CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
In honor of the Month of the Military Child we are bringing this post out of the archives. Lucy has some great solutions for some of the unique challenges involved with traveling throughout Europe with little ones.
So let’s get this out of the way: I have kids and I think having kids in Germany is awesome. When we first moved here, though, I was pretty frustrated with language and cultural issues. It turns out that most of these problems can be overcome, if you anticipate them and work out solutions, so I’ve made this list to help.
1. Public Bathrooms
Unlike in the US, public facilities do not abound in most German cities and towns. When they are available, sometimes there’s no handicapped access, and therefore, no stroller access either. Cafes, restaurants, and department stores usually have facilities, but you may be asked to buy something or pay a fee, and often the WC is either up a flight of stairs or down one, which is a real obstacle when you have a baby in a stroller.
Solution: Know where the restrooms are likely to be. Tourist areas have more bathrooms than others (usually labeled WC). Museums, libraries and government buildings (Rathaus or Bezirksrathaus) tend to have good facilities for the public and a concerted effort is being made to install more changing tables (Wickeltisch) in these places. Often there is a little tray outside for you to leave a few coins to support the cleaning staff. Fifty cents is enough. Unlike the U.S., public urination (by children) is not considered taboo. In public parks, it is common to see German moms pulling their little boys’ pants down for a wee in the bushes, or holding their girls in their arms (bare behind hanging down between them) on the edge of the playground. It’s not generally socially acceptable for adults to go potty in public, though, with the exception of nature trails and wilderness areas.
These are a stroller-buster if ever there was one. Not only to the kids in the strollers get a shake-up, but it also loosens the structure of the stroller itself, leading it to break sooner than it otherwise would.
Solution: You can avoid cobblestones, or you can go with it. We have a jogging type of stroller with rubber wheels that absorb the impact much better than the plastic ones. Proceeding gently and slowly helps a little, but plan for a few bouncy rides. If your kids ride on a bike, scooter or laufrad, make they always wear helmets.
3. Handicapped / Stroller Access
There’s nothing quite like getting to where you’re going and finding yourself with a stroller at the bottom of a huge flight of stairs. This is still very common in Germany, but some small measures are being taken to ease things.
Solution: When planning a journey, you can look at the local public transportation website (for example vvs.de in Stuttgart), and search for “Barierfrei” options. These are the handicapped routes, and the stops with elevators and ramps will be highlighted. Most buses “kneel” to allow stroller access (board at the back and then walk front to pay), and the U-Bahn is also usually accessible. Some German moms roll their strollers right onto the escalators (too dangerous for me, and technically not allowed). If bringing baby in a sling or carrier is an option, this simplifies things. When riding bus or bahn, there is usually a reserved mama seat next to the open area for stroller parking. If someone has taken it without a stroller or need for it, feel free to give them the stink-eye. It is your reserved place and you have a right to sit there (of course, I don’t stink-eye little old ladies that obviously need the seat more than I do).
4. Unsolicited Advice / Cranky People
How many elderly ladies have grabbed my son’s exposed hands (without asking) in the winter and decried my horrible mothering for allowing him to freeze? Probably hundreds.
Solution: Brush it off. My son won’t wear gloves. He’s otherwise bundled from head to toe, and if his hands aren’t turning blue, I’m inclined to let him be. Do I need to explain all of that to concerned strangers? Should I tell them we’ve already bought and lost 20 pairs of gloves and I’ve given up trying? No. That’s not their business. Just nod and smile and walk on.