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Berlin: A day care culture

Different countries have different levels of support for maternity and parental leave and for affordable available day care. In spite of these supports (or lack thereof), there always seem to be families that decide to be two-income families and families that decide to be one-income families. I sort of expected that no matter which part of the developed world I went to, there would be stay-at-home moms and there would be working moms. That is certainly the case in Canada and in the United States.

So here in Berlin, I've been a bit shocked so far by the KiTa culture. A KiTa is a place that usually includes day care for children under 3 years old (Kinderkrippe) and for children from 3 years to 6 years old (Kindergarten). Children then start school in Grade 1 when they are 6 years old. Here in Berlin, it seems that despite the option for parents to take up to three years of Elternzeit (parental leave), most people are putting their kids into the KiTa quite early (at around one year give or take a bit). There seem to be very few stay at home moms or dads.

The implication for us is that we haven't found a lot of kids that are close in age to my children (3 and 5) that are not at the KiTa all day long. It also means that when we go to the playground, the petting zoo, or other outings, we are always likely to be met by one of the mega strollers pictured here that is pushing a bunch of KiTa kids who then get out and play for a specified amount of time and then get rounded up again to make their way back.

So there are kids around, but not kids we can really make contact with. Not kids my children can really play with because they already come with their eight best friends when they arrive at the playground. Sometimes there are playgrounds at the KiTas that are visible through the fence from one of the parks we are at. Emma asked longingly as she saw a bunch of girls playing on the other side of the fence if she could go over and say hello and tell them her name.

Thankfully my kids like each other a lot and we are finding plenty of things to do. But I had hoped for their cultural enrichment, their language skills, and just for fun, that they would be able to meet and develop friendships with kids their age. I'm looking for playgroups, meet-ups and things of that sort...haven't found anything decent so far.
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Reader Comments (38)

I wish I had some insight on how to meet other 1 income families, but I don't. Would it be possible for your kids to go to a kindergarten, at least part time? Are the programs good?

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJerseygirl89

Jerseygirl89: It may be possible to get them into a Kindergarten, but they don't want to. Being tossed into a completely foreign situation on their own is not something my kids would be comfortable with. If we were staying here for a longer period of time, we might work on finding the right environment to integrate them into, but just for a few months it isn't worth it. I had been hoping we could explore and meet others as a family.

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I would check out some Attachment Parenting groups or even see if there are some stay-at-home parent groups online to hook you up. That's how I do it here in the US. I'm also in an area with a lot of working parents. The stay-at-home parents are here, you just have to know where to look. Good luck!


May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

This is interesting - compared to France and Belgium I find it astonishing how many mums are staying at home at least 3 years. It might be a bit different in Berlin than in the rest of Germany, though. Have never lived in Berlin myself.
But you're right that at least from 3 years, nearly all children go to kindergarten and it is difficult to meet up with children aged 3-5 during morning and early afternoon in the playgrounds.
I can recommend you get into contact with the Berlin chapter of unerzogen yahoogroup (http://de.groups.yahoo.com/group/unerzogen/) which is one of the closest to unschooling you get in Germany (where homeschooling is prohibited by law, from 1st grade). Unfortunately, the yahoogroup is in German, but you could also try to contact the people organising the regular brunch in Berlin: e (dot) maenzel (at) gmx (dot) de or merle (at) obstbaumgemeinschaft (dot) de . There are quite some people in Berlin and most of them are AP stay-at-home mums&dads.
Good luck!

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarion

Oh that really stinks!! I am so sorry that you are finding it hard to make connections. If the kids actually meet someone you could try giving your email to the teacher. I find it hard to meet people even here in the US. Good luck!!

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

Huh... I wonder if you would see the same phenomenon in the U.S. if we had 3 years of parental leave (after working with parents, something tells me we probably would...) How about on weekends? Do parents take their kids to the park, or are they cooped up at home like they are here in the U.S.?

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermontessorimatters

Sad isn't it - as a public servant in the Australia Government I am already entitled to 2 years mat leave (most of it unpaid) but would love the right to an extra year to be home with my kids! Pretty sure I read somewhere though that it is still very hard for German women to take time out of the workforce without it really taking a toll on their career. It would be interesting if anyone had some inside info to share.

hope you have some luck finding an AP playgroup.


May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachelKM

That's interesting that not many people take the 3 years leave. I understand that it's unpaid, right? I don't know what it's like in Germany, but in North America that would certainly be difficult for many families.

In any case, I hope that you are able to find some social interaction, soon.

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

From my limited understanding of German culture and education, they have a strong focus on specialization. As a result, it is extremely difficult (even more than in the US) to leave the workforce for an extended period of time and then return. In addition, they have a strong drive toward predictability and stability, which I imagine may make full time childcare more desirable.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I wonder if it's due to cost of living that most parents return to work. I know I would of been thrilled to take a three-year leave option (even unpaid). It would be pretty nice to know that my job was still there waiting for me.

I'm sorry to hear that there doesn't seem to be a lot of kids around. I hope you find something soon.

