Advice: 15 Tips For Moving House In Berlin
Berliners are champions at the art of moving around the city, especially us expats. As it’s so hard to find a place to live, many of us lead a nomadic existence while we search for our “forever” apartment, making do in shared WG’s, temporary sublets, Airbnb apartments, artist’s colonies, and more. I’ve been in Berlin for the better part of five years and have lived in five different flats. However, some of my friends have even lived in even more apartments in different districts of the city.
Just last summer, I moved from a romantic altbau in Prenzlauer Berg to a renovated plattenbau in Lichtenberg. In the past, I managed moves by calling a taxi and moving what little belongings I have in a short ride, all without the help of friends. This time, I had to move all the belongings I had shipped over from Canada, plus all the new things I purchased for my new apartment. While I was excited to have a new apartment of my very own (with the lease in my name!), the move was a lot more intensive as I enlisted the help of a mover, completed a slew of paperwork, and more.
While planning my move in Berlin, I came across many articles outlining the things you need to do when you move here, but I didn’t come across many articles telling me how to move house in Berlin. As an expat in a foreign country, it’s important to know the differences about how things work in Germany versus how things work at home, such as signing rental contracts, putting down a deposit, etc. While I managed to fumble my way through my move, I really wished I’d had more guidance.
So in order to make your next Berlin move easy and stress free, I put together this comprehensive guide to moving house in Berlin.
Berlin Expat Advice: 15 Tips For Moving House In Berlin
1) Give notice to your current landlord
In Germany, it’s typical to give your landlord or property management company three months written notice when you’re ready to move out and end your contract. This gives them ample time to find new tenants and you plenty of time to prepare for your move. In some cases, your notice period can be as little as 30 days, provided that you’ve found new tenants for your landlord and that he/she agrees to letting them live in the flat.
Before sending off your letter, double-check the conditions of your original rental agreement to make sure you’re providing enough notice and that there aren’t any other surprises. Then followup with a call to your landlord to ensure they received your letter and find out how flexible they might be with your notice period.
By law, the maximum notice period in Germany is three months. If the notice period in your rental contract exceeds that, have a discussion with your landlord or property management company as soon as possible to work out your moving date.
2) Book a day off of work
Many German companies will allow you to take a day off of work to move and not force you to use up a valuable vacation day. I was pretty stoked to find out that my company allowed us to do this. Check with your employer to see if this an option.
3) Get rid of anything you don’t need
Moving is expensive and being able to earn extra cash at this time is always helpful. If you’re looking to sell any big ticket items like furniture or appliances, start with family and friends and avoid dealing with creepy or unreliable strangers. Before advertising my belongings to the general public, I posted photos, along with descriptions and selling prices on Facebook. Many people reached out and arranged a date and time to pick up the items they wished to buy from me. A bunch of my old furniture now resides with family and friends across Toronto and beyond. What I couldn’t sell to them, I made available to the general public. In Berlin, eBay and Craigslist are my go to websites. I also recommend the Sell Your Stuff Berlin Facebook group.
Anything that you can’t sell, give away as Berliners are big into DIY and love second hand things. As I always like to help out my family and friends first, I’d hold a fun “Come take all my stuff” party, where I’d invite everyone to help themselves to my belongings. Again, eBay and Craigslist also work for giving your stuff away. There’s also the massively popular Facebook group with more than 100,000 people, Free Your Stuff Berlin. Consider donating things to charity. For example, you can stuff your old clothes and shoes into any of the charity boxes you see around Berlin. Other options include leaving stuff in your building’s hallway or out on the street. It won’t take long for your items to be snapped up.
4) Borrow, find, rent, or buy moving boxes
Ask your friends if they still have any boxes from their last move. Check with your employer to see if they have any they’re not using. I ended up being able to borrow some moving boxes from work. You can also do a little scavenging and find boxes in your building’s recycling bins, your local grocery store etc.
Another possibility is to rent boxes. Use Box At Work, to rent boxes, and buy other moving supplies for a low price. They can deliver at a day’s notice and later, will even pick them up for free. Note – there’s a minimum order of 20 boxes.
For you ballers out there, you can buy boxes from this Shurgard. They have all the supplies you need from bubble wrap, to packing tape, and a wide assortment and size of boxes, including wardrobe boxes. Ordering online is not an option, so just visit one of their locations throughout Berlin.
5) Pack your life away
It’s finally time to put everything you own into a bunch of bags and boxes.
My pro tips? Don’t leave your packing until the last minute. Be liberal with newspaper and bubble wrap for fragile items. Buy more packing tape than you need. Start by packing one room at a time. Label your boxes with not only which room it needs to go into, but with a short list of the items contained in them. If there are fragile items in a box, write this down on the box as well. If you’re using German movers, be sure to write down instructions in German and not only English. Don’t pack all of your books into one or two heavy boxes, but disperse them across multiple boxes. Use suitcases, clothes baskets, and hampers to pack your clothes instead of light weight garbage bags that may rip and spill during the move.
If you are too busy or lazy to pack yourself, some movers will even pack for you.
6) Complete decorative repairs
Outside of normal wear and tear, it’s expected that your flat be in the same condition as when you moved in from an aesthetic perspective. If you painted the walls a different colour or hung up pictures, make sure you repaint the wall with it’s original colour. Even if the walls are still the same colour, you’ll need to refresh the walls a new coat of paint. Be sure to cover up holes left by nails or screws. If you need a handy person to help, get in contact with Girl With a Drill.
Anything you do will help having such repair costs deducted from your security deposit.
7) Clean your flat
In order to minimize the chance of having cleaning costs being deducted from your security deposit, give your flat a good “spring cleaning”. Preferably, you’d do this after you’ve moved all of your furniture, appliances, and other belongings. Clean inside the cupboards, dust off the baseboards, give the windows a thorough scrubbing, and do other things you might not do during a routine cleaning session.
