What’s mine is yours
Sharing – be it of apartments or cars – is in vogue: because it reflects the spirit of the times, saves time and money and is good for the environment.
When their old car finally gave up the ghost, Viktor and his wife Miriam decided that they did not want to buy another car of their own. However, they still enjoy just as many excursions with their two small children because the family has discovered an alternative: car sharing. “The only disadvantage is that I sometimes have to carry the child seat a few hundred metres,” says Viktor. This is because the cars that the family regularly uses come with only one child seat as standard.
This family from Hamburg’s Ottensen district is by no means an isolated case. It would appear that more and more people in Germany attach less importance to owning things themselves. It is enough for them to be able to use them from time to time. And many are also willing in the same spirit to share their possessions with others.
Known as the “sharing economy”, this is a concept that has become much more widespread in recent years. The idea is that resources can be used jointly or made temporarily available to others – anything from cars, clothing and domestic appliances to labour. This is good for the environment and helps save money, too. The approach is far from new: people have always shared things – farmers, for example, have long pooled resources to buy agricultural machinery – and especially when it comes to a place to live. In the 1960s, politically like-minded people would join “communes”, sharing living space, food and childcare. Shared student housing is another example of how people like to team up together at certain periods in their lives.
Although the idea of sharing may not be new, it has rarely been as popular as it is nowadays. The consumer culture has changed: for instance, whereas a car used in the past to be viewed by many as a visible sign that they had made something of their lives, many successful people these days do not feel any great need to have their own vehicle. Indeed in big cities with good public transport infrastructure and plenty of rental car options it is often no longer necessary to own a car at all.
What is more, young people in particular have few qualms about embracing the sharing economy, which often takes place online. In a survey conducted by business management consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2015, four out of five under-30s said that they had already used digital sharing services. In the over-60 age group, by contrast, it was only roughly one in four.
But the older generation is catching up and is also beginning to appreciate the benefits of online-organised sharing. They include an older couple from southern Germany, who during a week spent visiting family in Hamburg stayed in a flat a friend had helped them book on the sharing portal Airbnb. “It’s ideal for us,” enthuses the 76-year-old grandmother. “We can visit our grandchildren – but also enjoy a bit of peace and quiet in the evening. And a hotel would have cost many times more.”
Providers like Airbnb are not without controversy, however. Critics accuse them of further reducing the already limited housing available in big cities. After all, many property owners prefer to rent out their apartments on Airbnb rather than on the conventional housing market, because this tends to be significantly more lucrative. In response, a number of German cities such as Berlin have tightened the regulations for making accommodation available on sharing websites. As well as renting out rooms or apartments in the conventional manner, however, there is also the barter principle: families can use other platforms to swap their apartment or house with families from other parts of Germany or even from abroad during vacations.
There are also models that reflect the spirit of the times when it comes to medium- or longer-term stays. In multigenerational homes, people of different ages live together and support one another. In addition, options are increasingly available for professional people who spend a lot of time travelling and require temporary accommodation in a city – for the duration of a project, for instance – before moving on again. Services like the Soho House in Berlin are targeted at such people, customers who rent rooms or apartments in a kind of luxury accommodation-share. Unlike in their own place, tenants there do not have to worry about everyday issues like replacing lightbulbs or sorting out an Internet connection, but can leave this to service personnel. Meanwhile, communal areas provide opportunities for interchange with the other temporary residents.
In Germany, however, car sharing is even more popular than online-based apartment sharing. According to a study carried out by the Boston Consulting Group, over one million people regularly use one of the more than 15,000 car sharing vehicles on offer in Germany – just like Viktor and his family. As well as conventional car rental companies where vehicles often have to be picked up and returned to the same site, “free-floating” models are particularly popular – like car2go run by the automotive company Daimler, or Flinkster, which is run by German rail operator Deutsche Bahn. Following registration with the service, an app can be used to discover where the nearest car is located. At the end of the trip, the car can simply be left within certain zones or – in the case of Flinkster – parked in one of many stations, ready to be picked up by the next renter. Cities and companies operate similar models for bicycles and electric scooters.
In addition to such commercial offerings, there are also systems such as Drivy and Tamyca that allow private individuals to rent out their vehicles to one another or use apps to find people wanting a ride. This is also something Viktor and his family take advantage of now and again – though not in any digital fashion, but on a more conventional “analogue” basis. “Sometimes we simply borrow our neighbour’s car,” he explains. “We have agreed on a rate that is exactly 10% lower than that offered by a commercial rental company.” Obviously, another much-appreciated benefit for Viktor is that he then does not have to carry around any child seats. ▪