In many cities of our neighboring European countries houseboats and floating homes of all kinds have been a familiar sight in the cityscape for many decades, and almost always the surrounding parts of the city have grown more colorful, lively and attractive with the boats. We are not at that point in Germany yet. Yet, there are only a few houseboats in the big cities like Hamburg or Berlin, and it is apparently easier to find suitable berths in the smaller coastal towns; especially along the Baltic coast, there is a lot going on there.
And that is a good thing, particularly for holiday guests, but also for the first permanent residents. In Hamburg, for example, there are seven resident houseboats on the Hochwasser Canal, a branch of the river Bille, almost right in the city center not far from the underground station "Berliner Tor". It's a lively, bustling neighborhood, but the Victoriakai Ufer, the actual mooring place of the houseboats, is a quieter part of the area. Further houseboat berths have been approved elsewhere in the Hanseatic city. These are rather for the "real estates" among the boats. Floating homes fixed to their location, with permanent connection to the supply and disposal network of the city.
From a technical point of view, this is the easier solution, but politically rather more difficult. Simply because the demand for houseboat berths currently exceeds the supply by far - not only in Hamburg. It is not always clear which local authority is responsible, and often areas directly adjacent to the water are designated as purely commercial areas in which residential homes are not permitted. Other hurdles are boat traffic, tidal range or nature conservation issues. On top of that, the licensing procedure for houseboat moorings is still new territory for the authorities, so the issue is often handled carefully and with great restraint.
Registering a houseboat as recreational watercraft It gets easier, if the houseboat is officially licensed as a recreational boat. In this case, for example, it can also be moored in marinas. However, this option also has its difficulties in terms of technical complexities: it is not always easy to connect to the supply and, above all, disposal lines. You may need either a wastewater tank on board that is emptied regularly or an on-board sewage treatment plant. And not every houseboat licensed officially as a "recreational boat" is actually suitable for driving: a small outboard engine attached to a house on a rather large pontoon may just be enough to help maneuvering if, for example, the berth has to be changed within a marina, but hardly for more navigation.
Whether it is to be a sports boat or a floating real estate, the question already decides about the "foundation" on which the floating home will be constructed. Options include floats made of seawater resistant aluminum or concrete. Both materials have their advantages, both are as good as maintenance free. For the sports boat option it would have to be aluminum, and a concrete float may be too heavy for some berths - after all, like so often, it is a question of the actual conditions and requirements. Solutions are as individual as the houseboats and their inhabitants.
Houseboats for navigation Once again, everything changes when it comes to houseboats actually made for navigating on the water. These obviously have to be fully fully navigable and seasworthy ships, but equipped for permanent residence on board. Most popular in this category are converted inland cargo vessels, mainly from the Netherlands, but also from Belgium or France, which, at some 20 to 30 meters in length, eventually became too small to carry any freight profitably; but they are of ideal size to make a residence.
They offer a lot of space on board and, with a little practice, they can even still be navigated. However, these ships may be 100 years or even older and not all of them are in perfect condition. Make absolutely sure to get an experts opinion before even thinking about signing a contract to buy such a boat. Several brokers, especially in the Netherlands, have specialized in the brokerage of such moving live-aboard vessels.