Finding an apartment is never easy. That phrase might sound like a stereotype, but... it actually is! Truth is I wouldn't know whether it's easy or not since it's my first experience as I just moved out of my parent's house back in Montreal. Therefore, I'm pretty much assuming at this point! Although, I did have to search for an apartment in Lille (France) back when I was on the verge of leaving for a six months student exchange. That hunt turned out to be pretty easy since I simply applied for a shared apartment that was highly recommended by a classmate who lived there a year before me. At that point, I basically just applied and got it right away. Having for motto that "The sky is the limit", I never do things in halves. Indeed, I left my home nest for nothing less than a lovely apartment in Middle Franconia in the Bavarian state. I'll tell you one thing though: Ever since I started looking for my apartment in the VGN (Verkehrsverbund Grossraum Nürnberg, or Greater Nuremberg Area), this experience turned out to be a real scavenger hunt where many factors came into play whilst finding the perfect fit for my well-being. This text explains my journey to finding the perfect flat in a city (slash region, slash country) I know nothing of. Hopefully, it will provide you with some guidance you can apply to your own situation.
Over the past few weeks, my career life has completely changed. No earlier than two months ago, I was still employed as a Project Manager in a Montreal-based Undisclosed Company of the aerospace industry. Today, I live in Germany where I was employed by a top sportswear company to fill a senior position. During my Look/See visit to Germany, my overqualified (not!) relocation agent had arranged a full day visiting apartments in the VGN. My HR Manager had recommended to concentrate my research in Nuremberg, Herzogenaurach and Erlangen. Today is April 9, 2015. It is 8:00am sharp. My relocation agent is now awaiting in the hotel lobby! It's Open Season, folks! Let the hunt begin!
1st stop: Nuremberg
Have you ever watched one of these movies taking place during the Medieval Era? If you are one of those nerdy guys (not that there's anything wrong with that!) playing those dorky medieval games in parks with Styrofoam weapons (Oh, my deepest apologies! The proper term is "Live Action Interactive Roleplay" or "L.A.I.R."), well you will just love Nuremberg. This city is not too big, not too small, just right (says Goldilocks)! And it's got some super nice neighborhoods.
The city consists of a middle core called Altstadt (Old Town), which is the medieval and historical part of the city that is surrounded by a mighty city wall that is 5km long and sliced right in the middle with the Pegnitz river flowing from East to West. We could easily picture a setup similar to the one in the popular novel series Game of Thrones. Sebald, the northern half of this core is a complete pedestrian zone paved with cobblestones. This portion of Altstadt is where the medieval castle is located and so is Hauptmarkt, that square where the world renowed Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas market) takes place during the holiday season. Lorenz, the southern part, is even more enchanting although it allows cars in some specific areas. It is however filled with great resaurants and cafés. Rent in this portion of the city is often very cheap, mainly because of its proximity with the Frauentormauer (Nuremberg's Red Light District). It's a given that Altstadt is a premium location. However, buildings were built centuries ago. Therefore, they are not very appealing from the inside for a trendy city born and raised yuppie like me.
Altstadt is surrounded by a series of neighborhood that are equally distributed around the old city's walls just like the endocarp of a peach surrounding its seed. The whole southern rim (Sudstadt) is mostly occupied by the working class as well as Turkish descending inhabitants. Rent is cheap and the neighborhood is filled with amazing Turkish markets where you can find different products that are hard to find elsewhere, such as Mediterranean spices. On top of it, it is located only minutes away from Hauptbahnhof, Nuremberg's central train station. Downside is that because the district was vastly ravaged during World War II, it had to be rebuilt from scratch durign the post war period and is therefore not visually appealing.
Although Altstadt's medieval scene overshadows the most recent architecture styles outside of the city walls, it is not an overstatement that Nordstadt's several districts are as enchanting as one another. This includes de districts of St. Johannis, Maxfeld, Prickheimer, and Wöhrd. St. Johannis is definitly the most fine-looking neighborhood of Nuremberg. Ancient buildings from the outside and yet renovated on the inside, this city has definitly a cachet to exploit. Not only its buildings are gorgeous, but there are plenty of trees on the street and green areas to add even more beauty to the district. St. Johannis is definitely a great location and has nothing to envy from the other districts if not the gorgeous scenery that Wöhrdersee offer - this beautiful lake located in the district of Wöhrd on the east side of the city. What else to ask for than a natural water park where I already see myself ride by with my bike on any given weekend?
Nuremberg is a beautiful city. The only downside is not proper to the city itself, but more of my office's location. Since my office is located in Herzogenaurach, it would take me about 45 minutes by car or 75 minutes by public transportation every morning and evening to get to and from work. This means getting to the train station (so forget about living in the northern endocarp), riding the train to Erlangen for about 20 minutes, and then ride a bus to the office for another 20 minutes. Top it with forever lost transit time and you get to this average of 75 minutes. As you can see, it is not very practical and would be very time-consuming. It is not very fair either to decide not to live there because of external factors. Poor city... getting the "it's not you, it's me" treatment from an outsider who knows doesn't even know it well enough. I feel for you, Nuremberg.
2nd stop: Herzogenaurach
You probably have never heard of Herzogenaurach before, although it is known for being the home of the sporting goods companies adidas Group and Puma, as well as the large car parts manufacturer Schaeffler Group. Which makes this area very rich and not so public transportation-friendly (Since everyone earns enough money to own a car, the city never bothered to invest into developing the city's public transportation system). Living in Herzo would be a good choice in terms of time saving. You see, the campus I work in is just outside the city. It's a fair 10 minute bike ride from the city center, or I could just grab the shuttle from the downtown company building which brings me to my campus in 10 minutes too.
