Hello Germany mammas,
Little background-dh and I currently live in France with our kiddos. He has a contract that expires next June (2012). So we will most likely move in the next year. One country that is very attractive for both of us is Germany. i have traveled there extensively (I was an au pair and the mother was German) and every time we visit it just seems great. It seems that the cost of living is affordable, there is lots of support for families, lots of nature activities, kids activities are affordable as well, people seem to be health conscious.
In short I am afraid we, and I especially, are building Germany up to be perfect. I know its not.
So how do you guys find it? Pros and cons?
Things that matter most for us are education, access to cultural events and nature, health care, public transport would be a big plus because I really only want one car (we currently have two). We want to buy a house. Not right away and not a huge mansion, but a nice little house with a garden after about a year or so.
I am cautious be cause moving here was a huge shock. We had wanted top return to Europe for a while but I think we were a bit naive. We live in, what we are told, is a very particular part of France, as it is on the border with Geneva Switzerland. So things here are crazy expensive and there are tons of international people-sometimes to many =). Even if dh was offered a job here for a longer period, it is hard for me and him to envision the quality of life we want for our family.The hard part is that dh works for an international organization where the pay and benefits are great. Still not enough to allow us to buy a home though =(.
Anyway, thanks for any input.
Well, housing depends greatly on where you are going to live. In some of the larger cities like München and Köln, it's really expensive to rent an appartment in the city where everything is readily and easily available , but renting / buying a house out of town is usually doable. What's going to absolutely drive you nuts is daycare though. Daycare here sucks terribly - there aren't enough centers to go around and they have impossible hours. You have to either try to find a nanny - you apply for one through the Jugendamt - to watch your kids or get onto a waiting list for the local daycare center or both. Trying to find something for kids under 3 is hard. And depending on your income, you might find the prices here for organic foods formidable. It's too expensive for us so I only purchase certain organic items. Come to think of it, I think everything here is much more expensive than in the US, but health care really rocks here.
But how do I like it here? I live in Cologne and I love it here, best city in the whole wide world, and I've been here for nearly 20 years now. I'm never moving back.
Me 41, single mom to dd 4/2001 and ds 7/17/2010
It really depends on where you live. As the above poster mentioned, housing is more expensive in larger cities (we lived in Munich for 7 years and housing costs are insane there) and quite a lot less in outlying areas. Transportation is generally very good and reliable but can be very expensive. I try to avoid using the car but too often, it's actually cheaper to drive than to take the train/tram/bus--especially when your children are school-aged and also have to pay. Monthly cards can also be very expensive. You just have to look at what is available to you and do the math to figure out what is the best deal. Generally, it's the bike! ;-) However, biking and walking is very easy to do in most places. Only if you live far flung does it become more of a problem. Btw, we only own one car and rarely use it and certainly don't rely on it.
Also, some places are more child friendly than others. The birthrate here is abysmal and in some places, that is reflected in the attitudes of the people around you. In Munich, when looking for a new flat, we learned to ask up front if children are welcome. Pets are welcome everywhere, children are not. More than once, when we arrived to view a flat, we were turned away as soon as they saw we had (back then) two children! In Munich, mothers and their small children or babies have actually been kicked off of busses or trams because the baby was crying and disturbing others or the small child had a roller (scooter?) with him/her. I could go on. This was all was in Munich. If I was childless, there is no place on earth I'd probably be happier living than Munich. But for families, I can't entirely recommend it. Couples with children were rare, couples with more than one child rarer and people nearly dropped their teeth when I, already mum of a girl AND a boy, became pregnant with my third. Why on earth would the crazy woman want ANOTHER child????? She's already got one of each! Where we live now is not nearly so extreme and two-child families are common and even three-child families are not extreme, though considered "large" LOL. With four kids, we are considered a bit crazy but nothing terrible.
Health care here is fantastic. High quality, complete choice, great covereage. I am chronically hypertensive with a history of pre-ecclampsia but, with my third (in Munich!) was able to find a terrific homebirth midwife with a great back-up OB, so that I was able to have a lovely, peaceful home waterbirth while still having my meds and my condition monitored all through pregnancy. Bascially, I could tailor my care to exactly what I needed. I've been happy with every aspect of our health care here over the years for everyone of us. Health care is terrific!
Education. Ugh. I have three school-aged kids. Two are in grade school, one in secondary school. The schools here are rigid, inflexible and often difficult to work with if your child falls anywhere outside of a "traditional learner". My first has thrived, in spite of my hating the system here, but my second has severe attention deficits and my third has speech delays and problems retrieving information (for the life of me, I don't know what this is called in english!). The school system here is archaic and wholly unequipped to deal with children who have any sort of special needs. If you are lucky enough to live near a specialized school or can stump up the cash for private schools, great. If you are like the majority of us....well, good luck. My husband and I are both active in the children's school parent government, but it is not uncommon to have three different children in three different schools, as we will next year. And the year following, the fourth will be in a kindergarten. Two parents just can't cover all the bases but we do the best we can. And homeschooling is completely illegal. Parents are fined and/or jailed and children have been taken away.
