Mainstream communal living in Germany is a relatively recent phenomenon. Having previously been associated with “hippie” communes, starting with the appropriately titled “Kommune 1”, the co-living tide has changed in recent years, becoming more popular amongst several demographics. As a result of this, per capita, Germany has the second highest number of communal living projects in Europe.
Some of this may come down to cost – Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, all face a housing crisis, with a severe lack of affordable homes. This has taken the idea of communal living out of the realm of hippie collectives or “alt-squats” and into the more pragmatic area of young professionals pooling their finances.
More than this, in the UK we refer to our young adults as “generation rent” with some pejorative associated meaning, whereas in Germany it is the norm for people to rent their homes. Only 39% of the German population own their homes, and in Berlin the rental property share is a whopping 90% of the total residential market. Renter friendly policies and a selection of quality rented apartments mean that Germans are less obsessed with getting on the property ladder than those elsewhere in Europe. With the pursuit of homeownership something saved for much later in life, if at all, this makes renting communally into ones 30s, 40s or 50s seem much less outlandish.
Many communal living arrangements in German cities resemble large flat-shares or house-shares, named locally as the not so catchy “Wohngemeinschaft” or apartment community. In these, kitchens and living rooms are shared amongst a varying number of people within one large apartment or townhouse. Berlin based writer Joseph Pearson notes that although flat-shares like this may previously associated have been with financial necessity, and still are in many places, in Germany it is often “preferred by professionals who like some company”.
An article in The Independent interviewed Heitz, a professional in his 30s who could easily afford to live alone, but found the experience “too lonely” and chooses a Wohngemeinschaft for the companionship and community, or more simply put “so there is always someone around”.
Similarly flat-sharer Franziska von Malsen notes that “many still find the idea of communal living beyond one’s student days weird”, however the stigma surrounding older people flat or house-sharing appears to be dissipating as this living option becomes more popular, with people choosing this lifestyle into their 40s and beyond. Featured in the same Independent article Lehman, who at 47 lives in ‘Zorrow’ Wohngemeinschaft says “I'd just call it practical, and a way of beating the loneliness that affects a lot of people these days”, also commenting “these days I find it a bit boring to think in those narrow terms” in reference to only pursuing living alone or with a partner as one gets older.
Communal living has grown in Germany, shifting from the fringes to the mainstream. Initially push factors, such as rising accommodation prices, combined with the normality of renting, made this trend more popular, however, increasingly it has become a popular lifestyle choice for older professionals in their 40s, 50s and beyond who see the benefits of communal living as a choice, and not necessity.