Lisa L. lived in St. Pauli for about five years. After fleeing from her current apartment, she temporarily lives with a friend in a house between the Reeperbahn and the fish market. © Marvin Köhnken
Finding a suitable apartment in a big city is not easy. And when it turns into a nightmare, good advice is expensive. For Lisa L. from Hamburg, help came from the otherwise often unfriendly Internet.
Hamburg – A neighbor apparently hits the frame of a window with a steel pipe, a second begins a loud and solid argument because of it. Again and again there are insults and threats that Lisa does not want to repeat and that particularly frighten her as a young woman. It's just early in the morning – a situation that is anything but pleasant when you wake up. Because there are also numerous mice living in the apartment, the woman just wants to get out of her newly occupied abode. Not so easy in a city like Hamburg, especially since time pressure and fear don't make things any easier.
"Anyone who is from Hamburg knows this pain and knows what you have to endure until you can successfully say: I've found an apartment," says Lisa. After calling for help on Facebook, she has now found a new apartment – and a lot of much-needed encouragement and advice to boot. "In the end, all I can do is say: I was lucky." Normally, 200 to 300 people would queue up for viewings – or the apartment proves to be in need of renovation at first glance. As great as the shock in the morning, Lisa quickly found a new home this time.
Vacant apartments in Hamburg are rare – and cost a lot of money on average
Finding affordable and tolerable housing in Hamburg is not a joy without necessity – housing shortages, rising interest rates and inflation are all contributing to this. In fact, rents in the Hanseatic city on the Elbe rose by ten percent between 2018 and 2023 – to 11.30 euros per square metre. In comparison, in Dortmund the square meter costs only 6.90 euros. This is the result of a recent survey by the real estate portal immowelt.de. And although the upward trend has ended in the past twelve months and rents in Hamburg have recently fallen by as much as two percent, finding a suitable apartment is proving to be a very special challenge for many seekers.
Garbage and backyards where mice roam. No problem for St. Pauli fan Lisa. But when her apartment became a problem, she decided to leave the district behind as soon as possible. © Private
It's a challenge that Lisa knows all too well. "I had been looking for nine months beforehand and even that is not time in view of Hamburg's housing market," reports the 33-year-old. In the end, she had found a supposedly suitable apartment in St. Pauli – the district where she had previously lived in a shared flat for five years and which she knows is neither clean nor particularly inviting. But their relief did not last long. What happened to her in a parallel street of the Reeperbahn, she described, among other things, on Facebook, in the "NETT-WERK Hamburg" group. A cry for help out of reflex, sent quickly – actually not her kind at all.
I'm not only very worried, but downright afraid.
Lisa L. on Facebook
"I'm not only very worried, but downright afraid," Lisa writes on Facebook. "This morning I was woken up by my neighbor hitting the window with a steel pipe and screaming. Another neighbor, who then ran out of patience, went to him and became physical." The trigger for all this was her boyfriend's alarm clock, which rang shortly after half past seven in the morning. For ten minutes the neighbor hammered and screamed behind a wall, another twenty minutes the two neighbors argued with each other in a similarly frightening way, before a clapping sound brought calm as if from a blow. "Everything was so loud, as if the neighbor with the pipe was standing right next to me," says Lisa.
Exterminators take action against mice: room wall discolored by fur
The day before, an exterminator had just tried to drive mice out of the apartment that had run over Lisa's mattress. A second pest controller later said: "This is the mouse highway, this is where the animals all come through," – and pointed to a wall in the apartment discolored by mouse fur. Lisa was also familiar with mice, but she hadn't run across her own bed until then. "If you live in St. Pauli, you have to reckon with cattle," she says. But like this?
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If you live in St. Pauli, you have to reckon with cattle.
Lisa L. on the peculiarities of St. Pauli
"I don't see a good ending for me," Lisa writes on Facebook and later tells of how her neighbor's loud assault turned into fear from irritation. "When I saw my friend's gaze, I realized how serious it was right now." After only a few days in the new apartment, her concern: a new affordable accommodation, "now almost no matter where".
Neither the mice nor the neighbors had been reported to her previous tenant or landlord. A neighbor, who had come to terms with the conditions in the house for many years, explained to Lisa after the events that both were sufficiently known in the house. Lead pipes, lack of fire alarms. The list of problems is long – sometimes the aggressive roommate even smashes windows.
Information, tips and offers: Praise for helpful Facebook group
In the end, Lisa did not find her new apartment via Facebook, which she managed to do within a day via a regular ad, despite all odds. Instead, there were immediately many tips online – for example, about the tenant protection associations responsible for anger – and encouraging comments. "In the situation where I felt very threatened in my own home, it was good to realize that I was not alone," says Lisa. The word "nice" had already been in the name of the group, despite all the excitement she had hoped for and received "quiet information, factual tips or offers". And this despite the fact that around 20 people looking for accommodation in Hamburg would ask for help every day, some of them out of real need.
There are "NETT-WERK" groups in many German cities, more than 213,000 users are members in Cologne, and almost 53,000 in Hamburg. Appropriate inquiries and requests will be followed by the same responses. Even small groups such as those in Munich, Frankfurt or Bremen have a high number of active members. The mood is basically constructive, for Hamburg Lisa can confirm this and shows which reactions and direct messages have helped her in particular.
"In my opinion, we as humans have often lost a lot of communication skills, empathy and consideration," remarks the Hamburg native. All the more pleasing is her imminent move to Hamburg-Horn and her recent experiences at Facebook. And the short-term landlord in St. Pauli was also very accommodating and lets Lisa out of the lease after only one month at the turn of the month.
Tenants' association sees acute help, especially from family and friends
Among other things, Lisa also contacted all 36 housing cooperatives in Hamburg, called tenant protection and asked her friends for help. In one of them, she spends the time until she moves. For Stefan Schmalfeldt, deputy managing director of the Hamburg Tenants' Association, this is a typical way to leave an apartment as quickly as possible. "Every case is unique. In acute housing emergencies or when someone no longer has a place to stay, authorities can help." His team regularly experiences cases like Lisa's. "That's normal misery," he says from experience. Parents, friends, acquaintances – this is the order in which help in need is most likely.
This is the normal misery.
Stefan Schmalfeldt, Hamburg Tenants' Association
According to Stefan Schmalfeldt, the incidents described by Lisa are "defects in the rented property", which are in fact often only noticed and could only be noticed when someone has moved into an apartment. This also includes tenancy and civil law matters such as pests and a danger from aggressive neighbors. In principle, landlords are to be held liable for defects. Sometimes, for example, they would have to cover the costs of hotels in the event of water damage. Concealing known defects is also relevant under tenancy law and could enable repayments and claims for damages. The head of the legal department at the Hamburg Tenants' Association is pleasantly surprised by the outcome of Lisa's case.
For Lisa, the hardships after fear, double relocation and many good hints from the "NETT-WERK" will hopefully end at the beginning of the month, when she was able to move into her new apartment in Hamburg-Horn. The trained nurse also immediately initiated a job change that had been planned for some time and quit her old job. "There are now some doors that I just have to go through," she says with great relief. And if the going gets tough again, she now knows how to find help in finding an apartment in various places, even under pressure and in great need.