October 13, 2009

Keeping Up with the von Joneses

German grade school is typically over at lunchtime.

Yes, you see the problem. Working parents scramble to get a rare state funded spot in a Hort, where they feed and help your kids with homework until you pick them up. Failing that, you might get a non-Hort childcare spot, where the kids play in the basement of some school until you pick them up.

And failing that, parents can send their kids to private school, get a nanny or the mom can quit her job. Actually I don't want to be sexist here, there are at least three stay-at-home dads in Germany and maybe more. Ralf would love to stay home but he earns more than me.

Before we moved to California K was in a Krippe, or preschool that accepts babies. The other baby in her group was Korbinian, a solid, mellow baby with a distinctive thatch of curly blond hair.

When we returned to Munich from California we ran into Korbinian's parents, who own a local business specializing in IT firewalls, and they (like us) were pondering what to do about the lackluster after school programs in our town.

Their solution? What anyone would do, really: Build an on-premise Krippe, Kindergarten and Hort at their place of business and get the community to pay for it.

Now, you've hopefully read some of my writings about the difficulties of getting stuff done in Germany, where everything's a problem until it's been done so many times it's a process, so I'll leave it to your imagination what sort of colossal undertaking that was. But they succeeded while we were back in California this summer and even managed to get the all-important and elusive signature verifying that they have enough toilets for each child.

This is where L goes in the morning and K joins her at lunch time in a private shuttle that is included as part of the overall package.

You might think that such busy people wouldn't have time for their children but au contraire. Somehow in the midst of all that running a business and opening new schools, they also have plenty of hours to spend with their children playing games, building a life size castle out of cardboard and reading Faust.

To give you an idea, on the first day of the school Korbinian, who is 6 like K, taught one of the childcare professionals how to play monopoly.

L went to a birthday party for their younger son this weekend and came home not with the ubiquitous goody bag and sloppy handmade crown but an actual stick horse they had made themselves. A stick horse! With hand grips! And a red felt mane!

Who thinks of having twenty 4-year-olds build a stick horse?

The Joneses have nothing on these people.


  1. Those people rock! You're so lucky to have your kids in their program!

    Our after-school care is pretty good offering all sorts of sports, woodwork, sewing, drama, dance etc.

  2. Good people. Actually doing something instead of sitting around complaining as I do. I'm glad your kids have decent after-school care.

    I am also in total admiration of the stick horse. I am of the sloppy homemade crown variety.

  3. Hoo boy. Glad I don't have to deal with half day school.

  4. Wow! I always wonder how the working people do it. I see lots of small kids on the SBahn heading home. They seem very independent. Lucky to have found such a place it sounds.

  5. that's appalling. you cannot hang out wih such people.

  6. That is awesome.
    But I want to know more about the grammar schools there--till what age are they in half-day school? Do teachers teach full time, as in some kids are assigned the first half of the day and some kids go to the 2nd half of the day?

  7. Indeed - next bday party we'll build a functioning rocket ship. Michele, the teachers are also part-time and only some high schools are full day.

  8. A stick horse? Cool. I always wanted a stick horse. A pogo stick was more fun, though. ;-)

  9. Hilarious! Those over-achieving Germans...
    Seriously, now I can see the appeal of an au-pair!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to meet my daughter-- I'm looking forward to hearing more. Now she's a product of full-time daycare when I was a single working mom, and didn't turn out too bad either...

  10. Well thanks, Now I am under so much pressure for a craft for Elijah's birthday. Oh wait, I am in america! Bring on the throw away toys!!!

  11. Could they share some of their cocaine with me?? I could use it to get a few things down too!! Or ... do they take a little prozac?

    Great friends for you to know!! Wow!!

  12. Our girls were in a full day kita and now T1 is in a ganztag schule. Berlin is chock full of them, one of the pleasanter remnants, I believe, of the DDR belief that family care is not just the problem of the mother. It's a long day for the littler, since I now have to bring her with her older sister an hour earlier than I used to.
    Do you really not have them available to you? Or are they just away from your local area?

  13. Half day of school sounds great to me. Not convenient really, but great other than that.

    Stick horse party favors? I'm intimidated by the thought of 20 four year olds period, let alone directing them in construction of a Martha Stewart craft.

    Nope. I'm out. I fold.

  14. I was completly shocked when I first moved here too see kids going home already at 12:30 or 1! What is a working parent to do? Our kindergarten luckily is fantastic -and- offers care to 4pm (if you get on the year long waiting list and get a spot), but the local school is still at the traditional ending times.


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