Can ‘elite’ Kitas fill Germany’s day-care gap?

As Germany struggles to expand public day care, the market for private Kitas has boomed in recent years. Chris Cottrell takes a look at the controversial phenomenon of the “elite” crèche.

Can 'elite' Kitas fill Germany's day-care gap?
Photo: DPA

The Elly & Stoffl day care centre and kindergarten in Munich’s Theresienhöhe district isn’t just a safe and playful environment for children.

In addition to its strictly organic menu, lemon hand soaks and brush massages come standard for even the youngest guests, some of whom are still infants. For those parents that can afford the average monthly fee of €900, perks also include a sauna, yoga classes and multilingual supervision.

The upscale offerings at Elly & Stoffl might be an extreme example of so-called “elite day care” in Germany, but there are a growing number of private Kitas – or Kindertagesstätten – offering such posh services.

Earlier this month, Family Minister Kristina Schröder lamented that German states from Lower Saxony to Baden-Württemberg were not expanding day care fast enough to meet government targets.

“The problem in Munich is that there’s no room at public day care centres,” said one mother whose two-year-old attends Elly & Stoffl. “The people who need them the most – people like single mothers and the poor – get in first. It’s so full that as a normal earner you have no chance.”

And particularly in wealthy regions in western Germany where public day care spots can still be scarce, educational entrepreneurs have sensed an opportunity.

Peter Wahler and his wife Jelena first decided to open their chain of day care centres upon returning from a few years in the United States. With a daughter already in kindergarten and a baby boy on the way, they were looking for more than the German public school system had to offer.

“In German kindergartens, kids were simply playing in the sandbox and that was it,” Wahler said. “[Our daughter] Sabrina was bored because she was doing so much more back in the US. The subjects were more diverse there.”

With a focus on bilingual German-English immersion, The Wahlers opened the first Little Giants day care in Stuttgart in 2006. Since then, they’ve expanded to Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Nuremberg, Hannover and Trossingen.

But in a country that is still extremely conflicted about charging tuition for high education, paying up to €1,200 a month for day care can quickly raise hackles.

Other programmes, such as FasTracKids, have faced criticism for allegedly exposing small children to inappropriate subject matter including economics and science.

Astrid Kurys, the woman who brought the FasTracKids franchise to Berlin has faced so much scepticism she has decided to shut down supplemental weekend courses for children aged two to eight.

“We haven’t given up hope yet, we just can’t go it alone. It’d be great if we could find someone willing to support the program,” Kurys said. “But it’s tough because private programmes don’t have the right kind of reputation in Germany.”

She said there was clearly a bias against offering something seen as being better than public day care.

“That was always our biggest handicap. We’ve been around for five years and it’s always been associated with this elitist image,” she said. “The welfare state mentality is very engrained in Germany,” she said.

But Dr. Bernhard Nagel, department head at the Bavarian State Institute of Early Childhood Research said the quality of every public Kita should be sufficient for most children and that Germany doesn’t need any extra programmes.

“This is something where I have to say, as an expert in early childhood education, let your children be children on the weekend,” he said. “I’m very sceptical about [such programmes], I’ll be honest. When are the children allowed to do what they like?”

Nagel said he understood some parents’ frustrations, but said they should be cautious when considering private day care offering extra or “specialized” services for children.

“Sometimes it’s parents’ perceptions of their child’s needs that are misguided,” he said, explaining it was important small children learned at their own pace. “Mistakes happen when adults set the limits.”

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.