Marion: Thanks for the info. No worries about it being in German. I'm fluent.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Have you checked Meetup.com? I looked up Berlin and found one group that might be worth looking into: http://www.meetup.com/BabyBabble/ It doesn't mention AP, but does talk about supporting families. I've been organizing parenting groups in Moscow & Minsk for 8 years now, and find the Meetup site very helpful in connecting people with common interests. If you're inspired to, you could create your own group! Another option is the AP Expat moms group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AP-Expat-Moms/. In the past there have been German-speakers on this list, but they tend to move around, so I'm not sure where they're currently located.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertcbymoscow

There are tons of families out on the weekend at the park, going hiking, going to the market, etc. Weekend as family time is really valued here in Germany.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

My understanding, from talking to German friends from near and in what was the former Eastern Germany, is that this is quite common. They say there is a very strong culture for putting your kids into daycare asap, and that it originates from the other side of the iron curtain. Our friends from the former Eastern Germany are quite confounded that I am staying home with my son. It's very hard for them to understand, and they question me about our decision/reasoning every time we are together.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Bergamini

I can't get over that pram in the picture!

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

This is interesting. I must say as a parent who doesn't have kids in school (they are 6 and 8), we experience the same thing. I wouldn't say my kids are lonely as we have a thriving social life - I just wish there were more kids around instead of sitting behind desks all day.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I just checked out the BabyBabble meet-up group which looked really encouraging until I realized none of their groups currently are for kids over 2.5 years old, so no good for us. :(

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

From what I've read there is a definite difference between East and West Germany. Apparently in West Germany daycare is much more looked down upon and lots of women either don't have kids or don't work full-time.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLyndsay

That stroller makes me so sad for some reason.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I'm guessing you may be more interested in meeting local Germans, but have you looked into expat groups? There will probably be a good number of US and canadian mothers, but also from other European countries, and expats tend to be more likely to have one parent stay home with the children (since it'd be difficult for both to find expat jobs in the same place). There was a women's group in Geneva that I joined that had play groups for kids under 2, and another for kids 2-6 or so, and they did tons of stuff together.

It's interesting to hear this about Berlin, and the comments suggesting it's mainly due to pressure from the workplace. In switzerland it seemed to be the opposite. I remember the woman who was showing us around when we first arrived in Geneva, and she said in Switzerland a woman is either employed, or a mother-- very rarely both. A lot of the culture and system is set up so you NEED someone in the home (for example, kids go home for lunch in the middle of the school day). In the US we often think of Europe as being so much more progressive, but they still face so many of the same pressures, even if in different ways.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

Fascinating post & photo.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAl_Pal

My son rode in one very similar (but not nearly as nice) right here in Canada when he was in daycare in the Infant room, from 12-18 mos. While I do think it's a shame that extended leave is offered but not often used (likely due to financial reasons -- even if I could have taken 3 years unpaid leave here, I'm not sure we could have afforded to take advantage of it), "daycare" doesn't equal "bad".

I have to say Annie, I almost always agree with you, but your description of the kids having regular outdoor time does come off as really negative. And just as some here are saddened when others question their decision to keep their kids home, it saddens me that the opposite is being implied in many of the comments here -- that it's always wrong for kids to be in child care.

There are definitely a lot fewer kids in the parks and other places during the weekdays where I live.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea


If it came across that way, it wasn't at all intended. I've http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/10/09/sah-or-woh-how-can-we-stop-restricting-mothers-choices/" rel="nofollow">made it clear in the past that I support parents choices with regards to whether they stay at home or go to work. I was simply surprised here that there isn't a greater mix of both and that daycare really seems to be the default for all families. Not a value judgment, just surprise.

I think it is great that the kids get lots of outdoor time. It is just negative for us, in that we don't have the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with other families and their kids because the only ones at the playgrounds are the big groups from the day cares who are insular and not interested in interacting with other people who are at the same location.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That is possible. I am more familiar with West Germany, since many of our friends are in that part of the country. Although we are officially in the former "West" here in West Berlin, we are only about 200m or so from where the wall once stood.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Just a thought here, but what about volunteering? Maybe you could volunteer yourself and the kids at a local kindergarden class? What about libraries - maybe they know of some homeschooling parents who go there during the day?

Enjoy your time overseas!

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Homeschooling is illegal here, which is one of the reasons you don't see kids 6+ at the playgrounds during the day. But I expected to see kids 5 and under.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree here. In the former East Germany you'll find most Moms are working, while in the former West Germany most Moms stay at home. And no matter what you decide to do, you always have to justify yourself.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKarin

Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm German. :-)

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKarin

You could contact a bf consultant from the AFS www.afs-stillen.de or LLL www.lalecheliga.de
They are usually AP-parents and often stay at home Moms.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKarin

Which neighborhood of Berlin are you in? You might have better luck where there are more immigrant families, e.g., in Kreuzberg (though from your near-the-wall location I assume you might actually be in Kreuzberg).

