“My ad for a bathroom for rent in a shared flat went viral.”

Translated to German and featured on VICE Germany.

The last viewing I remember being invited to was for a two room flat in Neukölln’s Schillerkiez. From the front door, I could already see all four corners of the flat. My partner and I had to take turns shuffling through each room, as there physically was not enough space to pass one another. The doors would not open all the way without hitting the ugly, bulky furniture that filled the flat to its brim. 

“You will need to sign the lease for a minimum of 5 years. I don’t want to remove the furniture either, so it’s best if you don’t have your own. No visitors at night. And my best friend lives upstairs, so she can keep an eye on everything.” Great. €1000 a month to live in a prison of 1970s cabinets, with the prison guard living upstairs. We tried to reason with the landlord, but she declined to lower the price. After all, she has significantly more power that us in this market, and this was no exception.

Thanks to COVID-19, we no longer have the opportunity to vie for the realtor’s attention in a sea of 50 other applicants, eagerly filling the apartment and spilling out into the hallway. Nowadays, our first impression is even more hopeless, as we have to prove ourselves worthy using an online contact form, competing with hundreds – sometimes thousands – of others. Apartment hunting in Berlin during COVID has quite literally become a full time job.

Advice from those fabled successful applicants include “make sure you reply the ad within the first 10 minutes, or you won’t be called for an appointment”. So I have my phone set on a repeat timer of 10 minutes, and I refresh my 8 tabs, from ImmoScout to eBay Kleinanzeigen in hopes that I will see those golden words, “Online: 2 Minuten”. But wait a minute: this guy really thinks I’ll pay €7000 for the renovations he made to his kitchen a decade ago? Unfortunately he does think that, and for good reason. When trying to find a place to live in Berlin, you are competing with people who are willing to submit to unreasonable demands to ensure a roof over their head. If it’s not the renovations, you’re up against the yuppie couple from Prenzlauer Berg who will gift the landlord €10,000 to secure the contract.

Eight months into an ongoing apartment search, and currently about 20 days from being homeless, I sat down with my friend Marina for a drink. I’d just informed her about an ad I’d seen earlier that week for an apartment in Neukölln, to which 650 people had responded within 90 minutes. Completely deflated by the daily grind, and three Pfeffis deep, we began to laugh about how outrageously far a landlord could push a desperate Berliner. “Would you sleep in a bathroom?” was the question of the evening. We began spouting off imaginary scenarios. “What if we had to leave the bathroom every morning while the rest of the WG showers?” These all seemed like plausible hurdles on their own, but put together in one big nasty offer, what would Berliners make of it?

That was a case for April Castello. She is my second account on Facebook – I use it mainly to post anonymously in Facebook groups (goodbye to having creeps in my inbox). I opened up the first Berlin housing group I could find, and began crafting the now-infamous bathroom advertisement.

I carefully toed the line between realistic and satirical. Dog? A little too plain. Three legged dog with a human name? Nobody makes that up. I threw in a price that’s not worth the pain, and polished it off with three words all Berliners fear: “Anmeldung not possible.” It was a terrible deal. “It’s perfect,” I thought. 

Some time passed and April’s notifications were silent, not even so much as a ‘laugh’ react. I thought perhaps the satire was too outlandish. After all, Berliners don’t wake up at 6:30am. But before long, the comments started rolling in. They were upset – and rightfully so. People begun to band together in droves to kill whatever possibility this offer had of reaching someone vulnerable enough to accept it. The joke seemed to slip by most of the commenters, with some trying to work out how this situation can be reported to the authorities and nipped in the bud once and for all. 

Between expressions of anger and disbelief, and the crowd favourite joke that it’s a “shitty room”, people begun sharing anecdotes about the other equally unbelievable advertisements they had seen in the past. “This is actually more hilarious than the tent on the balcony,” one user commented, referring to the viral 2018 post where someone offered a Mitte balcony to camp on for €260 per month. 

Shortly thereafter, the post was removed because April had been reported for attempting to sell Jodi online. Nevertheless, her DMs were filled within two hours, from newspaper reporters to death threats. But overwhelmingly, the messages were from people baiting for more information so they could attempt to shut the WG down. A Facebook investigation was unfolding, as April’s past posts and comments in other Berlin groups were being analysed for any identifying information. I quickly deactivated the account, but was blown away by the resistance Berlin was displaying to conditions that would be closer to reality in cities like San Francisco. 

#bathroomgate was initially fabricated to laugh together in our own despair. But the truth is that the Berlin housing crisis is so bad, that an offer to sleep on the bathroom floor with your tiny significant other squeezed into the bathtub is actually plausible. Berlin is headed toward the nightmares we hear of in London and New York. 

A part of me wanted people to be upset by this. Thankfully though, there is nobody called April Castello renting out a bathroom in her Neukölln WG. But it proved to be a little too close to reality.