Living in a Wohngemeinschaft

Zoe Honigberg
November 7, 2019

When most people think of a homestay in Berlin, they think of a standard small apartment in the city with maybe one person, a couple, or a small family. They have a roommate-type relationship with the host family that requires limited interaction. I am having the opposite of a typical homestay experience.

I live with eleven people. You read that right: ELEVEN.

I live in what is called a WG (short for Wohngemeinschaft, which translates to “living community”). We technically live in Mitte (the central neighborhood of Berlin), but the house is right on the border of Kreuzberg. There are two sets of parents, one set with one child in the house and the other set with two. All of the children are under ten years old. There are also two other single adults, each with grown children, another IES Abroad student in the Metropolitan and Urban Studies Program, and a small dog named Nellie. And then there’s me. It truly is a full house! Although the different families are not related to each other, they are as much like family as any. Some have been living together for over 20 years!

The house is an old apartment building––probably originally a Mietskaserne (translates to “rental barracks,” a type of low-income apartment building designed by James Hobrecht as part of his Plan for Berlin in 1862)––that has been converted to accommodate private spaces and communal spaces for each family. The staircase is the central core of the house, with a family living on each floor in different “apartments.” The house has a total of five floors, plus a basement, so it’s a really big house! The first floor is the communal space where we share a living room, the kitchen, and the dining room (shown in the featured image set up for dinner!). Some of the apartments have their own living room, but the first floor is the only space that has a kitchen and dining room. You would think coordinating kitchen space would be challenging, but since they have been living together for so long, they have worked out all of the kinks. They have organized schedules of who is cooking each night and who is responsible for cleaning the communal spaces each week. I am beyond impressed by the systems they have worked out to keep the house functioning smoothly.

One of the best parts of living in the house is the communal dinners. Each night from Monday through Friday, someone is in charge of cooking. I try to eat with them as often as possible because I like practicing German and spending time with them. They are all so sweet and welcoming, plus the food they cook is really tasty!

My favorite meal was actually a special lunch, not even a regular dinner. One of my host moms excitedly told me she wanted to try making American-style pancakes to have with the maple syrup I brought from the States. She allowed me to have a few friends over, too, and it was so sweet how nervous she was to have four Americans judging her buttermilk pancakes. I can say with full honesty that the pancakes were delicious, and when I drizzled New Hampshire maple syrup over them, they tasted like home. I really appreciated the gesture of her making them and being so adamant about having them taste the way they would in the States. It made me feel more integrated into the house and the living community than I had before.

My homestay has even become part of my coursework. For my German midterm, I had to conduct interviews of people who lived in the former West and East Germany. I was able to ask them questions, mostly about their personal experiences with the divided Germany, that has helped me get to know them on a deeper level. They all seemed to enjoy talking to me about their experiences because they were able to resurface memories that they had not thought about in many years. Plus, since the 30th anniversary of the wall coming down is this week, they were especially interested in talking about the reunification and what happened in that time period. It was rewarding to bond with them and give them an ear to hear their stories.

Being in a homestay with such wonderful hosts has helped tremendously in feeling at home in Berlin. Last weekend, I went to Scotland to visit a few friends, and although I had a blast with them, it felt nice to come home to Berlin and see my host family again. I remember at the start of the semester I was a little nervous about being in a homestay––and one that was as unusual as mine––but it could not have worked out better. Being integrated into their living community has been one of the best parts of my semester.

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Zoe Honigberg

<p>I am a rising junior at Connecticut College majoring in Architectural Studies. When I am not studying or constructing three-dimensional architecture models, I can be found playing ultimate frisbee or helping run the Womxn's Empowerment Initiative at Conn. After graduating from high school, I took a gap year to work as an au pair near Hamburg, Germany, so I could not be more excited to return to the country and share with you my adventures!</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
Connecticut College
Concord, NH
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