Most people in Berlin, and in most German cities, rent accommodations for their whole life. More than half of all Germans live in rented accommodation. This means there is an extensive variety of flats all over the city. Note that most flats are rented bare- as in bare of light fixtures, flooring, kitchen essentials (sink, oven, etc.). The considerable cost in setting up an apartment mean that Germans rarely move, or engage in situations like sublets, trades (Tauschangebot), and nachmieter (take over a complete apartment by buying their things).
From modern and chic, to beautiful classics, to Bohemian flophouses- Berlin has it all. Reasonable housing prices, especially for a European capitol, has brought foreigners to the city and grudgingly the city is slowly gentrifying. Because of this increasing demand, rents are slightly rising and competition (especially in the summer months when Berlin is at it's best) can be steep. Good deals go very fast.
Although the city is no longer divided, many locals and expats still see a clear difference in sides of the city. Both sides have their pros and cons and it is up to you to decipher what fits your lifestyle. (For a detailed neighborhood, consult the "Geography", "Berlin" section).West - Much more developed with an obviously more comfortable and stable history. There is less graffiti, more conservative people, and more couture shopping and high-class restaurants. There are more tourist destinations and it is also generally more expensive, both in rental prices and the average cost of groceries.
Rented accommodation vary widely in price for reasons that are not obvious. A 450 euro apartment can come at shockingly different standards in different parts of the city. Prices are listed as "warm" or "cold".
Cold rent (Kaltmiete) - base rent only with no additional costs included
Warm rent (Warmmiete) - includes costs such as water, electricity, gas/coal, waste disposal services and sometimes even internet and cable.
Note that 1 room means studio, as in there is one main room, usually with a separate kitchen an bathroom (but the kitchen may also be located in the main room). A 2 room apartment usually includes a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.
Expect to pay around:
1 room apartment in City Center - 450 euro
1 room apartment outside of the City Center - 400 euro
2 room apartment in City Center - 550 euro
2 room apartment outside of the City Center - 500 euro
After the fall of the wall, Berlin experienced the heyday of squatting. Abandoned buildings were re-populated by whoever was brave enough to claim the space. German law is actually quite protective of squatters. The heyday is now officially over and the last of the squats are under siege. Local government have cleared out most squats, but come out with a compromise of collectives. These housing projects maintain a Bohemian, hippie vibe while offering low rents of 100 to 300 euros for a room. There is usually a mandated culture of sharing, both space and mentality in these locations.
Online listings can give you a feel for the market and allow you to determine if a place fits your specifications before you spend time going to look at it.
Several papers have a helpful classified's section.
There are often postings on public boards about rentals. There are bulletin boards in Humboldt University's main building, laundrettes, cafes, grocery stores, community centers, and bars all might have ads.
Expat and social forums and classified's are another resource for job seekers. You can get a realistic expectations of what it's like to live in Berlin as well as make helpful contacts. Check out Easy Expat's Classified's as well as the forum to connect with expats there.
An estate agent can be a useful resource for finding the right place quickly. Some (especially higher-priced) places in Berlin are only listed with an agency. A good agent knows the legal pitfalls and has access to a variety of housing. An agent will provide you with a description of available properties, escort you to viewings, make sure your contract complies with expected standards. Look for agencies known as Mitwohzentrale or Mitwohnagentur to find these listings.
Rental contracts (Mietvertrag) must be in writing. If the owner does not want to write out an agreement- insist. This is a vital step to protect yourself. Basic contracts are easy to find online.
Known in German as the Kaution, it is usually equal to 2-3 months cold rent. This serves as security for any damage which has to be repaired after the flat is vacated. For long term rentals (over 5 years) it is expected that you will need to do major renovations. The tenancy agreement should cover the expectations in detail. It is a good idea to take pictures and video before moving into an apartment and once you leave to prove the status of the apartment. You should also do a walk through with the person or agent renting the flat.
For more information on local tenants' associations and legal rights: http://www.mieterbund.de/.
Residence Permits are required to live in Berlin and are necessary for everything from getting a mobile phone to applying for a visa. To get registered in Berlin, you need to set up an appointment with the Buergeramt. Choose the area closest to you and then click on the office. Click on "Termin buchen", which means "Book appointment" to choose day and time.
If moving to Germany: contact the new local Meldeamt and register the change of address (ummelden). This will automatically cancel the existing police registration (Polizeiliche Anmeldung) and record a new one.
If leaving Germany: contact your current Meldeamt to de-register (abmelden). Failure to complete the de-registration procedure could theoretically result in a fine if re-registering with the police at some point in the future.
Bring these documents to your appointment:
The period of notice (Kuendigung) should be dictated in the contract, but in general, if the tenancy is less than two years then the normal period of notice is three months. For between two and five years it is six months and over ten years requires a twelve-month notice period. You should inform the landlord in writing.
If the required notice period is not met, the landlord has the right to charge a fee (Weitervermietungsaufwand). Most landlords will agree to waive this if a suitable new tenant (Nachmieter) can be found to take on the contract.
For full information on leaving an apartment: http://www.wohnung-jetzt.de/service/wohnungslexikon/kuendigung.php.