Sunday, July 1, 2012

Back to Berlin on House Hunters International

Get on Reality TV
When we received an e-mail about being on House Hunters International, we thought it was spam. That's kind of a big deal and how would they have found our little blog among so many wonderful expats? But they did and yes, YES, we did want to be on it. And so we were.

Our Berlin Apartment Priorities 

  • Price - I am tough about our budget. When we first moved to Berlin in 2007, we generally found studio sublets (aka 1 room in Berlin) for around 400 euro warm (meaning total costs including electricity/water & in our case, internet and TV). We had now upped the budget to below 600 warm.
  • Neighborhood - We prefer Friedrichshain and the former east, but fierce competition had us searching further afield. In addition, Ian works at a kita in Pankow so somewhere close to the school was a plus.
  • Transportation - Berlin is big so a U-Bahn or S-Bahn station close to the house was mandatory.
  • Length of sublet - We're straight up tired of moving so the longer the better.
  • Internet & Amenities - We aren't fancy, but we need that internet.
  • Light & Airy - We like places that are light & bright and we don't have to look into our neighbors window. Balconies are my drug of choice.
  • Accepts pets - At this point we are packing a bunny and a cat. I'd be happy to turn our home into an animal farm. Ian is resisting.
Unfortunately the video of our episode on the show got pulled (boo!), but it still frequently on re-runs. Here is a promo (with video) for the show.

If you did catch our episode - were you surprised? Think we missed out on the other places? Hate our place? None of that matters because which place we will live in is a forgone conclusion before we even sign the releases to be on the show.

I wrote a bit about how the show is shot on EasyExpat. We had already found and moved into our apartment, and the show recreates the search in an attempt to show people what it's like to move abroad in different parts of the world. Shooting was Amazing. We had a great time with a fabulous crew, and it provided the opportunity for us to visit Seattle for the first time since we left for Berlin the second time

However, there were some inaccuracies and some recent huff about the show being fake. So here is exactly how it went down for us, and a couple of clarifications.

Shooting our Episode of House Hunters International

We had just moved into our apartment on February 1st after many sublets and a one week temporary home. We loved our place, but felt like it was hardly ready to have people over - let alone film it. We had only been in it for 2.5 weeks! No matter - after pressure to confirm dates with the production company and a flurry of papers, the crew was on their way to our little flat. 


We had heard the production company's real estate agent had trouble finding comparable apartments (they had even asked if we had any friends that wanted to use their flats). This was strange, as Berlin's real estate market is suffering from an influx of tons of people like us, but there are many apartments in our price range (it's just hard to actually land one). Luckily, the agent was able to locate 2 flats the day before.

The reason this was a problem became clear the moment we met our agent. A character, he's an Englishman that moved to Berlin to make money in real estate. His company deals in high-end properties in the districts of Mitte and Prenzlauerberg. They seem to cater to businessmen that are setting up in the city temporarily and want something more economical than a hotel. We were not his kind of people.


Berlin kiez map
Like Seattle (and many cities), Berlin is made up of distinct neighborhoods (kiez) and we prefer the areas with an alternative vibe like Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. In all of our moves, we have never even considered the center of the city, Mitte. I am sure it has positives like being close to attractions, but it is simply too full of stag party hordes, over-priced shops, and lacking in day-today necessities like grocery stores and Spätis. We've actually lived in gentrified Prenzlauerberg and Ian's arms are just not up to the constant helping with strollers that is required there. As I said, the agent's demographic and some of the voice over of the show was just wrong here.

(The Nile Guide has a helpful listing of neighborhoods to help you understand the different areas of the city. )

Price Range

Our agent had found places, but they were well out of our price range even if we had liked them. To make the show work, they raised the price of our apartment. They said it was $1,000 euro a month, which is much higher than what we actually pay. This was my only real problem with the "fakeness" of the show.


Realizing we usually look like we rolled out of bed without even glancing in a mirror, we immeaditly recognized styling was going to be an issue. We looked at out closet forlornly and picked at pieces that weren't too tragic.

What do you think of this shirt? They said no white.
Does my belly hang over too bad in this?
What the hell do I do with my hair/mustache/face?

It's not that we don't try to look good. We just aren't very good at it. And a penchant for clothes with "character"on both our parts has us looking like we're straight outta crazy town frequently.

