Life

I Miss Living in a Filthy Flat-Share

From the plant growing in our rusty sink to the flatmate who didn't pay rent – lockdown has made me romanticise it all.
February 24, 2021, 1:47pm
A table covered in beer bottles, overflowing ashtrays, snacks and rolling tobacco.
Robert's old flat. Photo: Robert Hofmann

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.

I used to live in a flat-share with an old bathroom. One day, the tap in our sink rusted all the way through and fell off, leaving behind a reddish hole. A few weeks later, a plant shoot sprouted from the hole, fresh and green. We admired it, watered it and shared photos of it online. Then, someone turned on the water and the plant was flushed away.

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At the time, I thought the brutal demise of that sprout – which in the eyes of our friends had become the defining symbol of our flat – also represented the end of an era. It was time to move on and move out. 

I decided I was too old to live with roommates. But I ended up living in three more flat-shares in the five years that followed. These days, I share my Berlin apartment with one flatmate – I’m 33 and he’s 47. We get along well, but we don’t share our lives. It’s better than being alone, but in lockdown, one roommate is not a substitute for a social life. It takes a group of three or more to inspire new thoughts.

Throughout the tedium of the pandemic, I’ve found myself reminiscing and even romanticising my years living with disgusting students. Sundays were the best. Hanging out with four or five friends on my black leather couch, watching 80s action movies and noshing on the spicy wings from a nearby chicken shop. Hangovers pulsating in our temples, we’d pretend we could follow the movie’s plot while burning our tongues on the hot fat seeping through the batter. At night, we’d feel guilty about not doing any university work, or just generally preparing for our respective futures.

When I first moved to Berlin in 2009, a friend and I found a four-bedroom apartment and two others to share it with. Five years on, I couldn’t stand my roommates, nor the apartment. But in those early days, it was golden. We did everything together: drank coffee in the morning and beer in the evening, cooked dinner and read the news in silence.

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Of course, life back then was easy. I could binge-watch series all day if I wanted. But even during busier times, I loved having flatmates. People were always around when I needed them – like a family, but without the responsibility. We’d just let each other know if we were gone for a while, or text if we noticed someone hadn’t come home by Sunday evening. The bond I had with my flatmates brought out a better version of me than any of my previous relationships ever had.

On weekends, our kitchen was always full of people doing drugs, dancing and stubbing out cigarettes on the sticky table that originally belonged to my grandparents. Once, one of my flatmates fell in love with one of my friends and invited him to move into our storage cupboard. From then on, there were five of us. He didn’t pay rent, he hardly worked and didn’t study, but he slept with her regularly and loudly. Together, the two left a trail of mess from the cupboard, through the kitchen and into the bedroom. We didn't resent their young love, even though they’d sometimes break our plates and glasses during fights.

With Berlin in lockdown, these days I’ll sometimes go for a walk with a friend or – rarely – two. We drink a bottle of wine, then a second, then a beer. Then I go home, order sushi and fall asleep watching Netflix, picturing all those lucky people hanging out with their flatmates in their smelly kitchens. Since November, my only company at dinner has been a flickering screen and a meal I’ve spent half an hour prepping and ten minutes devouring.

Sure, flatmates piss each other off. Once, I didn’t speak to one of my roommates for three months, over some issue I can’t even remember now. But it was normally a thrill to yell, be offended and have a beer to make up. Now, I can’t remember the last time I had a fight.

To be honest, I enjoy not being angry every day about dirty dishes and piss in the sink. I enjoy not feeling guilty for being in the bath too long. But I also miss living in an environment where I could see more than one person without leaving the house. For that alone, I feel like people living in flat-shares have it pretty good right now.

We had a farewell party for my last big flat-share. The landlord said they were going to renovate the entire place, so our guests were allowed to destroy whatever they wanted. We handed out markers to write on the wall and told them to rip the wallpaper off. At the time it felt good – destroying the old to create something new. Now, I find myself wishing I hadn’t left it all behind.