For many of us non-Germans in the 20-30 age bracket, one of the best things about living here is, well, how easy it is to live here. By that, I mean: how easy it is to find somewhere to live.
Even Germany’s most overcrowded cities like Munich and Stuttgart are a long way off from London and Paris when it comes to finding a flat, and some of Germany’s coolest cities – like Berlin – are also among its emptiest. A major part of this is the huge extent of flatsharing amongst young people, providing cheap rental space until they are ready to settle into their own flats.
Having said that, what marks German flatsharing is that people often settle in their flatshare, rather than it being a simple means to an ends. In London, which is seeing increasing rates of flatsharing, people do it mainly out of economic necessity, just waiting for the day when they have saved enough money to buy a house. In Paris, students often have little more than a lodgers’ room in the city and go home to their parents every weekend. In Italy, so I’m told, no one ever moves out – ever.
In Germany, however, living in a “WG,” as a sharing arrangement here is known, is seen by many as an indispensable stage in their path to becoming fully rounded people. Obviously economic concerns are by no means absent, and living in a flatshare is very often a good way to save money – but you can rent perfectly acceptable one-person flats for the same price as some of the better rooms available on the WG market, so that can’t be the whole story.
You’ve only got to look at the initials WG. They’re short for Wohngemeinschaft, or literally “living community,” which has a far more positive and inclusive ring to it than the rather divisive “flatshare.”
Indeed, the word Wohngemeinschaft dates from the social upheaval of the late 60s, which was when students and young people began to demand more independence in their lifestyles. Beforehand, most had either remained with their parents or rented rooms in boarding houses or with widows offering their spare rooms to make a few extra Marks.
With the swinging sixties and their atmosphere of sexual and societal revolution taking hold, especially in the wake of the student riots of 1968, however, this started to become a less viable option. So left-wing youngsters clubbed together in order to rent living space where they could escape what they saw as the suffocating conservatism of older generations. The ideal was to share everything, from food and heating bills to one’s innermost thoughts, and to essentially run microcosms of a new, friendlier, and more tolerant society.
WG-life today is certainly a long way from this, with increasing numbers of un-political, even slightly conservative young people moving into WGs as it has, more and more, become the accepted thing to do. Then again, the ideological foundations are still alive and well, as any visit to WG-gesucht.de will show you.
At this website, the non plus ultra of flatshare search websites, WGs which are looking for new Mitbewohner, as flatmates are called, advertise themselves here: and nine out of ten of them write “wir sind keine Zweck-WG.”
A Zweck-WG, or “needs-must flatshare,” is kind of an oxymoron in German, since it takes the ideals enshrined in the term “living community” and combines them with the realities of two people sharing a space and the rent but very little else.
A Zweck-WG is a means to an ends, nothing more than a way of reducing the rent and permeated by a cold and disinterested attitude: “er, excuse me, that’s my salt you’re using there. By the way, I’ve got friends coming round next Saturday, so can you make sure you’re not in the kitchen from 19:00 to 22:00, please?” A Zweck-WG is something for Spießer, for closed-minded people, or so the stereotypes go.
No, the ideal WG is somewhere in between: a “Wohlfühl-WG” or “flatshare you can call home.” It’s a flatshare consisting of four people (because two is too intense and three is a tricky number in terms of group dynamics) who often go out for drinks together, sometimes sit down to a group dinner, and have no problem introducing each other to their friends, but who also have lives of their own.
There should ideally be one non-German (for comedic linguistic mix-ups), one person whose parents live in the same city (for free second-hand flat stuff like vacuum cleaners, table-cloths, andforks), one absolute party animal, and one person who cares enough about keeping things clean to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. If you have a good mix and the interpersonal relationships work, everything else – sharing shelf and fridge space, decorating, cleaning and organizing the flat, and buying toilet roll – should all fall into place. You’ll have some great memories, meet a lot of great people – and probably never want to move into a flat of your own.