The political perspective
The old days are long gone when Berlin was a city where people could live and rent cheaply. It might still be cheaper than Hamburg or Munich, as we told so often, but rents are rising massively, and affordable living space is becoming sparse. So-called gentrification has also arrived in Berlin.
Like other people with a meagre income and little to spend, students are victims to this process. Therefore finding a place to live is not always easy, especially if you have just arrived in Berlin and do not know your ways around, or if yoiu are hunting down a flat for the first time of your life.
But students are also part of the problem when they sign tenancy contracts that are far too expensive for the part of town (or, as the Berliners say, the Kiez). One problem is that your rent will effect the rent index (the 'Mietspiegel'), in which the average rent price of an area is published. Because the rent index defines how much landlords can charge, other rents can rise more rapidly if students pay for overpriced flats.
For this reason, it is important that you visit an advisory service for tenants (a 'Mietberatung') before you sign the contract, and check if the rent is appropriate for the area. We recommend the Berliner Mietergemeinschaft (Berlin Tenants' Association), because it consistently protects the interests of tenants. It is worth becoming a member (and also not expensive), because you are entitled to competent legal advice in cases of conflict with your landlord (for example when you are threatened with a rent raise, or when your flat is to be renovated).
However, the legal possibilities will carry only so far, and obviously remain within the framework of the existing laws. The Senate of Berlin is responsible for the implementation of the laws concerning housing, but in recent years its policy has only exacerbated the rent price problem, instead of maintaining the existing affordable housing options, and building new ones. Its possibilities are restricted because of corporate influence and the competition between cities - key word neo-liberalism and the policy tends to be employer- and investment-friendly.
So eventually there is no way too change any of this other than organising polically. A number of initiatives in Berlin fight against rising rents and gentrification and campaign for affordable housing. You will certainly find one of them in your (future) Kiez.
Alliance against High Rents (in German):
More information about gentrification in Berlin:
Finding an affordable room in Berlin is not always easy. The following links can help you with your search.
Student Welfare Service
administers the student halls in Berlin. Proof of your registration will be necessary to apply
Various internet platforms where you can find flats and flat-shares:
It is also useful to check out the notice board in the cafeteria in Hardenbergstraße and in the Mathematics Building, and of course notice boards in other universities. Many students use them to find someone to take over their apartment, or to advertise a room in a flat-share.
Many newspapers and magazines also have an ad section for rooms and flats in their print edition.
To get an oversight what to do when you move in which authority to contact, insurances, utilities, change of address ... - www.meldebox.de might help.