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Tips for planning your visit to Southern Germany
from a local mom in the know
In this feature:
Weinstadt, which directly translates as “Wine City” in English, can be found just 15 minutes outside of Stuttgart, Germany, along the Remstal Route in the heart of the Rems Valley and wine center in southwestern Germany.
True to its name, this picturesque burg is surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards, which attract tourists both German and foreign to enjoy hiking, cycling, and scenic drives in what is regarded by some to be the “Tuscany of Germany.”
Vanessa Forcelli, a native of Weinstadt and mother to a 15-month-old daughter named Maya, shared with me what it is like to live in such a place and raise children in Germany, and offered great tips for parents planning travel to Germany with young children.
This is definitely a great place to visit for people who love traditional German buildings, beautiful nature and good Swabian food.
On a day-to-day basis, many kids, parents and friends go bicycling, hiking, wandering, do sports or have picnics in this area if the weather allows it. Socializing is very important in German culture, so people get together outdoors a lot.
There is a great outdoor park called “Talaue” in Maya’s birth town Waiblingen, about a 10-minute drive from our house. When it is sunny, we jump on our bicycles and pedal there with Maya in her bike trailer. Talaue Park is also a good place to meet other parents and children. When the kids are done playing, you can go to a nice outdoor biergarten (beer garden) located right in the park. It offers a big playground within eyeshot while the moms and dads enjoy their beer!
Another popular place to go is the Zoo, or “Wilhelma,” in Stuttgart. There are also outdoor theme parks, for example Tripsdrill, an amusement park located 45 minutes northwest of Stuttgart in a town called Cleebronn. Maya loves it there because there are lots of things for her to do, like going on rides, water play areas, playgrounds and a wild animal park where you can feed the free-range deer.
When the weather is not so fair, Sensapolis is brand new and the only indoor playground we have in our area. It is located in Sindelfingen, which is approx. 45 min. away from Weinstadt or 20 min. southwest of Stuttgart. This is a place that I would definitely recommend to anyone with children. We are very excited about this new place, and we go there whenever we want to get out with Maya on a rainy or cold day — a frequent occurrence during German winters.
Children in Germany must now ride in the back seat and in booster seats until they are 12 years old or about 59” tall.
You are required to use restraint systems which have been tested, approved and marked with the appropriate approval label according to the ECE regulation 44. U.S. child car seats are allowed in Europe only if they comply with the provisions of Directive 2003/20/EC and have a label that reads either ECE R44/03, or ECE R 44/04. Unfortunately most US child car seats don't comply with these standards or carry the corresponding labels. Thus, U.S. car seats are not usually allowed in Germany or Europe, though I personally have not heard of anyone getting in trouble.
Using Germany's public transportation with strollers and small children
Germany has a really good public transportation system. However, it is simply physically very difficult to get around pushing a baby stroller or travelling by train or bus with more than one child. It is especially difficult if you use street cars. They are unfortunately not all designed for strollers so you are dependent on other passengers to help you out. I think the best way to get around with babies and young children is still the car.
I would recommend renting a car for your visit. It is easier and you can travel on your own schedule. You can rent relatively cheap cars from rental agencies like Europcar, Avis, Sixt, etc. These car rental agencies can also provide you with a car seat. I do not recommend using a taxi unless it is an emergency since it is really expensive. The other problem with using a taxi is the car seat. Even if taxis are supposed to carry car seats most of them don’t. If you order a taxi by phone in advance, you should always make sure to order a car seat. Many cab drivers will not take you if you don’t have a car seat with you.
It is very uncommon in our area to go to restaurants with babies and young children. If parents decide to do so, they usually go to McDonald’s — yes, shocking! I am not a fan of fast food chains, and I made a decision to bring my baby along with me wherever I want and need to be. Even if it means going to a restaurant in Germany.
Most hosts look at you like you are not serious, but I have learned to accept that. Instead, I kindly ask for a high chair and smile at them. Restaurants are just not prepared for babies, kids and strollers. In Stuttgart, I know of one steak restaurant, Block House, that actually provides not only a high chair but also crayons and paper.
Any good sorted grocery store provides diapers and baby food. Drug stores like “Schlecker” and “dm” do carry baby food, diapers, etc. and some over-the-counter medicines. It is best to get medicines from the pharmacy though. Words that could help them are “Babynahrung” for baby food, and “Windeln” for diapers. Most people here do understand at least some basic English, so English-speaking travelers should be able to communicate successfully with any salesperson.
I remember playing outside a lot when I was a child. Nowadays, children have play dates or have a very structured and organized schedule. The result is fewer kids outside and, in my opinion, bored kids when they are not told what to do. They usually hang out at some organization or at someone’s apartment or house. This makes it a lot harder to get in touch with other moms because they drive their kids around so much. Unfortunately, this means they have a limited amount of time to socialize with others or to even get their house work done.
More and more, new mothers are trying to go back to work, which is usually very difficult to do for them since good, reasonably-priced childcare facilities are not readily available here. Many parents in Germany are struggling with money and cannot afford to pay a babysitter or a child care center. I believe most moms go back to work when their child goes to Kindergarten (what we call preschool in the U.S.). Kindergarten is not very expensive, and their child is still in good care.
Approximately three months after giving birth to Maya, I tried to go back to work part-time. I gave myself very little time to get adjusted to the new baby and the new situation because I was really confused about what to do: stay at home or go back to work. Before I was a Mom, I used to be a so-called workaholic. Always at work, always busy, career-driven. My husband and I have been running our law firm together since 2001, and we have become quite successful. We actually just merged with a California-based law firm, Carroll, Burdick & McDonough LLP.
Breastfeeding in Germany
Germany is a very pro-breastfeeding place. It is very common to see mothers breastfeeding in public. People here view nursing as a natural thing and don’t care if a mom feeds her baby in public. There are no nursing rooms around here so by definition you have to breastfeed your baby wherever you can find a place to sit.
Maternity leave for mothers in Germany
Mothers are allowed a paid maternity leave by the government. Maternity leave generally starts six weeks before the due date and ends eight weeks after birth. Maternity leave payments are in addition to "paid parental leave."
In Germany, parents may get up to 1,800 Euros per month per child
born in 2007 or later. Although parents were already entitled to
receive up to 300 Euros per month per child, this regulation was
seen as insufficient for working families because it simply was not
enough to cover normal child and household expenses.
Those who have not worked before the birth can only get 300 Euros. A parent demanding this paid parental leave must not work more than 30 hours a week after the birth, and if there is no reduction of working hours to 30 or less per week, the parent only gets 300 Euros. A mother or a father can receive parent’s money for up to 14 months.
This policy is another step to increase the number of babies born in Germany, a country with an alarming low birth rate of 1.36 children per woman. To maintain the level of the population, a rate of 2.1 is regarded as necessary. But Germany is not the European country with the lowest rate. The Eastern European countries that became members of the EU in 2004 (except Estonia) show even lower figures and Italy, Spain and Greece are behind Germany.
Copyright (c) 2013 Shelly Rivoli, author of Travels with Baby. All rights reserved.
Adapted from an earlier article by Shelly Rivoli that appeared in the national edition of Examiner.com.
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