7: The Flat-Mate Factor

Casting calls, call-backs and rejections have all kept me busy over the past 4 months. It may come as a surprise to you that I am not referring to my up and coming modelling career, but rather to my search for accommodation in Berlin. Whilst 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 flat-mate.

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 was as follows:

1) They must be German
2) They must be around my age
3) The flat must located within the Ring-Bahn (a well connected underground station)
4) At least one flat-mate should be female.

In the end, only one of these criteria was fulfilled.

When each advert for a flat-mate 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 music taste, your looks, your personality, your hopes and your dreams. Everything.

And how did I fare? Remember that I am functioning as a 20% version of myself whilst competing with hundreds of potential flatmates. Enough with the excuses; in 4 months, I sent over 500 emails, received 20 responses, attended 12 viewings and was accepted by one WG.

Whilst, as a mediocre student actress, I am used to rejection emails, there is something distinctly humiliating about being rejected by potential flat-mates. 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 eleven times. Eleven people met me (well, in my defence, 20% of me) spent about half an hour in my charming company and then decided 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 best bits:

The shackles of flat hunting

Whilst 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 its 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, entrapped in the shackles of British politeness, I pretended I was really interested in the flat*, gave them my contact details and then ran a mile.

*Author’s note: He rejected me before I was able to reject him.
Mutual Interests

When meeting potential new flatmates, it is important to be yourself; honesty is the only way 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 mere roof under your head, you’re 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 die-hard Harry Potter fan, told one potential flat-mate 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 he hated reading as 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 just be yourself after all.

Making friends

Yet 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 inevitably 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 flat (essentially a call-back) 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 4 months of on and off searching, I beat several hundred applicants (not an exaggeration- this is the amount of emails they received) to live in a WG in Tempelhof. The flat might consist of men, aged between 24 and 32 and located outside of the Ring-Bahn, but they are GERmen (spelling intentional) and that’s what’s important.

I couldn’t help but ask my new flat mates why they chose me over hundreds of others. After all, I surely deserved a gentle ego massage after 4 months of relentless heart-break. Was it my sense of humour, my unique conversation starters or my winning smile that was the deal breaker 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 cyber space.

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