Housing in Copenhagen – A double edged sword

A story by Antonia Tomuș and Giannis Triantafyllidis

– My mom would be so proud of me!
– For what? For giving an interview?
– No. For cleaning my room!

In a cozy apartment in Nørrebro, 28-year-old Lukács is hopping from one place to the other in his tiny kitchen in an attempt to make it look good for the camera. You can feel how proud he feels of his space, even though the shower facility sits right next to his bed. But this wasn’t always the case.

Lukács. Photo source: personal archive

Lukács is one of the many international students who made the choice to move to Copenhagen for study purposes and, better yet, for a new life. But just like many others of his kind, he quickly found out that life in the capital city was not going to be easy without the proper connections.

“It was like an unknown territory, very romantic with the girlfriend to start a new life, you know, start everything on a fresh page.”

The first taste of Denmark set the tone of how the story would unfold. After some weeks, the landlord “wasn’t feeling the connection” and that sparked the beginning of a very long journey towards stability for Lukács and his then girlfriend.

Lukács. Photo source: personal archive.

“There was a very culturally enriching first encounter with Denmark, because people are so fucking depressed here sometimes.”

After the first five months in Copenhagen, Lukács was no stranger to moving around. Having to move almost every single month, he can now talk with experience on the matter. He explained that the issue was not the money, but rather, the connections you make in the city.

“After getting connections things get easier and the places you find nicer. You just spread the news that you are looking for a place and they just come to you.”

Finding a house in a big city can be challenging, even more so in Copenhagen. We can explain just how difficult it can be with numbers and try to explain how the system works all day long. Nothing would be more clarifying though, than the story of Timmy Ghiurău.

Timmy. Photo source: personal archive

Timmy’s story is not about moving around Copenhagen countless times, but it is about how he managed to keep himself motivated throughout the first one and a half months that he had to spend alternating sleeping between Copenhagen’s airport and hostels.

“My life, in the first few weeks, was like the movie with Tom Hanks, The Terminal. In the morning I was going to brush my teeth in the airport bathroom and there I could see a businessman preparing for a trip to Zurich.”

Photo source: personal archive. Timmy sleeping in Lufthavn, 2010

Timmy moved to Copenhagen to study Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Aalborg University, which, at that time, was a 25 minutes train ride from the airport. Luckily, he was not completely alone, because he had a high school classmate moving in at the same time. Together they spent countless hours in the Central Station looking for a place to stay. Finally, it was a connection that came to the rescue and brought them in contact with the Danish missionaries.
At that time, the missionaries were hosting a lot of other students in similar situations, but they offered them a caravan, where they could live free of charge until they found something else. Even though that winter was one of the harshest winters Denmark has had in the last decade, they managed to pull through.

“When I’m risking in business or doing different things, I know that it can’t be worse than being homeless.”

Timmy playing the guitar of a street busker in San Francisco. Photo source: personal archive

While still on the topic of taking risks, moving to an unknown city and hoping not to be homeless is definitely a risk worth taking for many internationals. When unprepared, the outcome can be a lot of setbacks. But for Jette, a consultant who first began as a volunteer, helping internationals has become a second nature. What is now a paid job, it started off as a personal decision to help those in need, getting the nickname The Danish Mother from the internationals who has helped throughout the years.

“I’m a parent of two girls. When I hear stories about people coming here and not finding a place to sleep, I’m always thinking about my daughters.”

Jette started helping out of a hobby and in an attempt to “clean up the [city’s administration] mess”. With a Facebook page in her management, she soon created a small community of trusted landlords to whom she connected the students who contacted her. Now, many years into the system, Jette is fully committed to her job, although for her is more than that.

“I love what I’m doing. It’s more than a job actually, I’m like their Danish mother.”

Whilst Jette shared a lot of stories of people having issues with housing, landlords, scams and homesickness, the point is that, when at their worst, loneliest of times, internationals have someone who has their back.