All that said, we are very happy here and unlikely to leave any time soon. We've raised our family here and will likely finish doing so. There are all kinds of bike trails and opportunities to get out and hike and enjoy nature. Definitely lots to see and do. We used to visit the Kaltenberg Mediaval festival every year. It was wonderful! (We live too far now.) There are things I really hate about living here, but the same could be said about living anywhere else, too, and we deal with the crappy bits and enjoy the great bits. If you know and love Germany and are aware that homeschooling is illegal and have your eyes open when you come, I think you will be happy here.
Where in Germany were you thinking of coming?
Please excuse any typos....I've got to run and no time to proof read!
Yeah, I didn't want to say anything about the school system just yet. It also depends on where you live. The system is really archaic as pp said and ridiculously discriminating. And although the whole system is currently in transition (at least in NRW), I'm wondering just how many kids are going to suffer until the politicians can all agree on one non-discriminating system. And this is the point where I get really upset and start ranting.
There is the Hauptschule, which is dying out because no one wants to send their children there anymore. Then there's the Realschule for kids who aren't quite college material and will be learning their profession through an apprenticeship and further schooling. And then there's the Gymnasium where 100 % of the kids are expected to attend college after getting their abitur. However, there are new school forms popping up, and the trend is towards a Gesamtschule (after primary school) for all pre-college degrees including the abitur and the Gemeinschaftsschule (including primary school through to abitur). But even if one of these school new forms exist in your area, you will always find a separate Gymnasium strictly for college-bound kids . . . which is ridiculous because the Gesamtschule offers the abitur just like a Gymnasium. But apparently some people don't want their kids associating with the rest of us peons and therefore the Gymnasium stays. But then, after taking a good look around, I was really disappointed with the "good" Gesamtschule in our area. DD will be going to a Gymnasium instead. But getting into a Gymnasium is similar to getting into college. Which is another reason why I dislike our grade school immensely. All the poor disadvantaged kids (read 90 % of dd's 4th grade class at least) and their parents were strongly (I mean, the parents were told one intimidating horror story after another) discouraged from applying to a Gymnasium. Her teacher had apparently already made up her made that my dd wasn't fit for a Gymnasium based on her grades at the end of the 3rd grade despite all the crap dd had to go through with my divorce, moving, changing schools, etc. But the teacher fortunately changed her mind. In some areas you need the teachers recommendation to get into a Gymnasium or your out of luck. And yeah, it's wierd having to foresee and guess your child's academic future at the tender young age of 9. I mean, come on! It's outrageous. And the Germans just sit on their hands, thinking everything will turn out right in the end.
Ok, I'm off my soapbox now!
Me 41, single mom to dd 4/2001 and ds 7/17/2010
Oh lordy, the secondary schools. Well, let's just say the phasing out of the Hauptschulen is a load of @#! because they are being replaced with the "Werkrealschulen" which everyone knows is the very same thing--the school for the "throw away kids". They've just given it a new name. It's disgusting. This is where the kids who don't achieve the top grades and don't have anyone to fight in their corner for them get dumped. :-( My oldest is in Gymnasium. She's a traditional learner, thrives in this archaic system and has been attending the top Gymnasium in the entire area, the "elite of the elite". Well, aren't we just terrifc? Our daughter not only goes to Gymnasium, but the very top one. Whoopee. My son, however, in spite of testing as highly intelligent, will be attending a Realschule next year because there is no way in h*ll I'm going to put him through that mill, especially since the switch to G8 (as if the G9 wasn't hard enough). He can't cope with it. He has ADD (I suspect, actually, ADHD) and is not at all cut out for that highly competitive, demanding environment. I want him to have a few years to mature and settle a bit and see what it is he actually wants to do. As you point out, Terrilein, they are *children* for crap sake! Why on earth should we be trying to figure out if they are uni material at the tender age of 9 or 10??? It's insane. We could have fought for the Gymnasialempfehlung, but we didn't want it. So, with that, I guess we've just fallen from our high pedestal. Sorry, I'm not sacrificing my child's well-being so that I can have the distinction of having my child in Gymnasium. It's sad how many parents will, though, and fight tooth and nail for Gymnasium. That said, until they changed the system allowing Realschuler to finish the last two years of Gymnasium and complete the Abitur, I can understand why parents fought so hard for Gymnasium. Imagine having so many avenues to future careers shut off to a child at the age 10???
"Empfehlung" what a joke! It's not an Empfehlung down here, either. The teacher decides. End of. I know in Hessen, it's truly an Empfehlung, but in Bayern, Baden-Württemberg and many other states, it's the teacher's decision.
The Gesamtschulen....well, it's a good idea in the right direction, but in practice, it still falls short. We also considered this for our son but, at least the ones in our area, don't have a clear advantage over going the Realschule route and then going on to a Gymnasium and doing the Abitur after the Realschulabschluß. The fact is, the kids are together for 5th and 6th grade and then they seperate them out in the 7th grade into Realschüler and Gymnasium Schüler. It is not Gesamtschule in the same vein that US highschool is. The kids still have to work towards a Realschulabschluß or Abitur. The best idea I've heard of in the works so far, is to extend Grundschule to the 6th grade. That is far off though, if it comes at all, unfortunately. What is really catching on, is Ganztagschule. Great for working parents but not so great for those of us who don't want to send our children to school until 4 PM every day. That was another negative to the Gesamtschulen in our area--they are Ganztagsschulen.