This was further complicated by it being literally freezing everyday in Berlin. I had also not anticipated the mic. I had to leave off my trademark necklace and my choice of scarf made hiding the mic a delicate process. I tried to not touch it so poor Noel, the sound guy, didn't have to adjust every take and failed miserably. This resulted in some crazy looking scarf hair looks throughout the show.

  • Don't wear a scarf or noisy jangly jewellery
  • Go ahead and use hair spray. It's going to be a long day.
  • Plan your outfits! We were given detailed schedules with outfit 1, out 2 and outfit 3 and had to change a few times in one day.

Um...Berlin is the Biggest City in Germany

I have no idea how this got in, but the voice over says "Berlin is  the second biggest city in Germany".

German Cities by population:
  1. Berlin 3,471,756
  2. Hamburg 1,770,629
  3. Munich 1,321,818 
  4. Cologne 1,007,119
  5. Frankfurt am Main 664,838
This is such a bizarre error, I can only refer to the expat guide to Berlin.


They made a huge deal about the stairs in the apartment. 111 is definitely a lot of climbing. But we had never even considered it a problem. We could always afford a little exercise, and I am a sucker for the top floor. I assume they made it a big issue because there really isn't that much we don't like about our place. I did LOVE the title "111 Steps to Everything".

Shooting Schedule of House Hunters International

True to form, I've already posted a bunch of pictures of the shooting, but left a few of the "behind the scenes" until now.  Here they are, with a run down of our days.

Ian prepares for his close up

Night Before the Shoot

The night before the shoot we were frantically cleaning and preparing. Trying to make the place looked lived in when we had just moved in was a challenge.

Exhausted after cleaning

 First Day

A camera man, (Eng) sound guy (Eng), director (Scott), and a fixer (German) all trooped up our kagillion stairs and breathlessly introduced themselves at 8:00 on a Friday. They quickly took stock of the place and began to prepare.  Profis! They were going to shoot the final scenes first - where we have moved into the apartment.

House Hunters International Shoot
We just tried to stay out of the way.

After interviews and awkward attempts to look comfortable, we went to lunch and movers removed all of our personal effects. That afternoon we shot the walk through of our place, as if we were looking at it for the first time.

All of our belongings in the stairway
Our Empty Flat

Day 2

The second day we looked at the "comparables". As discussed above, they were not exactly similar. We were fascinated by the process of shooting and spent a lot of time being excited about the rain shower and dishwasher, opening toilets and cabinets, and then long stretches of just being quiet while they filmed.

Apartment #2

Apartment #2 Berlin
Apartment #3
This location for apartment 3 was ideal, but still basically under construction. A lively area, there were girls in the balcony across the way watching us with binoculars.

Day 3

We shot B reel this day, which included some of our favorite Berlin places. We really liked our crew and enjoyed rolling around with them, chatting, and seeing our beautiful city from an outsider's eyes. Crazy how much of the shooting doesn't make the show. They estimated we had shot at least 9 hours just in Berlin... all to get cut down to a 22 minute show. And no, we can't have the extra film. We asked.

We wrapped up with a shot with friends at Tiergarten Quelle. They had to ask silly questions like "How many balconies does your apartment have?" It was fun. And sad. Shooting was practically over and we were heading back to real life. We gave our team a hug and thanked them profusely. They had made this once-in-a-lifetime experience extra magical.  

(In an odd twist, we flew to the States via London the next day and flew with 2 of them, and so we said good-bye twice.)

Seattle HHI Backstory Shoot

Grey Seattle skyline

One of the wonderful things about this opportunity was a $1,500 honorarium that was to be used to fly us home for the back story. We did just that with the money, returning home for the first time in a year in a half (plus a trip to NYC). 

 Another wonderful team of Americans shot us here. They had actually shot an episode with a Seattle couple studying abroad in Australia recently.

Our first full day back, we re-created a going away party where we saw some of our best friends for the first time. Hello, good-bye indeed! We went to some of our favorite spots like the Ballard Locks, Bottleworks, and Pike Place Market. We found out our Seattle team had a star - the sound man had actually been on Three Sheets and appeared on screen frequently.

Like I said, the whole thing was magic. We are so lucky to have had this opportunity, and will be watching our episode until our grandkids are tired of the story. A special thanks for friends and family who participated, our producer Melissa, and the fabulous crew.

Berlin crew: Noel (sound), Matt (camera) & Chris (director)

Seattle crew: Eric (sound), Nick (director), Matt (cameraman)

 We would love to hear what you thought of the show and answer any questions you may have, so please post in the comments. AND if you are interested in being on the show, they are casting now.


shoegirl said...

