Saturday, July 13, 2013

Berlin on the Move

P.’s girlfriend is excited. She just got the acceptance letter from the university in the U.K. She will get her Master’s degree in London! “You are going with me, right?” she asks her boyfriend P., and it’s all decided. P. is not so sure about this. On her way to work, she waves around their little 4th floor Tempelhof apartment, where for each room she had created a theme color, theme name and a mural: “Put all this stuff on ebay.”, she tells P.

Berlin currently has the highest online start-up company growth rate in Germany. All of these happen in low-rent apartments around town. Babbel, a language learning website and app created by a company called Lesson Nine, for example, was started in '07 by four guys in a little apartment on Bergmannstrasse. Today, Lesson Nine has nine employees, and their app just hit the 10 million downloads mark. L. is part of the same wave: She came to Berlin from Bulgaria and is now helping to start another web-based company: Footstep Ventures. In her mid-twenties, she speaks perfect German and English. Among other apps for visitors of Berlin, Footstep is creating an online concierge app for hotels, that shows guests events in town, including flash mobs and rallies. Another app can be tailored to events and conferences. To do all this, together with three other young entrepreneurs, L. rents a beautiful roof apartment on the Kreuzberg banks of the Spree River. L. sleeps and works at the office for nine months. Then, as things start to gel at the company, she gets really sick of sleeping at the office, and finds her own place. She puts all her furniture on ebay.

C. lives with her husband and 12-year old son in a small fourth floor Seitenfluegel apartment on a side street in Neukoelln. Seitenfluegel - that's the backyard side building of turn of the century Berlin apartment complexes - stairways distinguished from the spiffier front buildings by smaller size, basic colors, no carpet on the stairs, leading to crammed apartments for the working class, originally without bathrooms. C.'s apartment gets some good light thanks to its elevation, and she tries to make it cheerier by painting the wood floors and all furniture white. C., a first generation German from a Turkish family, carries a lot of weight on her small frame, and the four sets of stairs are hard on her, carrying up groceries and trying to make the place look nice. The men in her family are no help, spending most of their time watching TV and playing videogames. Then, a few months ago, she suffers a miscarriage. She decides that she needs to find a better place, and that she needs to move on. She puts all her stuff on ebay. As Maddy and I carry off her couch, the men don't look up from their screens.

Y. is from China, and is working hard on her degree and her job in Berlin. She moves into a small apartment in Schmargendorf and furnishes it with bright, happy and clean Ikea furniture. As soon as her place is all pretty and equipped, she meets the love of her life, L. He is gentle, respectful, helpful and dedicated. Now she spends all her time at his place, and her pretty apartment stays empty. Finally, they decide to get a place together, with room for the kids they know they will have soon. They find an affordable three-bedroom close to the Botanical Gardens. Y. asks L. to put all her stuff on ebay. He stays home from work and helps us carry the washer and dining room set.

The Z-A family’s Berlin apartment is on the ground floor of an old house on the other side of the Botanical Gardens from Y. and L.’s new place, on a hill called Fichtenberg (elev.68!). It has a little back deck and yard, four bedrooms and a little park down the street for Lucy the dog to run around. The house is now furnished with four beds, four shelves, a washer, a couch, a dining room set, a kitchen sideboard, nightstands, tables and numerous household items - all purchased on ebay for less than 700 Euro.

1 comment:

Maryanne said...

I love this story of your furniture acquisition process. Well written, made me smile.