Yes, change is coming, but at a painfully slow rate. I doubt we'll see any significant improvments before our grandchildren start school. I have no hope change will happen in time to do any of my children any good.
Sorry, this is probably rambling and bit inchoherent. I've been dealing with this system for seven years now with three kids, all the while, my sister enjoys the freedom of homeschooling her six children in the US. The system here is broken and it's failing our children, but heaven forbid we allow the parents to step in and take over their children's education. We're too stupid and certainly not to be trusted. <sigh>
The best advice I can give to a concerned parent is to become very active in their child(ren)'s school(s). Become active, vocal and well-known. Your child won't slip through the cracks if you simply will not allow it to happen. But I resent being forbidden from homeschooling my children and being required to educate my children in a broken education system and yet, having to put more effort and worry into their education than if I'd been allowed to just educate them at home!
Well, if you are interested in the Waldorf education system, you are in luck in Germany. In the US, Waldorf is an exclusive education and pretty much only for the rich. Here, it is not free and not cheap but affordable for many. I know in the US we would not be able to afford it, but here we can. I think it's even done on a sliding scale.
As for childcare for young children, if you are lucky enough to find a good daycare provider, the state pays for up to half of it, depending on your income. You could end up paying as little as €2.50 / hour for daycare!!! Depending on who you find, the hours can be good or not. My daycare woman is closed on Tuesdays (?????) and I have to pick DS up at 3pm on Thursdays. Other than that I could leave him there from 8-5 every week day (which I don't but I could). She also takes 6 weeks holiday a year and that definitely leaves me hanging at that time, but then again so do the regular school holidays so it's the same story. I know Germany can be bad for daycare in comparison with other EU countries, but I have found it to be excellent. I think you just have to get in early (we registered DS for preschool and kindergarten when he was 5 months old!).
Mama since 2010
Multicultural living in Europe
I meant to add that you really are at the mercy of good or bad teachers. I grew up in a small town and the teachers pretty much make their recommendations who can go to Gymnasium and who can't, and a lot of it was based on "Dorf popularity". E.g. the teacher told my parents that she thought I was too sensitive for Gymnasium despite good grades. Well I went of course and turned out valedictorian and certainly not too sensitive. You still can go to Gymnasium even if your Grundschul-teacher says nope. In some states an aptitude test is required, but it's not terribly hard at all. The system is quite old and if your child is in Gymnasium it is expected that parents help out with learning at home and homework. E.g. when I was in 10th grade we started calculus. The teacher walked in, showed us the book and said by next week you self-study basic functions and we will take a test. Many teachers in Gymnasium don't teach but sit back and expect students to study stuff at home. If I didn't have my dad who knows calculus I would have been screwed. Some classmates hired older students to help out or college kids. Same later on, we didn't have enough time to go over all the biology things in 12th grade for Abiturpruefung. Luckily my sister was in med school back then and could go over the chemical processes of ATP synthesis and all that stuff. It's a bit dry to study it from a book only that doesn't go into every detail which I need to fully understand stuff. Ha but I digress... It's a weird system, but GYmnasium education is a very intense and good one. My mom btw is a special ed teacher. She really tried to help her kids (she's retired now). Once a year she would go to nearby Grunschule and test kids that the local teachers deemed to be problematic. Very often she noticed that the kids were fine, but came from homes that didn't have the means to support their kids' education. She refused to have those kids go to special ed school and instead offered free resources to the parents, and I think my mom spared a lot of kids the stigma of special ed (it is one in Germany) when they were normal kids who just had a different learning strategy. Of course my mom knows how to deal with delays and such and helped the parents to overcome issues at home with their young kids (she invested LOTS of private funds in this). Unfortunately, not all teachers care like my mom does. If my kid had a language delay or something like it back home, I'd hire a Logopaede and private teachers, maybe college kids, because the public system won't do much. And I know so many kids who didn't qualify for Gymnasium and then later joined us in 11th grade and were excellent students. Some kids "click" later with learning and such, hard to say what I mean....
As for living, like PPs said, depends on your area. I paid $450 for my studio in Munich-Schwabing... But everything was close-by! I miss walking to the supermarket!
I never had issues withe health care and I had a public insurance (private is available too). I think I had TKK, it's been so long. Of course I never had a baby in Germany, but my sisters did. They both had a midwife and obgyn. I probably would go for a midwife only, a homebirth or birthing center birth. I love how their midwives made home visits up to 6 weeks postpartum and helped with breastfeeding and recommended herbs for their tears and such. You can also find many peds who first of all know about intact penis care and second of all if you don't vaccinate or do a delay/selective schedule nobody will pester you. Schools couldn't care less about shot records or physicals. A new law requires well baby visits though, but that's doable I guess (it was introduced due to some tragic instances when crazy people starved their kids).
Where are you considering to move to within germany?
Some more detailed info could greatly improve the responses you can get.
If you let me know I may be able to tell you quite a bit about my experience.