One of the leitmotivs in my ex-patriate life here in Germany is my ongoing disbelief at what utter Quatsch my original belief that Germans are efficient was. They are certainly methodical and rule following, but they are as far from efficient as a people can be.
In fact, it often seems that they will create a procedure that has one running in circles just for the sheer joy of telling one that since a rule has not been followed throughout its winding and twisting turns, one must either start over or just give up.
(Sometimes I still hyper-ventilate when I think about American Express and how completely incompetent their operations in this country are. And one day I will write that post, but at the moment it annoys me too much.)
So let us proceed instead to apartment hunting. The German real estate market here is relatively opaque and monopolistic. Since the renter (as well as the purchaser) pays the commission there is no incentive to negotiate commissions and they are therefore high (as are most professional compensations in Germany).
We are currently apartment hunting because (yeah!) the German's firm has told us that he may station himself permanently here in Berlin if we so desire, rather than moving to Duesseldorf and we gave that a great big "Yeah!". We did a lot of research on immobilien socout, which is a great resource, and then we started to call brokers and make appointments. And this is where German efficiency comes into conflict with my American version of efficiency: in many cases, apartments were not available to view for several weeks, even though listed, because the currents tenants did not want to allow viewings. In most cases, the photos posted were horrible and in many others no photos were available and even floor plans were not available. In several cases, when the German called to make appointments he was told that the broker had enough possibilities and would contact him if those fell through. In one case (that particularly rankles), the broker did not return calls, did not have an answering machine, and when he responded to an e-mail inquiry sent information on a completely different apartment in a different area! This while the apartment has been listed for 4+ weeks!
Many, many annoyances later, a particular apartment that we had called on three weeks ago was still posted, so the German called the broker again. Although we had previously left our information in case the "open contract" fell through, the broker had not done so. But this time we were able to make an appointment to view (the just renovated) apartment. The German looked at two apartments in the same day, both of which looked great on paper, and came back enthused about the re-opened one. I looked at both of them the following day the one I had thought I would like was far worse than in photo while the "re-opened one" was far better in person: I handed the broker the completed paperwork after a 5 minute walk through.
Then the real work started. The broker told us he would call us that evening: we called him. Then he said that he would call the next day when he heard back from the owner (a bank). We called him. He said he would call us the next day (Friday). While biking around the lake, we stopped and called him and he said he hadn't yet heard but we should perhaps send in additional documentation (from the firm) stating that the German would be stationed in Berlin, rather than elsewhere in addition to the employment contract which we had already submitted. So the German called his chef out of a meeting to get him to send a letter to the broker. That afternoon, the German called back to see what was up and the broker mentioned that it was a good thing that he had followed up, because the woman at the bank had misread his employment contract and thought that we would be returning to the US in August, and wondered why we would bother to apartment hunt for three months! Note that she did not call the broker to query him. And note that the broker only called to ask status or if there was other documentation that would help our case after the German had spoken to him four times, each time initiating the call.
Dear Reader, we got the apartment. But only because of our tenacity and follow through. We are pretty excited and you'll be hearing more about it as the next few weeks progress. There is an einbaukuche (built in kitchen) but, as is typical in Germany, all light fixtures are empty and we will need to purchase and install 8 light fixtures in the next 21 days, as well as get a washing machine and my heart's desire: a chest freezer. Luckily, we brought along a dryer (strange thing, someone had brought one to the US, found it was too much trouble/impossible to retrofit, and gave it to us to bring over) so that's one less purchase. We'll be visiting Ikea a bit because there are no built in closets, so we will need shelving and wardrobes.
But! It's a great apartment! A small balcony off the kitchen area and a huge rooftop terrasse. It's bi-level and we will need to thinl about how to best safely utilize the space, but more later!