The kin(d)aguide to finding a flat in Köln
Heyho heyho it's kinabean again!
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me "It's hard to find a flat in Köln", I could probably afford one of those ridiculously priced Airbnbs in Altstadt-Süd near KISD - pics or it didn't happen, right? The cheapest one there is at least $1.4k NZD/month for 1 bedroom, and there's a batshit crazy $17.4k NZD/month flat for 3 peeps, but Jesus who even has that kind of money for a student? THATS MY YEAR'S TUITION MATE WTF.
Spoiler alert: no, I didn't get a private flat. But maybe if you're German or speak way better German than me (which isn't hard to ask when I can pretty much only say "Kennst du wo ist die toilet?" "Kann ich bitte ein Bier haben?" and "Deine hund ist schön!"), or came like a month before the semester started, you'd be allgoodies.
Anyway, here is a compilation of tips from me to you to help similarly lost struggling souls to find a flat in Köln - man am I passionate about this topic, I went through a hell of a couple of weeks flat-hunting, at a point I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn't have a flat and that I'd have to end up going back to New Zealand and dropping down a semester (no waaay, jose, in my dreams)
1. APPLY FOR A DORM A$AP ROCKY TO KSTW
If you haven't done this yet, STOP AND DO IT NOW. HERE'S THE LINK EVEN. Yes, it is in German, but use Google Translate (the Chrome plugin is pretty good) and you'll be sweet.
KSTW/Kölner Studierendenwerk is kinda like Housing NZ for students. There are only 5000 dorms and at least 72,000 students in Köln alone (shoutout to Köln for having the biggest universities in the country all in the same city) - some students even flat in Bonn, which is about 45 minutes away by train.
"Why even apply if I probs won't get one?"
Ok so the point of applying to one of these is just like applying for a scholarship - you might not get it, but there's that miraculous chance that you might, so you might as well apply. It also means that later down the line when you go to KSTW by the ADAC building, you can be like "yeah I applied 3 months ago and didn't get a flat and am still on the waiting list", so you have more chips for your bargaining.
Also, the flats from KSTW are ridiiiculously cheap, they're like the proper price accommodation should be. I've heard stories of flats being as cheap as €150 up to €350. With the 2017 Sperrkonto (blocked bank account, aka the dole from past you to future you) of €720, that gives you €370 leftover a month, take away food and going out, that's still an extra €150 you can use to shop or even better, TRAVEL!
I personally paid €241 (€211/month rent + an €30/month surcharge for short-term rent, because they usually rent out flats for the year if not for 3 years) for a flat in Hürth, which is 45 minutes away from the university - but transport is free for students in the VRS zone (see map below, its massive), so that's alllllgoodies.
2. HAVE BACKUP MONEY FOR ACCOMMODATION
Ok so yes I did travel through Greece-Italy-Portugal and only arrived in Köln the Sunday before orientation on Thursday, because I know that I can practically only do fat adventures either prior, during Christmas/New Years, or after my exchange. Not ideal for flat-hunting, sure, but I also tried to flat-hunt before I came - no bueno.
The magical few people that reply to your email/text generally want to schedule a flat viewing ASAP, and the others are scammers - beware of the "Oh I've relocated to [insert city here] due to work. Unfortunately I can't schedule a flat viewing but here are the pictures (generally way nicer than pics of flats I've seen on WG-Gesucht, like Airbnb/Google Images type pics) I have the flat keys, so just deposit me the rent + bond and I'll send you the keys and you'll be sweet!"
If you have never flat hunted before (I practically haven't before this lel), just know that you should never transfer/sign anything without:
- a contract that you understand (SO KEY, a guy next to me in the KSTW office asked for a flat furnished but it said furnished/unmöbliert, which translates to furnished/unfurnished aka a translation error)
- a flat viewing
Just to be safe, I'd recommend having at least a month's worth of money (accommodation/hostels + food) to live off, or at least 2 weeks, but remember that the less money you have the waaay higher the stress gets.
3. LEARN THE BASICS OF GERMAN FLAT HUNTING
Ok, first off, here are some basic basic basic terms:
WG - shared flat, like the usual flats in Auckland, but with randoms, not mates.
PURPOSE-WG - shared flat for the purpose of living cheaper. Generally, the people on websites like wg-gesucht.de don't want a purpose-WG because they wanna flat with people they can enjoy living with, from cooking or having a couple of beers or wines (yea boi)
ZIMMER - room. 1-ZM or eine Zimmer both mean one bedroom.
MÖBLIERT - furnished flat - aka, you get a bed, wardrobe, whiteware, maybe even a lucky desk to study on.
UNMÖBLIERT - unfurnished flat - aka, straight up empty other than walls. You don't want this if you're just there for a semester, unless you reckon you can somehow suss a U-Haul's worth of flat goods without going broke and/or can survive sleeping on an air mattress and having just that in your flat.
KALTMIETE - cold rent, this is rent without bills like heating, electricity, water et al. - not what you're after when you're counting up costs. Look for the warmmiete.
WARMMIETE - warm rent, this is rent all up including bills, aka what you're after when you're looking at prices.
Second, from the bajillions (ok, like 7 or so, but a tedious seven) websites I used, I'd only recommend flat-hunting on two of them:
This is like the Trademe of flat-hunting in Germany. Practically everyone posts on WG-Gesucht when they post up a link in a Facebook group. Also, they have good filters so you can search only flats with rent (warm too!) within your budget
This one is still popular, but less than WG-Gesucht. I've found that mainly real estate agents/property management businesses are the ones that make ads here, so they make ads representing the landlords. Also, beware that the rent on ImmobilienScout24 is cheaper, but it's because it only shows rent cold/without bills, and some flats can have bills that are up to an extra €150/month.