This is too cool! I just watched the show and it looked like a lot of fun. Frustrating about the edits they did for the show, especially with regards to the pricing. We've been tossing around the idea of moving to a bigger European city but have been terrified of how much we'd have to downsize (we're lucky enough now to live in a 4-room, 4-meter-high-ceiling flat that would likely go for $5K/month in SF where we're from!). Good to know they altered your prices - I was getting quite disheartened.

We do hope to FINALLY visit Berlin before too long (after living here nearly 3 years!) - perhaps we could meet up for a beer when we do!

andberlin said...

It's funny to watch the episode having read your description of the process in this and your previous post. And I can't believe they couldn't find apartments that were at least believably over your genuine budget! As you say they definitely made a lot of the stairs!!

Unknown said...

@shoegirl Do come to Berlin! Be great to meet up & discuss the frustrating German real estate market.

@andberlin Speaking of meeting up - I love your Berlin posts and it would be great to hear where you're going next.

Mandi said...

Wow, you guys are too cute!

That's really strange about them changing your price range. I find it super hard to believe that it wouldn't be possible to find places less than a $1000 a month that would at least be comparable to your place. It kind of gives the impression that Berlin is mega-overpriced -- when in fact, it's one of the more reasonable housing markets in Germany!

I love our place here, and don't even want to think about how much we would be paying if we were living in an equivalent apartment and neighborhood in NYC.

Anyway, looks like you guys had a lot of fun, and way to go for scoring a trip back to the Emerald City!

Unknown said...

Ah, thanks Mandi!

The issue with the pricing surely arose from the agent only working in a bizarre niche market. Disappointing, but people need to realize it's JUST TV! Funny all these people up in arms about the reality of HHI.

Heather in DE said...

I'm really happy to hear that you guys had a good experience with all this! They got in contact with me a few months ago and after tossing it around forever (and my best friend begging me to do it so she could be my co-contributor!), I'm going to do the show as well. I'm slightly terrified of coming off as a spaz on TV but... what can you do? :)

Unknown said...

@Heather So exciting! We really loved it and hopefully so will you. Our experience should forewarn of some of the issues that might pop up. We were really amazed that our goofiness only showed up minimally on screen. Those crew are serious profis. Enjoy!

Sarah Allen said...

Ya Ebe! I was hoping to find your episode to be able to watch online. It was awesome to watch your episode and even more exciting to do so after reading your post. I know tv is manipulated but I wasn't sure to what point. If I ever make it over we are so drinking beers on one of your balconies :)

Anonymous said...

Erin & Ian I LOOOOVED WATCHING UR SHOW!!!! You guys are incredible and sooo dang cute to see together! I miss you guys mass, please please let me know when you are coming back home...would LOVE to see ya'll! xoxo ps..your apartment is adorable and I KNEW you'd choose that one (I like it too!). ~Teegs

John said...

I'm so relieved to read that they jiggered with the price, because we have been searching for Berlin apts for a few months and we were both stunned that the guy couldn't find things in your price range, when we see new such places pop up on the immo sites every day.

It's also great to see the fakeness of a show like this exposed. I've worked in TV, so I have a clue as to how constructed some of these things can be, but my tenure in the field was well before the explosion of reality shows, so even my cynical self was a bit taken aback at just *how* fake it all was.

We're going down to Berlin (from Sweden) in September to start scouting, with an eye towards moving in the middle of next year.

When you apartment hunted, did you use web sites primarily or are there other sources to recommend?

(oh, and you guys didn't come off nearly as scruffy as you thought - or if you did, it looked more like a conscious hip style choice than anything else)

Unknown said...

Thanks Sara & Teegin! We really loved shooting the show, and it has been a bonus getting all the friend loving.

Glad we could relieve your fears John - the faulty price was certainly the most disappointing aspect of the show. Finding a place can be difficult here cuz of competition and agents (as evidenced by our many many apartments, but I offer advice here:, in the Berlin Guide on EasyExpat, and in my Berlin resource page

Thanks for your kind words & best of luck with your move! Feel free to e-mail if you have more questions.

easyboy11 said...


Just watched you on the show. Where and which estate agent deals with apartment 3? (Next to station)

Ali said...