My experience in Berlin, having lived there for years while I did my Ph.D. work and had my first child, is that lots of mothers don't work. But because daycare is subsidized, even some stay-at-home mothers use a Tagesmutter or Kita. In my neighborhood (the Tiergarten section of Mitte), the common time for mothers to be on the playground with their kids is after they pick them up from the Kita, around 4 in the afternoon. So you might have better luck in the late afternoon?

One reason to go back to paid work earlier than three years is that after six months, maternity leave pay drops dramatically, especially if you have a partner who makes decent money. Many parts of western Germany have a strong ideal of stay-at-home mothers, as I'm sure you're aware from your German friends, and the schools are generally still on a schedule that presumes a stay-at-home mom. There's also the notion of the "Rabenmutter" - the neglectful mother - which shames women who work for pay. But many German mothers need to work, and plenty of them want to work, too.

I'm actually surprised that most of the kids in your neighborhood seem to be in Kitas, because there are lots of Kitas that don't take kids under 3, and so a lot of the really young ones go to a Tagesmutter (which is also state-subsidized). A Tagesmutter wouldn't normally have six kids, though, and those kids in the six-seater stroller are small indeed.

I'm not in Berlin permanently anymore (may visit this summer) but I still run an email list for English-speaking expat academics, artists, and similar folks in Berlin. Email me if you like at sungold85 (at) gmail (dot) com if you think you might find it helpful. People use it for housing requests, doctor recommendations, and sometimes parenting-related questions, too.

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSungold

I've been reading your posts for ages now, and we are visiting Germany this summer, so I've been reading these recent posts with much fervor. We'll be in Berlin 4 days and I'm combing through your posts for kid-friendly things to do. Seems like there are activities which I'm glad to see! Maybe we'll bump into you at one of the parks!

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim Klimek

I live in Berlin and hate the fact that I have had to go back to work (20 hours a week). We live in Zehlendorf. My daughter (aged 4) goes to the "Montessori Preschool" which is a wonderful half-day preschool - so families are always around from 1.30pm. I find that in Zehlendorf, the playgrounds are not dominated by Kindergärten in the afternoons and we can make new friends. However, the real "happy hour" is from 5pm when all the local children are in the playgrounds with their families. Unfortunately I am not entitled to Elternzeit (long story), but I would jump at it if I had the chance. I have heard from other mums, even in Zehlendorf (deepest West Berlin!), that you feel isolated if you stay at home after your child is about 18 months because everyone else is back at work. In Zehlendorf, the "Mittelhof" community centre has a café and a lovely playground as well as a programme of children's clubs/events. I find this quite a good place to bump into people and make friends. Maybe a Nachbarschaftsheim or something in your area would be a possibility?

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Hello, me again. I just reread some of the other comments, and in answer to the question about why a lot of parents do go back to work so early when they don't have to, I think it all - sadly - has to do with what other people do. I think the questions of whether you should give up work altogether and how long you should stay at home with your kids before going back to work are all unconsciously framed by what you consider to be "normal" - what people around you do. If everyone around you puts their child into Kindergarten aged 12 months, then society says that's ok. Similarly, if no one at work took longer than six months parental leave, you have to face lots of questions about how you will manage to come back after longer... I think it would really help for antenatal classes in Berlin to give more information on this subject to prospective parents so that they can plan better before going on maternity leave and feel stronger to make their own choices rather than just follow peer group pressure...

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

I have almost the same problem. My family also lives in Germany just outside of Kaiserslautern. The Village we live in has no children my daughters age. We can go into the local Military community and they have some activities, but the majority are for ages 3 and up. The classes she has taken have been awful. She seems to be deathly afraid of older German women and guess who the teachers are..?
We can put her into the local German Montessori or the pre-school in the next village when she is three, but until the we are pretty much on our own. Maybe you can find a local pool? We seem to find the most playmates during trips to the pool. Swim class did not work for us. On a side note maybe if the Germans would put a/c and central heat into homes they would have more babies. lol

July 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGina

[...] friends for my kids: We didn’t have much success in finding playmates for our kids in Berlin. All of the children our kids ages are in day care (“Kita”) until around 4pm every day, which is about the time that we are usually getting ready to go home. We did find kids to play [...]

I think you shoudl not be shocked by the KIta's. Children are very happy there and have a lo of friends. On the other hand, giving my children to a bi-lingual kita made my intergration easy. I found a lot of friends because of the international community. There are a lot of English-German Kitas in Berlin where your children will not feel themselves foreign, besides they will learn new language, culture and will be independent. You can easily opt for a half day. There are a lot of social events for parents too. Do not be afraid, join it.

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVenera

Are u still in Berlin?i also don't want to put my baby to a kita even if its with 1.The sociatel pressure is so big and the urge to work that one is very forced to do so.But i also try and find other alternatives as that. I would like to find other moms who are on some AP(attachment parenting)and then maybe there is another possibility, so that those u know can take care of the baby every now and then, a part tym job will do as well for now. ...hmm i don't know i'm overwhelmed if i'm honest my baby is 6month now and i really have to make a plan.i wished we lived in another world.bloody money.

December 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulia


No, we aren't in Berlin anymore. We were only there for 4 months.

December 30, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

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