On Thin Ice

I went to a 40th birthday party over the weekend where I was the only non-German in attendance. Someone asked me what I thought the biggest difference between the United States and Germany was. This person had just commented that she had lived in Miami for a while and the biggest thing that struck her was the stark contrast between the very rich and the very poor. I had to agree with her that Germany is a more equal society. While there are certainly very wealthy and the very poor here, you get the sense that most people fall somewhere in the middle and are doing pretty well overall. I’m sure this is in no small part due to Germany’s thriving economy.  However, support provided by the government and subsidized by taxes also significantly evens the playing field. The opportunity to have a free university education certainly doesn’t hurt. We receive close to 400 euros (about 500 dollars) per month in the form of “Kindergeld” (child money). Thanks, German taxpayers! This payment is made to families from birth until the age of 18. Think of all the things one can provide for one’s child with this money: the inevitable pair of new shoes, annual winter coat or just straight up food. Investment in things like parks, public transportation and the arts benefit the greater good and we are certainly enjoying the perks of life in a social democracy this year. Don’t even get me started on the generous family leave benefits that Germans enjoy. Such a humane way of living.

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At the Sunday flea market.  Flea markets abound in Berlin and are a super cheap way of outfitting an apartment, scoring a book or a winter coat.  Also, because old European crap is way more exciting that old American crap!

Another difference I have observed is in the parenting style in Germany. While this observation is somewhat obscured by the fact my children are going to the German-American school, it is still noticeable. The main difference being the level of freedom and independence children are given here. For instance, it’s pretty standard for a 3rd grader to come home from school on their own via public transportation. The playgrounds are awesome and also definitely slightly dangerous. No padded edges and gentle slopes. They are physically challenging and you will get hurt—but learning the limits of what you can and cannot do physically is also a lesson in itself. Even the schoolwork is presented so that the child is to take responsibility for their own work. Iris is required to have a “Hausaufgaben Heft” (homework folder) wherein she is required to keep track of when her assignments are due. In Germany you don’t stay in your homeroom all day. By 4th grade you are changing classrooms to switch teachers who specialize in individual subjects and she has to organize herself to remember which folder to bring with her to her next class. This was probably the biggest challenge at the start of the school year as it was all so new and the school itself is large and maze-like in its layout (3 stories, sky bridges, etc). I escorted the kids home from school every day for the first three months we were here. It was about an hour and a half out of my day every day to do this. Finally in December on the cusp of Iris’ 10th birthday we decided they could navigate getting home on BVG (Berlin Verkehrsbetriebe==the public transport system) on their own. Iris called me the other day to brag that she had slid on the ice coating the small pond after school. While my inner American parent wanted to freak out (“were you all alone?” “how thick was the ice?” “Don’t do that ever again!!!”) I calmly asked her about it and learned that several of the other kids were also doing it, that there was some concern about hearing it “cracking” and that she had in fact stuck close to the shore and hadn’t tarried as she knew she still had to catch the bus. She was clearly calling me to brag and probably knew that it was also inciting a little panic in her mother. But it was fine, I trusted she was smart enough not to venture out into the middle of a cracking ice floe and that countless generations of children (myself included) have flirted with icy ponds and that these adventures are what give us confidence and a sense of self reliance. I still remember the elation I felt after negotiating the train by myself from Heidenheim to Aalen (all of like 20 minutes tops). And that was when I was 16. Anyway, I enjoyed reading this book review shared with me by a friend and look forward to reading the book even more.

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Very shallow pond, very cold temps, large crack, many children.  What could go wrong? (The answer is nothing.  Relax people!)

Shouldn’t we all just redistribute our wealth and let out the reins on our kids? The thought of returning to Oklahoma is becoming more difficult by the day…

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At the bus stop with a ubiquitous bright orange garbage bin, it says “For the cigarette, afterward.”  Clean streets, efficient public transportation, affordable concerts/museums. All very nice!

1 thought on “On Thin Ice

  1. Agreed, agreed, agreed. Europe’s social contract ensure a level of civility that the US lost – if it indeed ever had it to begin with. Let’s connect soon. Baci, M.

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