If you’re too busy preparing for your move in Berlin or are simply lousy at cleaning, consider hiring a pro from a company like Book A Tiger.
8) Do a final inspection of your flat
Inspect the condition of your flat, note any damages made during the time you lived there by writing them down, and take plenty of photos as supporting proof. Did you scratch the floors or put a dent in the wall? Be as honest as possible.
Ideally, you’d have done the same inspection when you moved in, noting any issues, and coming to an agreement with the landlord or property management company about what would be done or not done in order to fix anything in the apartment. You can use this as a baseline for discussions when you’re moving out by comparing the state of the flat when you moved in versus the state of the flat when you’re moving out.
Damages resulting from normal wear and tear cannot be deducted from your deposit, but damages resulting from negligence, accidents, or abuse of the dwelling by you, guests, or pets can be taken from your deposit. Unfortunately, the definition of wear and tear is a subjective one and is often the cause of disputes between landlords and tenants. Speak with your landlord or property management company and come to an agreement about how much, if anything, will be deducted from your security deposit.
9) Hire a mover
If you don’t have much to move or don’t have very far to move, there’s always the option of calling upon your loved ones for help by walking, using public transit, or scheduling a taxi. If you or one of your buds have a driver’s licence, rent a van for as little as €3 per hour from Robben Wientjes.
As I don’t have a German driver’s license, I used Mark With a Van on recommendation from several friends. His prices are very reasonable and he’ll pick you and all your stuff up, driving you to your new place. Just know that he’s cheap for a reason – he works alone and expects you to haul items alongside with him. Withhold your diva tendencies (like I reluctantly did) and get to work. Alternatively, you can try Girl With a Big Car who will help you lug your belongings around Berlin for a good price.
Big name, reputable moving companies in Berlin include Movinga, Zapf, and Run Umzuege. Such companies will offer different levels of service like packing and unpacking, disassembling and assembling furniture, and even taking care of things like arranging to have a parking space reserved in front of your building. Call around to get quotes and references from multiple companies before making a final decision. Also, make sure your move includes insurance in case they damage your flat or belongings during the move.
Be hesitant to hire random guys from Craigslist who are scam artists that demand full upfront payment and may later make off with all of your belongings. Believe it or not, this has happened to friends of mine who were naive enough to do such a foolish thing.
10) Register your new address at the Bürgeramt
Registration of your new address is mandatory by German law. You may read up on other blogs that it’s not a big deal if you’re late registering, but why set yourself up for problems that you know you can avoid? Don’t be a jerk and don’t be lazy, as you have up to 14 days after your move in date to register and you can also visit any Bürgeramt in Berlin.
Hopefully, you’re moving into an apartment where you can live legally and your landlord or property management company is willing and able to provide you with the paperwork you need to register your new address at the Bürgeramt. Bring everything with you on your visit including valid identification like a passport or work permit, your previous Anmeldung, your new rental contract, this form filled out and signed by your landlord, and this form filled out by you.
As it can take some time to get an appointment, reserve a spot online well in advance of your move. You can also call this hotline at (030) 90 24 99 0 if you’re in a rush to score an appointment. The hotline is open weekdays from 7:00 am – 8:00 pm. If you don’t mind waiting, you can even drop into a Bürgeramt on the same day, and hope that they’ll be able to service you. You could end up waiting hours or not getting erviced at all. If you take this option, show up early!
11) Forward your mail
As it may take some time to change your address everywhere, you can use a mail forward service to have your post sent to your new address for a set period of time. It’s fairly inexpensive, starting at around €2o – check the Deutschepost website for more information.
12) Change your Address
You’ll need to change your address everywhere by calling, emailing, or sending a written letter to the various parties. Places you’ll need to change your address with include your employer, bank, insurance provider, health insurance company, phone/cable/internet provider, doctor, dentist, gym, the ARD, and more.
It’s especially important to notify your internet, phone, cable, insurance, and utility providers far in advance of your move (I advise at least 90 days in advance), so you can avoid getting over charged for services after your move, find out what you need to do upfront, and plan accordingly. They can further assist you in getting their services setup in your new flat.
13) Return your keys
One of the very last things you need to do before leaving your old flat, is hand the keys back to your landlord or property management company. Before giving your keys back, make sure you haven’t forgotten any of your belongings, left any heaters running, on left any taps dripping. If you’re not taking your kitchen appliances with you, make sure the fridge is emptied and unplugged as well. Check your mailbox one last time too.
14) Get your security deposit back
Unfortunately, it can take up to 6 – 12 months before you get your security deposit returned to you while your landlord waits to access any damage costs and gets the final heating and water bills. Unfortunately, this means you cannot count on using this money towards the security deposit on your new apartment.
15) Hold off on that shopping spree
When planning my last move, I was so excited that I started shopping right away by ordering things on Amazon and splurging at TK Maxx. While it was fun, it just made for more things to pack and move. If possible, wait to do the shopping. If you’re ordering things online, schedule your deliveries until after you moved into your new place.
On the day I moved into my new apartment, I convinced two friends to come to IKEA with me. They were enthusiastic as they like retail therapy as much as me and were happy they didn’t have to help me move. We shopped until we dropped, ate some meatballs, and came back to my flat loaded up with several bags of stuff.
Recommended reading: For even more information, consider these articles including 10 things to do before moving out of your apartment in Germany and Guide to Moving Home in Berlin. These German sites are also highly recommended – Umzug and Ummelden.
Have I missed anything? Do you have any other tips about moving house in Berlin? Drop a note in the comments below.
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