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Denmark Diaries: To Do: Finding an Apartment

The good news: I’ve found a flat. The bad news: “bumpy” is a kind way of describing the road to get there, and will certainly be the cause of some grey hairs in the near future.

But let’s start at the beginning. The University of Copenhagen actually has a fairly fair system for allocating apartments to international guest students: On an announced day, you will receive an email with a username and password with which you can log in to the housing system. Flats are then allocated on a first-come, first-served basis: Whoever arrives first has a free choice - and whoever arrives later can only choose from the apartments that have not yet been booked.

So on the announced deadline of 12 June, I sat in front of my laptop, checking my emails every five minutes. I had a list of apartment preferences and was waiting for the password. Then, just before 11am, I received an email from the Housing Foundation - with an unexpected content: the booking portal had been reprogrammed, but was not yet stable. That’s why the deadline has been postponed to next Tuesday, 17 June. My problem was that I wouldn’t be in Mannheim that day, but would be away on a short holiday with my family.

So, having already cleared my schedule for the 12th, the same programme was now on the agenda for the 17th. I sat in front of my laptop again, constantly checking my emails and trying to distract myself. Usually all the emails from Copenhagen were sent around lunchtime - not this time. The afternoon dragged on - waiting all day gives you plenty of time to play mind games, and I was slowly but surely going mad.

After I (and the rest of the family) sat around the apartment all day, we finally went out to eat in the evening. For the next two days I spent several hours on the train - the worst possible conditions for replying quickly to an email, registering via a relatively complicated website, finding a room and transferring money. But having already spent half the afternoon playing around with the options, I was simply unable to think clearly. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, the email from Copenhagen finally arrived - just before eight o’clock in the evening. I went straight back to the apartment to book my room - at the same time as about 1000 other visiting students in Copenhagen.

The IT system was still far from stable. Many fields did not have their final labels, but still contained instructions for the programmers. And the website kept crashing under the load. The text I read most in the following hour:

The UCPH Housing Foundation booking system is currently unavailable due to a technical error. We expect to be fully functioning again in a couple of hours. Please check in with us again at that time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for your patience.

(Usually everything worked again within a few minutes - although sometimes the site was still inaccessible the next day. The crash was particularly annoying when you had just selected the right country code from a long list, which had no obvious sorting due to the programming instructions and missing labels).

In addition to the site itself, the Housing Foundation’s mail server also seemed to have reached its capacity limit: the email with my username and password had been prepared to be sent there at 14:30, but because the server went down, it was not sent until just before 20:00. I’m pretty sure that other emails had a much shorter delay, because when I finally saw the list of rooms still available, the selection had thinned out considerably. From my list of eleven halls of residence preferences, the first nine had no rooms left.

After a short period of confusion about the length of the lease, I was finally able to book a room - in my tenth preference. I received confirmation from the Housing Foundation at 21:14, so all I had to do was sign the contract and pay the deposit in the next few days.

So now it’s confirmed: starting in August, I’ll be living for six months in Østerbro Kollegiet - a really nice hall of residence in (surprise!) Østerbro, a very nice neighbourhood in the north of Copenhagen, which is particularly popular with young families and is said to be similar to Berlin-Kreuzberg. The only downside: even by Scandinavian standards, the room is outrageously expensive. My 19m² studio costs 6000 Danish kroner a month, which is about €800. (Other residences often cost between €500 and €650.) After swallowing hard several times, I finally decided to convert the rent as little as possible and take in as much of the city and neighbourhood as possible.