Student life in Berlin comes with some sweet perks, made possible in part by the city's studierendenWERK and transport association.
If, as an admitted applicant, you’ve already pored over your study agreement, you’ll notice the fee schedule includes the column “STW/BVG” fees. Generally, students studying at universities in Berlin must pay them. Now just what are these extra costs and what do they cover?
Each semester, you’ll pay 95 euros to the studierendenWERK Berlin (STW) for a variety of student resources and discounts. Additionally, you’ll pay 199.80 euros (2021 price, increases a little each year) to the Berlin-Brandenburg transport association, of which Berlin’s main transport company Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) is a member. This will grant you unlimited access to the entire public transport system in Berlin and neighbouring Potsdam. You can also take your bikes along with you and explore hidden corners of Berlin!
What is the BVG and what does it offer?
The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe is the company in charge of the U-Bahn (subway), buses, trams and ferries in Berlin, but not the S-Bahn (the rapid transit railway). It was originally called the Berliner Verkehrs Aktiengesellschaft, or “BVG” for short, and while the name was later changed to Berliner Verkehrs-Betriebe, the original acronym stuck. While the S-Bahn and regional trains are run by a different company, your semester ticket will be valid on them as well. For an overview of the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams, regional trains and, yes, even ferries within the city’s ABC zone, see a recent blog post here.
What is the studierendenWERK?
International students might wonder what kind of organisation this is. In Germany, each city/state has a Studierendenwerk or Studentenwerk – a state-run non-profit organisation that looks after students’ social, cultural and economic interests and offers a lot of cool benefits and services, including for housing, cultural activities, counselling services, dining facilities, day care and more. All of these resources are available to all students in Berlin, regardless of nationality or country of origin. Here is just a selection of what’s included in the STW fee:
If you’re interested in student, dorm-style living, there are several options. The studierendenWERK, in addition to other residence halls, has a number of locations throughout Berlin that offer affordable accommodation in the city for students (usually between 300-600 euros per month) and a vibrant social community, especially among international students. To apply for STW housing, you must submit an online application and they will get in touch with you. Keep in mind that there’s usually a long waiting period, and make sure to check out other options as well. The House of Nations is an alternative that has reasonable prices, has good public transport connections and is not too far from the Hertie School. Our Student Life team can also give incoming students more tips on the housing search.
Students can also get a MensaCard (Mensa is the German word for canteen or cafeteria). With this card, you can eat at any of the Berlin-wide university cafeterias with subsidised student prices – it usually costs between 1 and 2 euros for a full meal. Most Mensas offer organic, vegetarian and vegan meals as well. All students receive a free MensaCard during Orientation Week, which you can use at any of the STW Mensa canteens or coffee bars. Weekly menus are available online and you can load your cards at machines in all Mensa locations. The one closest to the Hertie School campus is the Mensa at the Hochschule für Musik on Charlottenstraße, a short two-minute walk away!
While the Hertie School provides free office hours with in-house counsellors for students, the STW’s services can complement our offerings and provide additional resources. The STW offers different types of counselling, including psychological, academic or career counselling, and individual counselling for students with children or students with disabilities.
All students are encouraged to make use of these resources, as moving to a new country and starting a new study programme can be challenging! While we hope your transition and study experience will be smooth sailing, we know things can get tough sometimes. Please be assured that you are not alone. Both the Hertie School and the STW are here to help and want to see you succeed. We encourage use of the counselling sessions for various issues students may face. These sessions are free for students.
The studierendenWERK Berlin also offers to help students apply for financial support provided through the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz (BAföG). BAföG is financial aid provided by the German government to students in need, depending on their family’s financial status and annual income. STW handles all the bureaucracy of the BAföG application for you and provides more information on financing your studies as well. Moreover, they can help you find not only student jobs during your master’s programme, but also full-time positions after you have graduated. They partner with Stellenwerk Berlin, a job portal where you can search for jobs according to your qualifications, needs and requirements. Furthermore, STW can also help you file taxes, although most students are not required to pay any.
In addition to all of this, the STW also organises student events to help you integrate into Berlin and German culture. You can keep track of all upcoming events on their events calendar. The events range from drawing lessons to movie nights to board game nights and many more exciting things! These events often include free snacks or food, so they’re especially great for students on a tight budget. To increase the accessibility of their events and offering, the STW offers day care facilities for students with children or dependents. These events are a great opportunity to connect with other students, not just from the Hertie School but from all of Berlin.
A note about the STW/BVG fees during the pandemic
We understand that access to the full range of these student resources may be more limited due to the ongoing pandemic. However, all students enrolled at Berlin universities must still pay the STW/BVG fees, which we forward directly to the BVG and the studierendenWERK without commission. The BVG and STW establish these required fees externally, so if there are any changes in policy, we will be sure to inform students immediately and, if possible, process reimbursements.