The (im)possibility of finding new housing in Hamburg Part I: where to live

Finding affordable housing is a problem every international student or expat is confronted with when moving abroad. Without the right connections and knowledge on where to live and where not to live, finding new housing can become a real challenge! To be sure, the housing issue isn’t just a problem internationals face, as I very vividly remember from my Leiden days, but Hamburg puts everything in perspective.

Now, Hamburg is expensive. I am very, very happy that I am no longer a student, and that I can afford a relatively large room in a safe neighbourhood. Still, every time I pay the rent I feel like I’m flushing money down the drain. To be paying almost as much as my sister does for her entire studio in the second city of the Netherlands, that ain’t a very nice feeling. Not to mention my friends in my home province, who can rent an entire house with a smaller budget than mine! I found my current place relatively easy, but as my contract ends next month the entire circus started again.

The quest for the (im)possible: finding affordable housing in a decent neighbourhood. That means not Billstedt (‘the closest you’ll get to a Turkish ghetto in Hamburg’), not Willemsburg, not Veddel, basically not anything too far south or too far east. I mean, I know people living there without any issues, but I don’t like the idea very much, as I haven’t been here long enough to really know what a bad neighbourhood is according to German terms. Is it merely immigrants living there, or is it criminality, drugs issues and shootings? As a so called expert on Middle Eastern affairs I don’t mind being among immigrants and foreigners at all. On the contrary: I like my surroundings a bit more exotic than Germany. But I’d still like to be able to walk home at night without getting mugged or robbed. So yeah, to be on the safe side I limited my search to more acceptable quarters. Still, a shame about the somewhat cheapish rents though.

For the past 5 months I’ve been living in Bahrenfeld. No complaints about the neighbourhood whatsoever, it feels super safe and all that. Not that I’m much of an outdoor girl these days, but when I leave the house at night I don’t feel more worried than I did in Leiden (that however is a legacy of my upbringing, and has nothing to do with actual crime levels in either Leiden or Hamburg). Bahrenfeld is not the nicest of places, with its appearance of an English industrial city, but over the months I’ve come to appreciate the neighbourhood and what they do with the industrial heritage, such as the old glass factory, which is now a medical center and shopping center in one. It’s in easy reach of Altona and has superb transport connections, allowing me to be at work within some 20 minutes. I wouldn’t have minded staying here at all.

Finding a new Bahrenfeld proved to be an interesting challenge. Often affordable housing was either extremely far away and/or with bad connections to the work place (which happens to be smack in the middle of things, so finding anything in walking distance would really have been a mission impossible anyway) or it was relatively closeby, but way too expensive. Think most of my salary after taxes for an idea. Other affordable housing with decent connections to the arbeit was located in neighbourhoods where big guys with tattoos told me they wouldn’t go there unless absolutely necessary (Billstedt, mainly). So yeah, no good surroundings for girls like myself either.

Doing my online research, I came up with some ideas on where I would want to live as well as a nice map on good places and places to avoid. High-end places like Eppendorf seemed out of (the financial) reach, but Altona or Eimsbuttel might be more affordable goals. After creating some accounts on major housing sites like WG gesucht and joining some Facebook groups, I was ready to give it a go! (cliffhanger, to be continued)

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