4. BEWARE & BE PREPARED
Again, beware of scammers trying to get you to send money for keys. Pay attention, don't be fooled by remembering warnings, and kindly ask if you have any worries and you'll be sweet.
Also, be warned that it's really hard to find a flat in Köln - I meant what I said earlier.
Essentially; try to come a week or two before 1st of September or 1st of October 😊
People in Germany generally move in on the 1st of the month, so ads for the flat are up from a few months to a month to a few/couple of weeks prior to moving in, especially if its for a WG because they have these so-called "WG-castings" because they're really picky about who they choose to live with 'cause they don't wanna have a shit time in their flat, obviously.
Most Germans want to flat with Germans, if not someone that is fluent in German, and most landlords similarly want German tenants, if not a tenant from the EU for banking and other financial security reasons.
Furthermore, on that (sorry mate, better be real from the get-go) it's rare to find someone that will rent privately exactly on the 6-month term you're after if it isn't another student going on exchange.
Be prepared to rent in less than ideal situations - from ridiculously cheap rent in town in exchange for babysitting for a single mom/dad, to renting a room up to 1.5hrs away from uni (this is real, beware if you get a dorm in Gummersbach that it is n o t close to Köln, but it is still doable), or paying premium prices for primo primo location, be prepared for the less than ideal. I mean for me, it's part of the experience (and also so I can afford to travel while I'm in Europe ehehe)
If you're doing an exchange Design at KISD too, you'll be at their Südstadt campus, and so here is a little list of suburbs (not complete) from perfect location to eh better than nothing, in my opinion:
Also, here's a link to KISD's little peek of the suburb's personalities - can confirm that Ehrenfeld is hella cute and cool, kinda like Ponsonby meets Wellington.
Please Google Maps the flats you apply for so you have an idea of transport to-from KISD, and also join the KISD Couchsurfing group or befriend another exchange student who might be willing to have you crash at theirs to halve their rent (shoutout to Jac you were a bomb flattie girl!)
5. "OK, GOT IT, I'M IN KÖLN NOW, WHAT DO I DO?"
WELL MATE, I GOTCHU.
First thing's first, I'd recommend going straight to KSTW (Universitätsstraße 16, 50937 Köln) at 9am, and then the people there will redirect you to the Studierenwerk at ADAC - you should come ASAP, I was there by 9.15 at the latest and there was already another guy there waiting. It's before the main entrance to ADAC, its a door that has some details about which room deals with which dorm in the classic KSTW yellow, so you'll see it if you keep your eyes peeled.
Ohk then, you ask for a bedroom in whatever dorm - don't be picky, this isn't the time to be picky. Some students will take unfurnished rooms anywhere just to have a room. Also keep in mind that these guys are open from 10am-12pm only, so the line is paaacked because everyone wants a room in Köln. Try to have about €400 ready with you if you don't already have a German bank account so you can pay your rent ASAP in cash when you get an offer - you're gonna have to hop around heaps once you get a flat to register your paperwork, and with their short opening times, the more German efficiency you have in preparation, the better off you'll be.
If you don't get a dorm then, go into overdrive private flat-hunting mode (I mean, if you're good at multitasking, you'd apply to some of these a few days before you arrive in Köln and start doing these applications as soon as you're in Köln. Ideally, text them or if you can speak German well, call them if they have their number listed), which means:
- Get a German number for your applications so they don't get weirded out when they try to call you, and so that you can text and call your potential landlords. I used Vodafone, but ALDItalk is also pretty good.
- Going on FB, and joining these groups, and keeping eyes peeled for fresh ads - the quicker you are, the more likely they are to contact you!
- Going on a massive scroll through WG-Gesucht and ImmobilienScout24 at least once a day, and applying for all flats within your budget. If you can speak or write German, that definitely helps, but if not, just use whatever German you know, even if its just Hallo, ich heiße ___ und ich komme aus ___ and danke schön!
- Email the International Office at KISD and KSTW for support regarding accommodation - it's not their responsibility to provide you with accommodation, but they're generally helpful and give good advice! 😊
- Post an ad of yourself on WG-Gesucht, the aforementioned Facebook groups, and the KISD Facebook groups (KISDies and KISD International). Aim to have your name, where you're from, how much rent you can pay warm, where you want a room, and the start - end date of your planned tenancy.
Bonus: add a bit about your personality and a photo of you if possible!
6. A FINAL NOTE...
Good luck! As they say in Köln, et kütt wie et kütt, or it comes as it comes. I believe that if its meant to be, with effort, it will be - I searched for a flat for nearly 2 weeks, panicking the frick out getting ready that worst case I'd have to ask to go home back to New Zealand and drop down a year 'cause most design papers are taught annually, not every semester.
I looked at all sorts of flats, got loads of scammers emailing me, who knows how many ridic German-English applications I wrote with no replies from any landlords for any flat viewings, got creepy guys replying to my ads trying to arrange "hang outs", and got to the point of desperation that I'd be glad to pay €550/month for an empty room that I'd then fill with an air mattress up to 1.5hrs away from uni, and I magically got a furnished dorm 45 minutes away for €241/month.
So, it all turned out swell thankfully, but during those insanely rough weeks, I really grew to appreciate and love the friends and family that are there for me - their support from miles and miles away meant the world to me, and it still does (shoutout to any of you blessings if you're reading this, I tell you guys a lot but I love you all so much)
I believe in you, whoever you are, you've got this! You can find a flat!