Berlin apartment progress (or, a huge step backwards)

November 20, 2013

Berlin entryway_text2 apartment construction entryway_text
We decided to make the move to Berlin exactly one year ago, and the wait to have that move materialize has been excruciating. Now that things are finally happening, they are happening fast. Too fast, in fact. I had already started to think that maybe we had jumped on our apartment too quickly, second-guessing the high cost, the small space and the lack of windows, but we had already waited so long and were dying to be in Berlin, After months of looking, it was the best thing we had come across, by far.

Our apprehension about the bare walls and subfloor, along with not knowing exactly what our finished apartment would look like was met with reassurances that we would be able to choose the professionally-finished tiles and wall colors, as well taking our advice on putting in a small pantry in the kitchen for that coveted Berlin apartment storage space. Waiting anxiously for photos, and more importantly, an update to know when to schedule our next trip up to make decisions and take final measurements to order our kitchen with, we finally saw the progress... and my heart dropped. All those concessions we had made in exchange for the opportunity to really make this place our own were were now just negatives in an apartment that was looking less and less like what were expecting with each photo we saw.

Berlin apartment kitchen_text apartment construction kitchen_text

Instead of allowing us to choose the tiles as promised, the wall ones had already gone up - and are the cheapest-looking tiles I've ever seen and are clearly meant for a floor, not a kitchen backsplash. They are perhaps even uglier than the old ones in our current dilapidated apartment that I painstakingly stripped and painted. Even worse, the tiles before - especially in the bathroom - were much nicer. Instead of these new massive, bargain-bin-looking tiles, they were carefully chosen and of better quality. There were nice details, like a tile border and the tub even had a mosaic tile front. What were they thinking of with these changes other than budget? We were told that for a Prenzlauer Berg apartment, everything would have to be top-notch quality. My personal aesthetic is all for simple, but this is kind of a joke. Well so far, I think it's looking more like a cramped, cheap hotel than a new apartment undergoing a 50.000€ renovation in one of the nicest parts of town. Maybe I'm just not seeing the whole picture yet...

Berlin apartment bathroom_text apartment contruction bathroom vertical_text

Poor aesthetics aside, there's also the issue of how the actual space has worked out. Yeah, that pantry we were so excited that they were on board with putting in? It's so big, it could qualify as a fourth room! Great for storage, but it has eaten up so much of the space in our third room, that having overnight guests has gone from cramped to impossible. The bare minimum of furniture we had planned to bring with us for the room will now not even fit.

Berlin apartment third room corner_text apartment construction third room shortened_text
And while this was to be expected, I'm somewhat hyperventilating at just how narrow and dark the main rooms look after filling in the half-wall that used to partially separate them. It just didn't make sense for our bedroom to be connected to the living room by a massive opening and a door (and the hall door...), and of course, the extra wall space this frees up is ideal. But looking at these photos makes me completely second guess all my paint colors, not to mention worry that months holed up in these narrow, claustrophobic rooms in the winter time will make me want to take a flying leap off the balcony. Well, at least we have a balcony.

Berlin apartment street-facing windows
apartment construction bedroom apartment construction living room
I realize that considering my interior design background and very particular feelings around my home, as well as the bias of coming from an incredibly spacious, Altbau apartment with all the nice architectural details, I might be overreacting a wee bit. I mean, we have a Berlin apartment that is being extensively renovated and is available at the perfect time. The neighborhood is ideal. And I realize that without very specific, in-writing accounts of all these things that were promised to us, not to mention the whole potato/potahto issue of two totally different cultures' take on the same thing, we are in no position to call the whole thing off. I should just be happy to have somewhere to move in Berlin, right? Right...?

So I sit here, the majority of my hopes and expectations for this apartment fading fast, and try to decide what to do next. Do we push back and insist they take down those horrible kitchen tiles? Do we just ignore that we were mislead and pay to have them re-done upon moving in? And how are we expected to make flooring and paint color decisions in the next couple days, with minimal notice and no time to travel up there to see the choices in the space and convey our wishes in person? My head is spinning around all these issues I thought were sure things I had already checked off my 'stress list', but it appears they are back with a vengeance and requiring immediate attention. While it's far from a disaster, I'm currently experiencing some major renter's remorse at choosing this apartment.

While we try to sort all this out, I'm trying to breathe deep and focus on the positives... like that sunny, gorgeous balcony view that made me fall in love with the apartment in the first place.

Berlin apartment view of church


  1. So sorry to hear this! I would recommend joining the Mietverein asap. It isn't expensive and they can advise you as to what your next move should be!

    1. We've been recommended to them in the past, but at least in Wiesbaden, they will only give legal advice in German. Our German isn't quite up to legalese standards, let alone fluency, so I worry it would not be beneficial enough to join. Might be time to improve our German and take the plunge though! I'm just chalking this up to cultural differences at this point and hope that communication will improve through the rest of the process.

  2. Hello shoegirl, You don't know me. I am German reading your blog. I was together with an American woman for 7 years. Well that ended in may but that is another story.

    I started to read blogs from expatriates because it helped me to understand my girlfriend and cultural differences.

    We went through the same thing with an apartment in 2011. I am German and I have to say there is not a lot of style and good interior design in this country.

    Long story short. Since I am German I know that you have to get a bit feisty sometimes to really get what you want. Don't give in and remind the landlord what was promised.

    I would offer advice and help if you want to since I live close to your street. Don't freak out, I don't stalk, I just recognized the street from the photo you posted some weeks ago.

    1. Thank you for your advice and kind words, Franky. These kinds of things are always a challenge, even with cultural differences aside. We have already articulated the tile flooring we want, so at least we were able to do some of what we were promised... And if the kitchen is as awful in person, I suppose we will just have to figure out how to re-tile it ourselves. As an interior designer who has spent the last several months planning out what we wanted our apartment to look like, I found this lack of design tough to accept, but it's not the end of the world. I'm reserving final judgment until we see it in person. Thanks again and perhaps we will run into each other in the neighborhood once we move!

  3. Being a Berliner who once lived in Prenzlauer Berg, reading this makes me very sad. What you do in this city is just done by far too many people from countries like yours. Please, do me a favor and tell your American friends how horrible it is to live in Prenzlauer Berg in order to stop at least more Americans to move to Berlin neighborhoods. Don`t wonder if you will be bored in a few years because your fancy Berlin developed into another big city were gentrification destroyed everything you liked about it.
    Yes, I feel desperate about it, because the city lost a lot of its spirit because of people who are moving to it instead of just visiting it for a week or two.
    Good day!

    1. There has to be a response to that. I am trying not to be to harsh but I really feel the need to apologize for my countryman. There is a German word for small minded and ignorant. Kleinkariert. That is the only word that can be used here. It really makes me angry to listen to stuff like that and sadly "real Berliners" feel entitled to tell this nonsense. What gives them the right to claim that this is their city and all people coming here are just responsible for higher rents. Just because you are born here means nothing. There is and old saying: the real Berliner comes from somewhere else. That is how it was for centuries, before the wall was built. Just this comment shows that this city desperately needs people from all over the world come and live here, maybe that makes this small minded thinking go away. It would be so necessary and this city could progress.


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