On the whole, Germans are not famed for being overtly child friendly. But that hasn't stopped parts of Berlin from becoming one giant playground.
Winters in the German capital are notoriously tough. Cold and dank, the skies are stripped of their color, and the streets below of their zest. For months at a time, people hunker down at home, only driven out by necessity rather than the lure of life itself. By March, it has become almost impossible to imagine how busy the city can become when hibernation season is finally over.
But then it happens. The sun emerges and the city refills with frivolity at the hands of the pale-faced grunge-chic set, excited tourists, all-round normalos, and perhaps most noticeably with that must-have Berlin accessory: the baby. The sidewalks are jammed with buggies and it's suddenly apparent that women young and not-so-young - because age is not an issue here - have been hiding away all winter in order to breed.
And once parents have what they must, they can do what they will. Berlin offers its families an imaginative repertoire of adventure playgrounds, puppet shows, city farms, Wickeltaschenkinos (diaper bag cinemas), Kindercafes (kid-friendly cafes), art, music and language schools, you name it…
As fun as that all might sound - with the exception of Kindercafes which sound as awful as they are - there are, in my humble opinion, some signs that baby-mania has escaped the playpen of normal behavior.
Re-inventing the rules
In the past few years, the former East Berlin district of Prenzlauerberg, once fabled for its bohemian cool, has become a designated mother, baby and child shopping mecca. Stores selling designer maternity wear, tiny shoes, wooden toys (no plastic, please), and nursery interiors abound. Judging by the conversational tidbits I glean from my regular visits to aforementioned playgrounds, at which I was told recently it would be embarrassing to turn up with a no-name pram, they have a willing market.
So, too, do the countless kindergartens and schools set up by parents and aptly called Elterninitiativen (parents' initiatives). In part they are a response to the lack of day care and schooling facilities in districts where the baby boom is in full swing, but they are also an attempt to create mini universes in which the mamas and the papas rule supreme and the teachers are, to a certain extent, answerable to them.
To sit in on a parents' evening at such a kindergarten is to watch the minutes, nay the hours, tick by while those present get down to the "to do" or "not to do" of cutting fruit and the grit of the nitty gritty of which brand of wipes are kindest on baba's bottom.
I have no gripe with Elterninitiativen or high-end children's shops per se - although for the record I never cross their thresholds - but to my way of thinking, they stand for something a bit wonky. In a growing section of Berlin society, having children is not simply something adults do as part of life, but it has assumed a life of its very own in which everything is about giving baby the best, while conversely settling for the worst of small child behavior. Dogmatic idealism to the detriment of all else.
Translated onto the bigger picture, this only-the-best-for-my-baby attitude sees parents expecting the rest of society to treat their children with the same reverence as they do and apply the same tolerance techniques when actually a ticking off would be more appropriate and probably more effective.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a self-confessed sucker for babes-in-arms and kids in general, but surely it wouldn't do anyone - kids, parents or me - any harm for the Uebermuetter of this city to temper their approach just a little.
And I'm clearly not the only one who holds this opinion. I've started to notice cafes and restaurants pinning up signs instructing parents to keep their offspring under control inside the premises and leave their baby wheels outside.
This doesn't go down too well with the owners of the state-of-the-art and oh-so-popular Prenzlauerberg mama-mobile, the Bugaboo, which - with a price tag of between 800 and 1000 euros - is every pram thief's dream. No kidding, theft rates of such strollers are rocketing in Berlin, but perhaps their very vulnerability makes them a case in point.
Tamsin Walker has been mothering for many years and has never been dissed on the playground for her no-name prams.
Editor: Kate Bowen