Germany’s birth rate has been falling for years, putting pressure on pensions and health care. But now trendy Berliners are bucking the trend, and among the stylish, having children has become cool.
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Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood is home to tree-lined avenues, trendy restaurants, incorrigible hipsters, and lots and lots of baby carriages.
“There’s a baby boom here, because there are so many young people here. And Prenzlauer Berg is very hip, very in,” Annette Witte, a physiotherapist from Berlin and full-time mother, said.
The area’s many parks and playgrounds are full of toddlers playing as their stylish parents sit chatting nearby. The many cafés are packed during this sunny summer with moms sipping lattes next to the latest in retro-cool-- a baby carriage from the 1970’s, complete with cooing infant.
Prenzlauer Berg, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods of Mitte and Friedrichshain, is having a baby boom, and bucking the German-wide trend of falling birth rates and an ageing population.
Friedrichshain’s Vivantes Clinic recently recording its 1,000th birth this year, 60 more babies than were born at this point last year. According to statistical predictions, the number of babies expected to be born this fall in Berlin will far outpace the numbers usually born in the German capital, where birth rates have fallen to 1.1 children per woman, one of the lowest rates in Europe. Germany as a whole is doing only slightly better in the birthing department, with an official rate of 1.34.
Demographers say a birth rate of 2.1 is needed to keep the population steady.
But in Prenzlauer Berg, the number of babies has risen 24 percent in four years, according to Horst Schmollinger, head of population data at the Berlin state statistics office.
According to experts, the development is not a complete surprise. After the Berlin Wall fell, the birth rate in the city’s east began to fall dramatically, as people put off having children because of economic and social uncertainty.
At the same time, the neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte and Friedrichshain experience a massive influx of young people, since rents were cheap and the areas were "in." These three districts became a magnet for the young, the trendy and the single.
The areas also boast excellent child-care facilities that were built up under the East German Communist regime, when many mothers worked.
As the young single in the hip, post-communist neighborhoods got married or entered long-term relationships, it was simply a matter of reactivating the East German infrastructure of schools and day-care centers.
“It’s very comfortable here with the playgrounds and the fact there are places in the kindergartens. It’s a cool area,” Anja Hoevelmann, 24, said as her two children enjoyed the playground.
A serious problem
But the baby boom here cannot mask the fact that Germany overall has a serious baby shortage. The population was 82.6 million last year, only a slight increase from 1997. It is expected to fall to 81.5 million in the next five years.
The worrying statistics have made child care a major political issue and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, although under pressure to cut state spending and get the economy moving again, has provided billions of euros in government money to promote schools and day-care centers to help working mothers. The government has also increased child benefits and tax allowances.