WG Castings: What to Do to Land the Roommate Role

Ah, how torturous it is to find a cheap place in Berlin, especially if you want to live in a shared apartment. After attending countless Wohngemeinschaft interviews, also dearly known as “WG Castings,” you do feel like pre-Oscar Leonardo DiCaprio at times:

You put so much work into your search. Years - okay, hopefully, weeks in our case - without fruitful     results.
Your peers are cheering you on: “You will find a place to live, Maria! Who wouldn’t pick you as a roommate! You deserve that golden statue key!”
You feel so disappointed at times that a bear could attack you à la Revenant at Kottbusser Tor (likely) and your tired body wouldn’t care less. 

Eventually, Leo did get his Oscar, and eventually you will get a safe, affordable place to live as my very rookie self did twice within six months. Coming from Florida, where you walk into the office of an apartment complex and sign a lease usually that same week without little to no complications, this entire room-hunting process was unexpected, to say the least. My first meeting was with a German guy at the vacant room and while he asked about my life, I jokingly said, “This feels like a date.”
“Yes, these meetings are called WG castings,” he replied. And as he wrote down my information on a notebook, which had a list of names of other hopefuls, I realized that my paranoid thoughts of living on a snow-covered curb were not too far off.
So, how do you jump into this daunting search?

WG-Gesucht Is Your Life

Some people have hobbies such as knitting and playing guitar. For the last months, my newly found entertainment was my never-ending search on WG-Gesucht, one of the most - if not - the most popular sites to find shared flats. Even with this popularity, I had no clue that this site existed until my friend directed me to it. It’s easy to keep track on the people you have contacted, sort through thousands of posts by rent/number of roommates/etc., and overall safe. If there was a scam account, its customer service would send me an email to watch out for certain users. There is also ImmobilienScout24, which caters more to single renters looking for empty apartments, and good ol’ Craiglist. I didn’t want to deal with neither buying furniture, long-term leases nor tons of paperwork for an apartment, so WG-Gesucht was definitely my answer.
On average ten emails were sent every day to potential roommates. Yes, my pleads were mostly copied-pasted, but I did try to personalize them by adding the name of the user and add some personal details when requested on the ad.

Pay attention To “Easy” Offers

This is more of common sense. If something looks too good to be true, then question it even more. But even with my most careful approach, I fell for some sneaky scammers a couple of times.
This type of email kept bombarding my inbox. It included the measurements, reasonable rent and deposit, and most importantly, it wasn’t asking for a money transfer. I replied asking for a date to see the apartment and I never got a reply. I thought the place had been already taken. A few days later I would receive a similar email- now, this time, describing a different place- and then I started to notice something. Usually, these emails had a robotic tone (not very personable as to addressing you by your name or asking more about you), well-written yet not properly spaced, and the email address was rather oddly named.

If the sender asked to be added to my Skype contacts just to “chat,” that was an instant red flag for me. Maybe some WG-Gesucht users prefer a video chat interview over one-on-one meetings, but a conversation and a scheduled date to talk was always planned over email before ever adding someone to my Skype contacts.

On The Casting

Once you have set up an appointment with your future roommates, you should expect:

Lots of questions! Don’t take it personally if they ask you what exactly you are doing in Berlin, what is your diet like, and if you prefer cats or dogs. These roommates are really trying to find the best person to fit the lifestyles. Some people are easy-going, some people only want to live with vegans. This is why you should welcome as many questions as you can, for your own personal sake and living experience.

Your competition! I have gone to some castings where several people were being interviewed at once. It was awkward as everyone was speaking German and mine couldn’t compete with their native tongue just yet. In this kind of a time-wasting and uncomfortable situation, you could pull one of the roommates aside and ask what you need to know, just as I did.

Getting your picture taken? I have heard that in some castings, the interviewers take pictures of the hopefuls in order to remember them better. Personally, I would decline, but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.

If you have a friend who is also looking for a WG and hasn’t had any luck getting replies, bring him or her along to your appointments. I asked my interviewer if it was okay to bring a friend who also needed a room and he was fine with it. Although we both didn’t get the room at the end of the day, your chances definitely increase compared to going about it alone.

Double-Check, then Celebrate 

The day before New Year’s Eve, a wish had been granted to a poor soul like me … so I had thought. My future roommates liked me and promised me that they could contact me in a couple of days, perhaps after the drunken celebrations starting a new year in Berlin. I got a reply from the roommate who was in charge of the casting asking if I wanted to move into the vacant. I said yes, of course. The flat was big, included an individual study area for each roommate and was located in a nice area around Tempelhof.

I asked her on January 2nd about signing the lease, deposit and so on. No replies in sight. My phone kept dialing to have no one answer me. Once again I was back on WG-Gesucht with my dimmed hopes of a better 2016.

Nothing is guaranteed until your signature is on a contract. Promises of your perfect WG and roommates are sold just like your everyday döner on every corner. I found a furnished room in Pankow and also just now, as my short lease ends in April, a shared place with a balcony in the desired area of Schöneberg for the summer. Trust me, if someone as naive as a Floridian could manage to find a roof over her head, you can tackle this hurdle as well.

By Maria Castillo

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