Magdeburg l Some things are the same all over the world. For instance, it’s pleasant to invite a few friends round to your place for drinks. And it’s… not pleasant, perhaps, but potentially fun, to invite many friends round and spend an evening together. Hosting a house party, meanwhile, is always… not fun, exactly, but… what’s the word… terrifying.
On a related subject, it’s also a universal truth that nobody wants a stranger to come round to their flat and spray a bottle of sparkling red wine over three walls and a ceiling. Honestly, I didn’t even know sparkling red wine existed, until I saw it splattered over all those multiple surfaces in our dining room.
Germans have it lucky
As it turned out, the situation resolved itself relatively well. Several months on, everything has turned out fine, thanks to the wonders of personal liability insurance - not really much of a thing in the UK - and the simple fact that tenants in Germany are able to get on with basic household tasks like repainting without incurring the wrath of their landlords.
Tenants’ rights, it turns out, are not the same everywhere. Germans have it lucky. Multiple times during the sparkling red wine saga, my mind flashed back to my life in rented accommodation in London. I would freeze at the thought of what my London landlords would have said, how much we would have had to pay.
A life in fear of walls
Throughout my time in London, in fact, I lived in fear of walls. I remember asking one estate agent whether I might be allowed to put up some pictures in my flat, and he curtly reminded me that my contract forbade me from marking the walls in any way. I didn’t risk it, and my artwork spent the year resting in my hallway inside a plastic bag.
I lived in fear of damaging furniture, too, because I was renting "furnished" accommodation: flats that came with a fitted kitchen, beds, wardrobes, sofas and so on. Which, of course, weren’t really mine, and couldn’t be damaged without a penalty.
A bed on casters
That wasn’t the only issue with having a furnished flat. The other problem was the sometimes bizarre quality of the furnishings. In one flat I lived in, my bed was on casters, resting on a wooden floor: it spent its days and nights rolling idly around the room, and would skid over to the wardrobe every time I got into it.
Then there was the place with the tiny living room and the mammoth-size set of a sofa and two chairs, all in a hideously lurid green. There truly wasn’t space for them all within the one room, so one chair spent the entire year in the hallway, accumulating unread takeaway menus and frequently being tripped over. That was the same place that, despite ostensibly being "furnished", didn’t actually come with a dining table or chairs. To be fair, it was pretty difficult to find a table and chairs that fitted, given the preposterous scale of the sofa.
Was it all bad? Not quite. A couple of my landlords were actually very nice, even if that niceness didn’t always extend to removing the mould from the bathroom ceiling, or fixing a toilet lid that was missing a screw, before we moved in. (The latter problem, I was informed the day after our move, was "reasonable wear and tear".)
The result of such catastrophic rental conditions - and I haven’t even mentioned the prices - is a system in which tenants move in and out of flats at the drop of a hat. It’s far removed from the state of play in Magdeburg, where people seem to really make a rented place their own, and stay there for a while.
And the situation in London also means that home ownership remains the collective dream, the ultimate prize in life. Everybody wants to own property - not just because it’s good for the bank account in the long term, but because it means you don’t have to put up with the obscene demands of mad landlords, and have the right to nail a picture to the wall if you feel like it. I prefer the German way, where tenants’ rights are decently protected, by miles.
The only thing I miss about renting in London is that, with the flats all being furnished, I never had to shop around for kitchen units, beds or washing machines. Or, you know, light fittings, toilet roll holders, curtain rails… things that no sane person would ever take with them when they moved out of a flat.
Would they?... Oh, hello, Germany.