After a fairly successful relocation to Berlin four months ago, and just as I finally thought I had my new German life “unter Kontrolle”, my Italian girlfriend delivered the fatal news: she’s expecting our first child (by the way, this was a pretty unplanned matter). Our new life has turned into pure mayhem thanks to Hebammen to book, hospitals to decide on and... how many health checks? Please, could you shed some light?
First things first. Congratulations, dude! This said, yes, the challenges of having a child in a foreign country are daunting: the bureaucracy, the expense, the medical stuff, the cultural differences. Your girlfriend (possibly influenced by her Italian mother) will have her own ideas about pregnancy, giving birth and raising children. Your own parents might offer their own “advice “from afar. The key here, Sebastian, is to remain calm and not panic. You’re not the first multi-national couple to have a kid in Berlin. And know what? There are worst places to have a child. Provided your girlfriend has health insurance, she’ll benefit from first-rate care the whole time of her pregnancy with many regular OB/GYN check-ups and preparation for birth with a Hebamme (midwife) –all entirely free of charge!
Online expat forums like Toytown have endless threads on every aspect of the process. There, you can connect with other non-German parents and find an English speaking Hebamme who can explain pretty much every aspect of pregnancy and birthing– from all the health checks to parental leave to state benefits you shouldn’t miss out on. With her, you can calmly discuss questions like “hospital” versus “Geburtshaus” (birthing centre). Another English resource is www.berlinforallthefamily.com. Its bureaucracy checklist is especially thorough and helpful. Of course it’s never easy, but Berlin offers wonderful quality of life for new parents. So take a deep breath and get on with it!
My best American buddy is getting hitched this September. Ianthe meantime, he has left me with the task of organising his stag do for all our friends here in Berlin. It is supposed to be three days of pure oblivion, away from girlfriends and wives, and booze and strippers just aren’t enough to fill the bill. Any ideas you could pass on? Many thanks!
Thank you! Answering this question is some light relief compared to the thankless task of explaining the German health insurance or pension system to clueless foreigners. I suspect the standard stag night or weekend in Berlin these days involves some combination of beer-bike, burgers and brothels, but we’re not going to go down that route. Instead, come up with something imaginative, interesting, fun....and realistic: you’re not going to get into Berghain or Kit Kat Club as a group of 10 guys reeking of Jägermeister.
And you don’t have to remain totally wasted for the entire weekend. I would personally include one ‘cultural’ activity such as the saucy exhibition at the Helmut Newton Museum, one physical, adrenaline-based activity like bungee jumping off of Park Inn (to remind the groom that even being married is preferable to suicide) and pigging out on some food that he loves but that his future spouse hates. When you get to the nightlife segment, stay away from tasteful, stylish establishments that you might frequent in your normal Berlin life. No strippers, though – if you ask me, they’re overrated. Instead, start off with a tourist trap like the ridiculous toilet-themed Klo pub in Charlottenburg, then head over to an utterly trashy bridge-and-tunnel sort of club like Matrix, Soda (Friday is Ladies’ Night) or Q-Dorf – rammed full of fun-loving local girls getting wild and sweaty to horrendously commercial tunes. Everyone can really “let out the sow” at such a place, as we say in this country. Showing up before midnight increases the chances of your gang of louts getting past the doorman. The next afternoon, if the weather cooperates, nurse your hangovers with some eye candy and cocktails at the Arena Badeschiff and round it out with some psychedelic black-light minigolf in Görlitzer Park.
Originally published in issue #140, August 2015.