Expat Living: The Day I Broke Into My Own Flat.

Just Another Day in Berlin

I shut the door behind me and headed down to the building’s courtyard to dispose of my recycling, thinking “It’s safe here. No need to lock it.” I left the key inside on the kitchen table.

As I walked downstairs, I realized the enormity of what I’d done. I’d locked myself out of my flat! I didn’t know that when you closed the door, that it wouldn’t open without a key, even if it’s not locked.

Several curse words escaped my mouth and echoed through the empty hallways. Just how was I supposed to get myself out of this situation?

Symbolic of My Cursing
Symbolic of My Cursing

I calmed myself. Perhaps I could enlist the help of a neighbour? Yet, I don’t know any of them that well. We exchanged polite “hallos” whenever we passed one other but I’d yet to strike up a lengthy conversation with any of them. There wasn’t enough of relationship there for me to call on them for a cup of sugar, let alone rescue me from being locked out.

Having no other choice, I walked out to the courtyard to see if I could find anyone or anything that might be able to help. Of course, no one was around. I went out to the street, careful not to shut the main door behind me.

Seeking Help

I remembered the man who worked in the shop next to the building. He received packages for residents when they were not home and had done so for me on one occasion. I thought he may have some suggestions.

After explaining what happened, he looked at me and laughed but after sensing my profound embarrassment, said “Oh, it happens to everyone once.”

I wonder if it had ever happened to him? Probably not. Believe it or not, this was the third time that this happened to me. Just last year, I locked myself outside my hotel room in Los Angeles and several years before that, outside of my basement apartment. At least this time, I was properly dressed …

The kindly shop owner spoke with his colleague and said they may be able to jam the door open using some tools and employing their best MacGyver moves. One of them went to fetch the tools and we went back to my flat together.

Coming to the front of the building, I discovered the door was now closed. More curses. How were we going to get back into the building?

The man said “Oh, don’t worry.” and pressed a button that automatically opened the door without a key being required. So much for building security?!

The man tried using different tools to open the door, admitting he hadn’t tried these techniques before, and as expected all his attempts sadly failed.

He advised they could call a locksmith but that it’d be really expensive and it might take them a long time to come. All I could think about was my chicken pad thai and tequila flavored beer sitting on the kitchen counter (beside my keys!). I silently cursed once more as my stomach roared with hunger.

Executing “Mission Impossible”

Then it came to me. The scaffolding! Our building was undergoing construction and I figured I could climb the scaffolding and enter my flat through the window. Luckily, I had left one of them open.

Looking Out My Window Into A Construction Filled Courtyard
Looking Out My Window Into A Construction Filled Courtyard

He offered (more than once) to climb up and then let me in but I told him I could do it alone and thanked him profusely for his help. Someone once told me that Germans aren’t known to be friendly. I don’t think this man and his colleague could have been any nicer!

Although being terrified of heights, I set off on my “mission impossible”.

I climbed three stories, walked along a surprising sturdy set of boards and located my flat all the while wishing for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak or in the very least a James Bond girl level of prowess.  I mean, I had to live up to the nameplate displayed outside my flat!

My Bond Girl Persona
My Bond Girl Persona

I tried to look as dignified as I could given the ridiculous situation, pushed the window open, and ducked inside while praying that no one saw me.

Life As An Expat

This is just one of many fun and interesting experiences I’ve had since settling into my new life in Germany and I have lots more to share.

Having been in Berlin for about six weeks now, I’ve gone through a roller coaster of emotions feeling moments of happiness, sadness, delight and frustration. I had no idea what it would be like to move to another country on my own, not speaking the language, not having a job and … it has been a life changing experience.

That being said, there’s a lot I want I want to write about, hoping it will help those who are considering moving abroad or others who are struggling and wondering if they did the right thing. I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered “Am I crazy? Did I do the right thing?” I know now, it’s normal to be scared and question yourself sometimes.

Yet, as I sit in an outdoor cafe on my tree lined, cobbled stone street drinking a cappuccino and writing this post, I smile and know I made the right decision. I’m more determined than ever to succeed.

Founder of cherylhoward.com. Canadian in Berlin. Frequent traveller now at 43 countries and counting.


  1. You go, Bond girl! šŸ˜‰

    I locked myself out of my apartment three times shortly after moving in. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing it. I figured it must just have been a product of the change in environment or something. Glad to hear the pad thai and beer didn’t go cold!

  2. Such an embarrassing moment. But anything to get back to the pad thai and beer!

    Ha ha … 3 times!!?? How on earth did you get back into your apartment?

  3. Well, that place was a basement apartment. The first two times, I bugged the people living upstairs, and they let me in through a door in the house. By the third time, I had left a spare key at a friend’s place, but of course, I didn’t have my car keys either, so I had to hoof it there and back to get the key.

    Third time was the charm, though. Finally stopped doing it!

  4. Knock wood……….I have never locked myself out of any of my apartments in Korea…although more than once I’ve let my keys in the uni. bathroom and have done some frantic searches.

    I did lock myself in the basement of my house in Halifax one time. Thankfully I had a phone in the basement. I phoned my Dad and he asked “Your lost in the basement?”
    No, Dad, I know where I am……..come and get me OUT!:)

    Glad you managed to you get yourself in. Just thinking of climbing that scaffolding makes me break out in a sweat!

  5. Ha ha. I bet your dad laughed when he realized what happened. šŸ™‚

    I am glad I got in too, especially happy that I didn’t need to pay an exorbitant fee! The climb was interesting and not something I’d care to repeat again either.

  6. I once locked myself out of an apartment in Boston. Luckily I had roommates who could let me back in later that night.

    But if I got locked out of my place here in Berlin, I don’t know what I’d do! I can’t even speak the language….!

  7. Oh no! Glad to hear you got back into your apartment OK.

    I’m only learning German now, but at this time I didn’t speak it either. Luckily my neighbours knew some English and were so helpful! Even luckier was that I had left a window open and could use the scaffolding.

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