CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
There’s a great Portlandia sketch where Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein play a couple that wants to go hiking, but never gets out the door because they keep ordering gear. By the end, they’re totally loaded up with stuff, and it’s almost sundown. Sometimes that’s how I would feel when we first got to Germany with a small child. So here’s my guide of small child essentials (and some parent stuff) in Germany. Just so you know, I’m not on the payroll of any of these companies. These are my honest observations.
Regenhose- Rain Pants
These are basically rubber overalls. They can be thermo (with a thermal lining), or just the basic kind. Usually they include stirrups on the bottom to help keep them in place and reflective patches for dark days. These are a great way to enjoy a walk or the park even when it’s raining or when the ground is still very wet.
Gummistiefel- Rain Boots
You’ll need a pair of these to go with your rain pants so you can splash in muddy puddles like Peppa Pig.
This is basically a sleeping bag designed for the stroller. It has cut-outs for the straps to be thread through. When it’s warm, you’ll see them unzipped with a child sitting on top, but when it’s cold, kids get all bundled up to their chins in some of them. This keeps toes and fingers and behinds extra warm in the winter so kids don’t freeze. Add a rain cover (Regenschutz) and you’re ready for any weather.
Schlafsack- Sleeping Bag
These are gaining popularity in the US, partially due to research on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A Schlafsack is basically a sleeping bag that has overalls on the top so it’s nearly impossible for the material to bunch up around the sleeping child’s face and obstruct breathing. In Germany, it’s not uncommon for older children (toddlers and even preschoolers) to use them at bed time. There are lighter cotton versions for summer and majorly warm ones for winter (which also save money on your heating bill).
In the US it’s usually just the little girls that wear tights in the winter, but here it’s everyone (even me!). Since German kids are encouraged to spend time outdoors regardless of whether it’s freezing cold, a pair of jeans and some socks won’t cut it.
Hausschuhe- House Shoes
These are not just slippers. They’re exactly what the word implies- shoes for your house. These are usually required for kindergarten kids, and they’re also great for adults because if you leave your muddy boots outside, they won’t muck up the inside of the house.
Kinderwagen- Buggy / Stroller
Germans tend to leave their babies in the full bassinet position in their prams much longer than we do in the US. They also tend to have strollers that keep the kids facing the parent longer. This is just a matter of choice and preference. Some have told me that Americans sit their kids up too soon and that it “damages their spine,” but I’ve never seen any evidence to support that. I think it’s a matter of lifestyle. I kept my daughter lying down until she could sit up. After that, she wouldn’t tolerate being made to lie flat anymore. Buggies are the US equivalent of umbrella strollers and tend to be cheaper. If you buy a top-of-the-line kinderwagen, expect to spend hundreds to over a thousand dollars on it. More accessible prices can be found at second-hand stores, or in lower-end brands. The way I see it, we only have one household car here, so my stroller is like our second vehicle. I need something sturdy to get my kid around, and a whole lot of storage space to carry my groceries, so it was worth a small investment. German strollers tend to exclude the bells and whistles Americans often count on, like cup holders, so keep in mind that you might need a clip-on one. If you decide to go American with your stroller, don’t worry! Germans aren’t staring at your stroller because it’s wrong; they’re looking at it because it’s exotic and imported. With our first, people kept asking where I had gotten our basic, run-of-the-mill Graco stroller because they’d never seen one with a snack tray attached. (Now they make them here, too. The brand for that is Safety First.)
Buggyboard- Scooter Platform
These are getting more and more interesting every year. There’s the standard buggyboard that hooks to the stroller and allows your toddler to take a break from and ride along for a while. It also helps keep the child close so he/she isn’t likely to fall into the street or run away. Lately, I’ve seen some that are a slimmer scooter style, ones that have small seats, detachable ones that a kid could ride on alone, and there’s even a mom up the road from us that has an adult one that looks like a skate board that she hops on to ride with the stroller down the hill. (That one terrifies me since it’s basically turning the stroller into a bike and no one is wearing a helmet.) Most of them can be tied up to the stroller so they lift off the ground for storage. The disadvantage is that the board or the kid will usually be in your foot path, so it slows you down.
Wind und Wetter Creme- Wind and Weather Cream
This is a thick cream you smear on your kids’ faces to keep them safe from frost bite when the weather is really cold. My son’s daycare provider used to insist on taking the kids to the woods to walk for at least an hour, regardless of the weather, and this cream really helped. There is also something similar to help keep bugs off in summer, and, of course, sunscreen for the summer.
These are the coolest! It’s a bike without pedals that kids can learn on. Since there are no brakes, though, it’s important to be careful on steep hills and always wear a helmet. A Laufrad can be bought for about 30 Euros, or all the way up to hundreds. Our very cheap one has been a great success, so there’s really no need to break the bank.
Bobbycar- Push Car
This is the German childhood must-have. It’s a little car to straddle and steer, and usually it has a little horn to beep. They’re so widely-known and produced that it’s easy to find one used if you’re on a budget. Extra gear could include a parents’ handle for when your toddler gets tired, or a strap to pull it down the street. You can even get rubber protectors so your kid won’t wear the toes out of his or her shoes while pushing. My expert tip- Always use with a helmet. If you start with helmets now, then when it comes time to get a bike or Laufrad, your kid won’t resist a helmet then. Also, my son has a tendency to climb things with wheels, and I can say with certainty that the helmet saved his skull at least twice when he climbed onto and fell off of his Bobbycar. You can even buy a matching cherry red helmet that says Bobbycar on it. How cool is that?
Manduca- This is Germany’s answer to the Ergo baby carrier.
It still holds baby facing in (although they’ve recently developed a version that allows baby to face outward). You can carry on the front or back, or side-carry (which, honestly, looks awkward even in their promotional videos). Then there’s the big advantage: you don’t have to buy a newborn insert like with the Ergo because it comes with a snap-in sling for tiny babies. In a price comparison, you might save 20-40 Euros by not buying an insert. It’s able to carry kids up to far heavier than I would ever want to carry them, and has a lot of the same bells and whistles as the US brands, like a shade hood, adjustable straps, safety loops, padded shoulders, etc. We used one of these with our second child and put away all the other ones we had from the first (three other brands that were nowhere nearly as comfortable). It’s partially cotton, so it’s less hot and sweaty than some other brands in the summer. (Well, as much as you can be less hot and sweaty with a baby strapped to your chest.).
This is a German brand of bags, and if you’re someone that carries everything but the kitchen sink with you, this is your brand. I have a basic one just as my mommy purse, and it’s great. There are lots of pockets, it’s durable, there’s a cross-body strap, and I can fit an absolute ton of stuff in it up to and including three diapers and a water bottle, along with my wallet, keys, phone, emergency documents, snacks, etc. If I could do it all over again, I’d get a larger one for my diaper bag, too.