It does sound like a smart choice, but truth is that this place is dead at night and even more on the weekend. Aside from the enchanting Altstadtfest which was held on the very first weekend I have landed foot in the Erlanger-Höchstadt district of Middle Franconia, this town is pretty dead on the weekend. During my few weeks living in my termporary relocation apartment in Herzo, I also had the chance to attend to the Sommerkirchweih (Summer Festival, happening in July), which provided me with a real taste of the community spirit and franconian hospitality that inhabits this town.
The option of living in Herzo was quickly excluded, giving that it is so isolated and hardly accessible from Nuremberg. I realize it is not so much of a problem during the week since my life resolves into working at the office and doing some sports after working hours. However, it would be very difficult to get around during the weekend. In addition, since Herzo is the home of so many great multinational companies, it's no secret that prices are jacked up, which is pretty much a downer when combined to its isolated location.
3rd stop: Erlangen
Imagine a city where you can hardly hear the sound of a car in the streets and yet, this city is crowded by people, it's just that they all commute around using no other mean of transportation than a completely eco-friendly bicycle! How awesome is that, right? On top of it all, Erlangen is equally located between a bike or bus ride to Herzo and a train ride to the Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof, both at 20 minutes in each direction.
While wandering around the streets of Erlangen, I realized that most people were aged between 20 and 30 years old. In fact, the city of Erlangen is the home of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlanger-Nürnberg, hence the young population. Other than the varsity life, the city is also home of the world renowned tech company Siemens, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL) and the Fraunhofer Society for the advancement of applied research. Plus, you will be impressed with knowing that it is in the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits of Erlangen that the world-famous MP3 method for compressing audio files in the Internet was developed. Impressive, right? No wonder Franconia is a wealthy region! As you can see, Erlangen is a cosmopolitan town that shrewdly combines academic life, internationalism, cultural events and environmental initiatives. Like Nuremberg and Herzo, Erlangen also organizes beer-focused events such as the Sloßgartenfest and Bergkirchweih.
Narrowing it down
After an extensive scavenger hunt, I have finally decided to concentrate my efforts in Erlangen. This student town seems to have so much to offer to a young professional like me who just arrived in a region I know nothing of. Despite the young population of university students; and the fact that there are more bikes to the square kilometer than cars, it's really the warm atmosphere that got into me. Coming from a big city, I almost felt the urge to change my dirty urban habits for a more German-like eco-friendly lifestyle. Rule number one for me while coming to this country was to prioritize public transportation and self-sufficiency over moving by car and over-consumption. Therefore, it was mandatory for me to live close from work and yet, not so far from the city center. Erlangen is a smart choice, as is it located no more than 20 minutes away by bike (in the summer) or by bus (in the winter) from the office, and yet only 20 minutes away from Altstatd by train. The best of both worlds. I don't see myself going to Altstadt every night anyway. However, I will definitely commute to work every morning and back home every night. This would have meant a solid 150 minutes of forever lost time in public transportation every day, five times a week. On top of that, I will be an amazing workout to cycle to the office every morning and cool down from a hectic day at work in the late afternoon - not for too long, not for too short, but just the right duration.
I have spent a whole Saturday just wandering around the streets of Erlangen, contemplating its almost ubiquitous silence, if not the gentle whistle from the bicycle wheels crisscrossing the pavement. The city is full of little hangout spots, cool pubs and hip cafés that I already see myself exploiting for the redaction of my upcoming articles. There is just something cozy about this city that makes it so appealing. Could this be your beloved blogger's soul softly screaming for a replication of Montreal's unique Plateau atmosphere? I am really looking forward to taking full advantage of the joie de vivre that this town has to offer. However, I still require to find my nest. Now that I have managed to narrow down my search to one city, I resent that the scavenger hunt will be like finding a needle in a haystack.
The Final Choice
My relocation agent had warned me that rent is often more expansive in Erlangen. However, what she forgot to take into consideration is the universal rule - where we find students, we also find cheap stuff - and that is no exception to rent. Therefore, I concentrated my search onto the website "wg-gesucht.de". In German, WG is short for Wohngemeinschaft, which means "shared apartment". For a new comer like me, living in a shared apartment with all German roommates will definitely help my integration to this new country and also practice the language. I surely recommend it, especially in the first few months. Otherwise, when you get home from work in your single room apartment, show is pretty much over and curtains are down.
I have looked at a few shared flats which were either too small, too expansive or that the roommates were a little awkward and I just didn't see myself living with them (Legitimate, right?) , until I found this beautiful apartment right in Innenstadt - the Erlangen city center - which is located at only 10 minute walking to the train and bus central station. In other words, from this apartment I would be able to get to work in 30 minutes door to door whether it's by bus; or to Altstadt by train for the same amount of time. Sounds amazing!
The apartment is located on the fourth floor of a nice architectural building. Gorgeous from the outside, and descent looking from the inside as it was fully renovated less than five years ago. The room itself is super spacious. It is large enough to host a double bed, an L-shaped office desk, even a couch, and there is still space left to put at least two inflatable mattresses on the floor for visitors. The shared apartment experience can have its flaws, but my room has a window facing the back garden and has a giant tree right in front of it, so I won't have to give up on the number one advantage of living alone: walking around naked! The pitfall that could be considered as a major issue is that the apartment is only available until the end of the year, because the person subletting it is going to Colombia for an international student exchange and will be back at that time. They way I see it, it's a good opportunity to test drive the area and see if I actually like living in Erlangen or if I'd rather move to Nuremberg despite the fact that I don't have a car. More to come, but for now my choice is made! Erlangen, here I come!