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I never wanted to have kids in the US. Now, I'm happily raising a toddler in Germany.

Susannah Edelbaum   

I never wanted to have kids in the US. Now, I'm happily raising a toddler in Germany.
  • Susannah Edelbaum got inspired to move from New York to Berlin 10 years ago while visiting friends.
  • She ended up getting married and having a baby in Germany but has struggled with a lot of bureaucracy.

I didn't move to Berlin to get married and have a baby. I moved at 29 after visiting some friends. I had gotten the sense that if I didn't at least try to live in this city, which felt so much calmer, greener, and yet more alive than New York, I'd regret it. My cat and I arrived three months later.

That was 10 years ago, when Berlin was still called "poor, but sexy," and other twenty-somethings traveled to spend entire weekends in the city's techno clubs and live on the cheap in what used to be one of Europe's most affordable capitals. Even these days, cost of living in Berlin is 35% less expensive than New York, according to Numbeo.

I didn't expect to partner up and settle down, but pleasantly, that's what happened.

Getting married in Germany turned out to be so bureaucratically complicated that my boyfriend and I ended up going to Denmark to get hitched. This small Nordic country is Europe's equivalent of Las Vegas when it comes to streamlined marriage procedures.

And, when we had our baby in 2022, I moved on from puzzling over how to get into the city's tightly-guarded techno clubs to puzzling over how to get my toddler a spot at a Kita, or German day care. The latter is infinitely harder, it turns out.

Berlin is great for parents. That's probably why there are so many.

Germany offers excellent maternity care, including postpartum home visits by a midwife, and down the road, various degrees of subsidized day care — the exact setup varies state by state. But in Berlin both midwives and day care centers are in short supply, according to local news channel RBB24.

This became clear when I was just seven weeks into my pregnancy and at the gynecologist. She asked me if I'd started looking for a midwife. I hadn't. "Well, then you're already late," my doctor sighed.

A few weeks later, I set an alarm and started calling the hospital that had been recommended. To register there, the hospital required expecting parents to call at exactly 12 weeks plus one day into pregnancy — try a day later, and they'd be full. Around 10 calls in, I got through.

A couple of months after that, we took a stab at the Kita Navigator, an online system aimed at helping parents find and contact daycares. Landing a Kita spot in Berlin is notoriously difficult — according to a 2023 report from the research foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung, the city is short around 17,000 places.

I'd heard parents-to-be should get on waiting lists while still expecting, with the goal of securing a place for an unborn child once they turned a year old. My husband and I — mystified as to how to enter the name and birthdate of a baby still in utero — quickly gave up on attempting to navigate the unnavigable Kita Navigator.

Then came the flurry of bureaucracy

For our son's German birth certificate, my own US birth certificate needed an apostille, an extra layer of authentication that this official document is indeed official.

For the baby's US citizenship, we needed to do a Consular Report of a Birth Abroad at the embassy. Off I went on an archaeological dig through our apartment for documentation to prove I'd previously lived in the US as an adult, as there's a residency requirement in order to pass on citizenship. Laid out end-to-end, everything we needed for the CRBA covered our bedroom floor.

To apply for Kindergeld, a monthly child subsidy, and Elterngeld, parental leave pay, there were paper applications that needed to be physically mailed off to various overburdened Berlin administrative offices. All I remember is running on about five hours of broken sleep per night, handing the baby off to my visiting mother-in-law in between nursing sessions, and tackling a pile of paperwork.

I'm thrilled to be raising a toddler in Berlin

Despite the late start, I found a midwife. The postpartum care she offered me and our newborn was excellent, and I wish it were standard everywhere. Besides weighing the baby, checking that breastfeeding was going well, cleaning his umbilical cord stump, and doing the first bath with us, she gave me week-by-week worksheets with gentle pelvic floor exercises, which I wound up translating for my friend in the US, who'd given birth the day before me and been given nothing of the sort.

As for Kita, when my son was a few months old, I walked him around our neighborhood for 90 minutes while he napped and I wrote down the contact information posted in the window of every day care we passed, then emailed them individually. That worked. Now a toddler, he loves his Kita. It took around thirty waitlists to get offered a single spot, but all you need is one.

I later learned that other expecting parents, particularly non-German speakers, pay self-styled experts to get certain tasks done, like applying for parental leave pay and navigating the Kita system. As a German-speaking household, we didn't go down this route.

Taken individually, no one task here is that difficult, it just felt like a lot altogether, lurching from one form to waitlist to the next, all while exhausted from pregnancy and the newborn months. But hey, the countervailing force of a safety net is a bureaucracy required to administer it. And I can hardly complain that the city's administrative offices are overburdened. People keep moving to Berlin, and I'm one of them.

My son understands everything he hears in both German and English. Getting around this city, where the public transit elevators work around 80% of the time and mostly don't smell like urine, is way better than anyone can say for New York's subway system.

Our biggest problem these days is the most non-problem a parent can have: Berlin has too many playgrounds. It's impossible to find a route anywhere from our apartment where we won't pass one, and our son always wants to stop and play.