Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting Scammed in Germany

Now that the worst of it is over and our life is somewhat back on it's axis, we can tell the story of a couple who wanted to sublet an apartment and instead got scammed.

Look at these happy faces! Sad to be leaving a great place in Friedrichshain, but ready to set a more permanent foot down in Neuk├Âlln. (Ouch- it is physically painful to watch this now)

Unfortunately, once they went to move into said apartment, there was somebody already there. 3 other somebodies to be exact.  All with matching contracts, receipt of payment, and keys.

What exactly happened:
We have been desperately searching for a place for some time now. Knowing we had to move out in May and that we had a vacation set for late April, we started early. And something that has never happened happened- We had trouble finding a place.  Writing 10-15 places a day, only a response or two would trickle back. Increasingly desperate we raised our limit, expanded our parameters, and lowered our pretty basic standards. We found exactly 2 places that might have become our favorite places...if we had not been third on the list.

On Sunday of the week we had to move, we got a call about visiting an apartment. We visited it & decided it fit our needs & the guy was pleasant- we'd take it! The next day we were back with first month's rent, deposit, and a pen. He gave us his account number, his & his wife's name, keys, a copy of the signed contract, and a receipt of our payment.

The next day we arrived with bags galore and opened to several bags in the hallway. Thinking we came too early Ian asked if they were still there. A guy we had never seen before rounded the corner,

"Wir wurden verarsht."
"We've been made fools of".

The wind was kicked out of us. Apparently he had given the exact same spiel to 4 other people (one more couple arrived even later). We tried to grasp what had just happened, and figured out we needed to make our way to the police station. Torn between crying and total disbelief, Ian & I got our bags and participated in the saddest parade I have ever seen. The 5 of us carried our meager belongings in an assortment of suitcases, backpacks, bicycles, and garbage bags. Two Poles, two German, two Americans, and a Frenchmen were taken. Different ages, different occupations, but all just looking for a place to live.

People have asked why we have been subletting as if it is a burden, but until this point it's been pretty fun. We are accumulating more stuff by the day, but we don't have the trappings of a household. No bed, no silverware, and certainly not the sink, oven, or washer-machine most bare apartments are missing. It's given us a look at different people, different neighborhoods, and different lifestyles. This experience kinda sucked all the fun right out of it.

At the station statements were taken and "tut tuts" were handed out about dealing in cash. By now it was almost midnight and my tired mind could hardly take it all in. We have completed exactly 5 sublets in Germany, 3 of which were cash only. This actually seemed more legit than some of the others.

Some friends arrived to help us carry our bags back home and we went back to the apartment in Friedrichshain for one last night. The next day we felt worse. Desperately I searched for temporary sublets starting TODAY and Ian struggled to stay upbeat with the kids at work. Coming up empty-handed, we moved into a friend's place temporarily- we hoped.

We are now in a very pleasant sublet for the rest of the month. Somewhere to pick ourselves up and find somewhere "real", somewhere permanent. There is a garden with bunnies and table tennis in back and it is in a nice area where people move a little slower, a little friendlier. It is the place of an artist and he has cool stuff in every nook like the boar head his grandfather shot. We have a dishwasher which literally makes our world, and a bright and funky kitchen space - perfect for spending an evening preparing dinner side-by-side.

This has been rough, but through it all I couldn't believe my luck in having Ian with me. When we first found out  about the fraud I felt like crumbling but hugging Ian kept me up. I felt bad for those other singles who had been ripped off and didn't have anyone standing beside them. Ian can be the source of great frustration to me, which I tell him too much. What I should tell him more often, is how his value in the area of comforting are unrivaled and even in one of the worst 24-hours of my life, doubt about us getting it back together never crossed my mind.

We've since found out the asshole Austrian (not a Germ!) only subletted the place for the weekend. We're not sure the total number of people he sold it to. The case is proceeding (supposedly) and it may be that the owner of the apartment is responsible for some of the damage as they didn't follow proper procedure. Luckily, Ian & I are financially stable enough to take this hit and keep on truckin', but the hit to our faith in mankind has been harder to take. We got professionally conned, where someone who appeared like us clubbed us over the head with our trust. We definitely could have protected ourselves more and will take pains to do that in the future, but it's a bit sad to lose that straight forward, not-going-to-cheat-you attitude we so like about being in Germany.

One thing is for sure, if we ever find the asshole Austrian we are going to sic the Honey Badger on him. Honey badger doesn't give a shit.

Want more pics and stories of apartments in Berlin? Click the apartment label for full gory details of our many, many moves and read What Moving 6 times in a Year has Taught Me.



~ cheryl said...

This story makes me cringe - and I feel so badly for you both. Then -- I watched the Honey Badger - and couldn't stop laughing. That is one nasty ass honey badger - and he just don't care! Hilarious.

Unknown said...

That made my night, "nasty ass honey badger".

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008