HHI has contacted Andy about 3 or 4 times trying to get him (or I guess us now) on the show. Andy really isn't into the idea of being on TV, plus there is sooo much they'd have to change/make up/lie about to make ours work for their show. He bought the apartment before we met, started renovations on it while we were dating from afar, which all got finished while he was back in the US for our wedding, and then I moved to Germany. I can't imagine having to make up a whole new story for how and why he ended up with the place we're in now, and would we just pretend I've been here with him all along? It's too complicated, and I don't think either of us could keep up that many "lies" with a straight face. I understand why they have to do the show after people have already bought/rented their home, otherwise it would take ages to film, but your situation sounds at least fairly close to reality. Sounds like you had lots of fun doing the show!

Unknown said...

@easyboyII I actually have no idea what agency was involved. We were in contact with the one agent through the show, so perhaps you could contact HHI. We've never used an agency in Berlin & as it is quite expensive, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

@Ali They are definitely persistent! They contacted us a few times before we decided to do it, and another producer contacted us after we had filmed the show. We obviously really enjoyed being on the show, but if you aren't interested in being on TV it probably wouldn't be that fun.

The Diplomatic Wife said...

Hi there! I just moved to Berlin from Jakarta,Indonesia and before we moved, we loved watching HHI on TV just to find out what to expect with house-hunting in Berlin. I was actually tempted to get in touch with HHI but with the stress of moving and my in-laws deciding that 3 weeks into our move would be the great time to visit us. I wasn't able to do it. I heard about the place being a foregone conclusion, but it's still very useful to watch when you are planning a move coz you get to hear about the different conditions of renters in different locations. Great post on your experience!

Unknown said...

@The Diplomatic Wife - If you are interested in being on the show, you should still consider doing it. I don't think there is a time limit on how recently you moved and we really enjoyed the experience. Plus - your Berlin apartment looks lovely!

sent2preach said...

Great insight to a show that sometimes leaves me scratching my head, lol! We're moving to Berlin before long and I've been recording HHI episodes with Berlin to get an idea - turns out it may not be the best source of details. I, too, was wondering what city was bigger than Berlin, thanks for clearing that up. With all the details that are fudged to fit their script, was €1400 the actual price for house #3 in Prenzlauer? I drooled a tiny bit when I saw the "almost" view of Konnopke's from the balcony.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, I would say that the show is not a great guide to the real estate market in Berlin.

No - the prices were all inflated. That location on Eberswalder was pretty incredible.

As I said, I think the real issue was the reality firm they worked with was more involved with businesses putting up employees than actual people interested in renting in Berlin. You should be able to get a basic 1-bedroom apartment in the city for 600 euros inclusive.

OldQueer said...

"You should be able to get a basic 1-bedroom apartment in the city for 600 euros inclusive." Well I'm glad to hear that. I am also looking at Leipzig as well. As a retiree I'm on a very tight budget. I have a modest savings plus social security. I do have citizenship, so a residence permit will not be a problem. I was shocked that this never came up on this particular episode or another one I saw yesterday. I was curious what kind of a twist they would give to househunting in Berlin. Glad to hear, they like to "embellish". I love your place by the way. Just what area is it in. I have seen very cheap places advertised in Neukolln but would not want to move into a place that someone had been evicted from! I subscribe to both the large immob. sites.

Enjoyed watching some real people for a change!

Unknown said...

Berlin has grown incredibly in the last few years, following at least a decade of steady growth and growing popularity. This has come with rising rents and many, many talks about gentrification, but it is still affordable.

I haven't been to Leipzig yet (although I will report back if we go as planned next month for Christmas Markets), but Dresden is another lovely option I've written about twice on this blog:

Neukölln is very popular right now and inexpensive rents can be found, although it's trendiness is competing with that. We live in Wedding which we really enjoy, but is not as popular...yet. I'd also through out Lichtenberg as an inexpensive option near our favorite neighborhood of Friedrichshain.

Thanks for watching & your feedback. Good luck!

Thefourthcontinent said...

We had to think quite hard about being on the show, since neither of us had heard about it before! Our American friend referred us... it was really fun shooting I must say =) Were you happy with how your turned out? =)

Unknown said...

I know a lot of people have been unsure about appearing on the show, but we jumped right in!

I talked about being happy with it a bit in the post (they got some important facts wrong), but in general - yes! We look pretty goofy at times, but I really enjoyed shooting and it is fun to have random friends find it and ask about it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you two were so cool on the show. I remember the last shot on the show when your were meeting your friends at the Tiergarten favorite restaurant in the area. I eat there 3-5 times when I am in town for 10 days.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

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