The Flatmate Factor
Casting calls, callbacks and rejections have all kept me busy over the past four months. Here I am referring not to my up-and-coming modelling career but rather to my search for accommodation in Berlin. WG-gesucht, the most popular website for finding accommodation in Germany, served as my “agent” during this trying time. While you might not associate a flat hunt with an audition process, the enormous competition for a “WG” (flat-share) has allowed a casting culture to emerge in which Berliners can afford to play Simon Cowell in their search for a new flatmate.
At the beginning of my year abroad, I naively assumed that I would select the most suitable flat after a number of viewings. I was wrong on two counts; they would be the ones doing the selecting and these “viewings” were really cut-throat auditions.
My initial criteria for flatmates were as follows:
- They must be German
- They must be around my age
- The flat must located within the Ring-Bahn (a well-connected underground station)
- At least one flatmate should be female
In the end, only one of these criteria was fulfilled.
When each advert for a flatmate receives hundreds of responses, even getting a viewing (casting) is an achievement. On what basis do they judge you? Your compatibility, your interests, your social skills, your income, your personal habits, your musical tastes, your looks, your personality, your hopes and your dreams. Everything.
And how did I fare? Remember that I am functioning as a 20 per cent version of myself while communicating in German, and yet I’m competing with hundreds of potential flatmates.
In four months, I sent more than 500 emails, received 20 responses, attended 12 viewings and was accepted by one WG.
As a mediocre student actor, I am used to rejection emails, but there is something distinctly humiliating about being rejected by potential flatmates. They are not judging your suitability to a particular character, the emotional depth of your monologue or the colour of your hair. They are rejecting you. I played the role of myself, delivered a monologue showcasing my lovely personality and they said “no”.
Imagine trying to make friends in a very selective social group and then getting an email saying, ”on the grounds of your deficient personality, you have not made the cut”. This happened to me not once, not twice – but 11 times. Eleven people met me (well, in my defence, 20 per cent of me), spent about half an hour in my charming company and then decided that they would rather live with someone else. It’s one of the few circumstances when the classic reassurance to any rejection, “don’t take it personally”, is impossible. It is entirely personal.
Here are my flat-hunting best bits:
The (literal) shackles of flat-hunting
Although I’m all for themed decorations, which certainly add character and homeliness to otherwise bleak accommodation blocks, I was rather alarmed by the abundance of handcuffs used to adorn one potential flatmate’s room. What was the theme here, prison? And the alternative – that the function of these handcuffs went beyond their ornamental value – was an even more concerning prospect. Said potential flatmate (inmate) also wore chains on his jeans, which made for a welcoming touch. However, trapped in the shackles of British politeness, I pretended that I was really interested in the flat*, left my contact details and then ran a mile.
*Author’s note: He rejected me before I was able to reject him.
When meeting potential new flatmates, it is important to be yourself; honesty is the only way that you will find people suited to your routine and personality. In theory. In reality, when you’re fighting it out against hundreds of other hopefuls for a roof over your head, your authentic self is unlikely to make the cut. Be the tidier, funnier, more interesting, white-lying version of semblances of yourself. This is the very reason why I, literature student, aspiring writer and diehard Harry Potter fan, told one potential flatmate that I hate reading. I don’t really know how it happened. We were discussing interests, and by “discussing” I mean he was listing his and I found myself expressing a suspicious amount of interest in his niche hobbies. He told me that he hated reading because he usually “finds the writing style too simplistic” and “is rarely exposed to new ideas”. Clearly he was either a pretentious lunatic or an undiscovered genius. Either way, I agreed that I too have graduated on to more complex art forms. I hated myself, but I had to the play the game.*
*Author’s note: It didn’t work. He also rejected me before I got the chance to reject him. Maybe you should just be yourself after all.
The hardest rejections came from the viewings with nice, normal people. The one silver lining of this process was that I got to meet new people and to speak a lot of German. One viewing went so well that, realising we were both in Hamburg for the weekend, we nearly met up the next day. When I returned to Berlin, I went back to meet the other flatmate (essentially a callback), and we too got along like a house on fire. A vision of a German circle of friends flashed before my eyes, and I was ready to finally fulfil my dream of becoming a German socialite. That evening, they emailed to say that, as much as they liked me, they decided to go for someone who could stay longer than me. This rejection cost me a flat, my pride and two friends.
In the end, however, my charm, wit and charisma triumphed when, after four months of on-and-off searching, I beat several hundred applicants (not an exaggeration – this is the number of emails they received) to live in a WG in Tempelhof. The flat might consist of men, aged between 24 and 32, and is located outside the Ring-Bahn, but they are GERmen (spelling intentional) and that’s what’s important.
I couldn’t help but ask my new flatmates why they chose me over hundreds of others. After all, I surely deserved a gentle ego massage after four months of relentless heartbreak. Was it my sense of humour, my unique conversation starters or my winning smile that clinched the deal for them? In the end, I found out that I had accidentally sent two (slightly different) emails expressing my interest in their WG. They had said “yes” simply because they could smell my desperation through cyberspace.