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Ask Hans-Torsten: How to be a politician

Want to know how to become a polition or know if your Hausverwaltung is verarsch-ing you? Hans-Torsten has the answers!

Image for Ask Hans-Torsten: How to be a politician

Then-mayor of West Berlin Willy Brandt with John F. Kennedy, 1961. Public domain

Image for Ask Hans-Torsten: How to be a politician

Hans-Torsten Richter gives you advice on surviving and thriving in Berlin. Send your questions to [email protected]

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I want to get more politically involved! Which office(s) can I run for as a non-German? – Page

A Dear Page: Citizens of the European Union living in Germany have, according to the office of the Landeswahlleiter (elections administrator), the right to vote in and run for office in “communal elections”. In the case of the Berlin city-state, that means you can run for a spot on your local district council, or Bezirksverordnetenversammlung (BVV). Europeans can also run for a seat in the European Parliament, which is better paid – over €8500 per month, compared to €560 as a simple member of the BVV! More or less anyone who’s not been declared criminally insane can run for office. To get ahead in Germany’s proportional representation system, it’s easiest if you work within a political party. So join a party of your choosing and rise within its ranks by networking like mad with higher-ups, being an eager beaver and volunteering for tedious tasks and taking up bureaucratic positions with your local party branch. At party gatherings, dazzle your comrades as a witty public speaker! Become an expert on a couple of hot-button topics and take a crash course in German rhetorical speaking while you’re at it. After a few years, you just might be able to convince enough members of the party to support your candidacy. Or start your own party! The bar is set pretty low. Foreigners are allowed to found political parties, but the majority of the members must be German citizens. Once it’s been founded and an executive committee has been elected, the party will have to collect at least 2000 signatures of support and jump through a few more bureaucratic hoops in order to be able to take part in elections. Go to wahlen-berlin.de and www.bundeswahlleiter.de for all the detailed election info you could ever need.

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I know about the Mietspiegel, but how can you tell if your Hausverwaltung is verarsch-ing you with exorbitant Nebenkosten requests? – Barry

A Dear Barry: Great question. First some vocab: Nebenkosten (side costs), officially called Betriebskosten (operating costs), are the additional costs in your monthly rental payment on top of the Kaltmiete (“cold rent”). The Mietspiegel is an annual chart published by the Berlin government outlining “typical” average rents in the different areas of Berlin. On page 21 of the Mietspiegel 2017 (a PDF which can be found at www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de) you will find the “Berliner Betriebskostenübersicht 2017”, listing average costs per square metre based on a survey of the 2015 Betriebskosten of 2500 Berlin households. The costs themselves can be broken down into two categories: “cold” (things like garbage fees, snow removal, cleaning of common areas and building insurance) and “warm” (heating and warm water charges, applicable only if your building has central heating – if you have a gas boiler in your flat, you’ll probably make a separate payment to the provider Gasag). According to the Betriebskostenspiegelthe “cold” costs averaged €1.59/sqm per month in Berlin, while the “warm” costs averaged €0.93. So get out your calculator and see what you’re paying. If your building management is requesting significantly more, something’s up. Building managers in Berlin are notorious for screwing over renters with dodgy Betriebskosten demands: even though it’s your right to see all of the relevant invoices and documents, the firms often collude with the various service providers. Unfortunately the Betriebskostenspiegel provided by the Berlin government is not legally binding, but it can signal when you should be taking further action: by confronting the Hausverwaltung about it, or by engaging a renter’s association or lawyer if that doesn’t help.