I’ve been spoiled rotten by getting to move (PCS) to Germany not once, but twice.
While we are not IN the military, we work as contractors WITH the military. That means that we get the best of both worlds of living in Germany: Expat life and military, all rolled into one experience.
We get to shop at the commissary, have access to the DoDEA schools, and, as a travel addict, love that we get to only pay US gas prices instead of European!
Our first time living in Germany (2011-2016) we mostly stayed close to Post. All of our friends were American and we both worked all day on Post and lived in a town with plenty of service members. Granted, we almost exclusively shopped on the economy, travel all the time, and just generally love the German culture.
This time around though, we decided to move to a town not strongly affiliated with the US Army and instead focus on more of an expat lifestyle. We are working on learning German this time around (I know, EMBARRASSING…how does one live in a country for almost 6 years and can’t speak the language!?), send our kids to the German local schools, and basically are loving living a more German style life this time around.
But what exactly is it like living in Germany with kids? Here are some of the major things you’ll learn as you get acquainted to living in Germany with a family as an American.
Traveling with Kids in Germany
If you can’t tell by now, travel is my jam. Pre-kids, we were able to knock out a whopping 43 countries in under 6 years. Just because we had a baby didn’t mean we were going to slow down, either. When Lil B was just 6 months old, he’d already been to 6 countries (well, 8 including in-utero!).
Upon our return to moving back to Germany, we had added another member to our clan, and still love getting out and exploring as a family of 4.
Traveling With Kids
Nobody said traveling with kids is easy. However, if you can lower your expectations (No, lower. Noooooo……lower) then you can still really enjoy seeing everything Germany (and Europe!) has to offer!
We’ve slightly changed our travel style as a family. We no longer go do 8 hour hikes in the Alps, or go paragliding over Neuschwanstein Castle.
However, we still sight see towns (albeit much, much slower and without as much packed in), go on much shorter hikes (babywearing for the win!!), and enjoy biergartens (Germany has tons with playgrounds!). Things like the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival near Stuttgart is perfect for families and going to Europa Park is a blast – young or old!
So yes, there are still plenty of family friendly travel opportunities here!
One thing that I’ve really been enjoying with kids is finding awesome day trips. There is SO much to do in Germany that we could just spend our time doing day trips and still not have done everything there is to do nearby!
If you are in Bavaria and are wanting some trip inspiration, I host a Day Tips in Bavaria Facebook Group, where people can come hang out and get great tips and ideas for Day Trips in Bavaria.
In Bavaria alone, some of my favorite day trips are:
• Furth im Wald
And don’t forget about the Bavaria Train Pass, which is a great way to save money traveling in Bavaria with a family! Read all about what that costs, where it goes, and more here.
If you haven’t already, you will learn that certain American comforts aren’t as common in European hotels. But you still have options!
One thing that has changed for us traveling in Germany and around Europe is now we love AirBnBs. While hotels in the US with 2 queen beds is the norm, that can be hard to find here in Germany. This often means either kids sleeping on the floor (which they often won’t even allow due to laws/regulations) or having to book two rooms (who wants to pay for that!?)
AirBnBs allow us to spread out a bit, make a meal or two to save some money, and most importantly, husband and I can actually hang out after the kids are in bed as opposed to having to watch a movie on the floor of the hotel bathroom…not that I would know anything about that, of course 😉
Germany (and Europe) has this great thing going for them: Kinder Hotels. Now, “Kinder Hotel” is actually a chain, but there are “Familial Hotels” all over and they are so awesome! These are definitely a “splurge” kind of trip, but these hotels are designed and targeted just to families.
My favorite (and most affordable) is the Center Parcs Allgau. We could spend days at the giant water park alone and it is perfect for families of all ages.
We’ve also done ones where child care is included. That means Mom and Dad can go off for a hike, some spa time, or well.whatever it is parents may want to do when they finally have a minute of alone time.
Culture in Germany With Kids
Many people complain about Germans not being very welcoming or friendly towards kids. I find this a bit absurd. It is just a difference of cultural expectations. Here are a few of the things I notice the most when out with my kiddos in public.
This has got to be one of the hardest things for Americans in general to do, let alone our rowdy, loud kids. However, if you are ever on the train, at a restaurant, or at the grocery store, have you ever noticed how quiet it is? Germans speak very quietly, even when in groups, unlike Americans, who you’ll soon be able to spot (or hear) a mile away!
I still have no idea how German kids do it, but they follow these cultural norms, too.
While it can be hard, especially with younger kiddos, this is something that I personally feel like Americans should at least attempt to do. We keep our little kids busy by walking them around outside until meals are ready at a restaurant, or bringing along plenty of activities to keep them busy on a train or bus, or just reminding them (oh so many reminders) to talk quietly.
Needless to say, my 4.5 year old is still trying to get the hang of this one. Let’s not lie. So am I.
Dress Them Appropriately
No, I don’t mean modestly. I mean if you want to find the American, look around on a September day and find the kid not bundled up in a winter coat and scarf. When Lil B was a baby, I can’t tell you how many times I got scolded by an Oma for not having him bundled properly!
With that being said, I love going to the local Aldi or Lidl stores because they have such cheap (and good) seasonal gear! Rainboots? 5 Euro! A whole winter suit? 10 Euro! Nothing makes my mom heart happier than
saving money seeing my kids smile.
Not sure what Aldi or Lidl is? Learn more about shopping in Germany in our First Look at Grafenwöhr!
Learn Basic Phrases
It can be hard learning German when we are so entrenched with Americans with the military. However, we are in their country, so it is only respectful to learn a few basic phrases, and that includes your kids as well.
Learning things like “Excuse Me” (Entschuldigung) or “Please” (Bitte) and “Thank You” (Danke) can make all the difference in the world. It may even earn them a free slice of a Gelb Wurst at the Metzgerei (Butcher counter).
Before you PCS, start doing 5 minutes a day on a free App, like Duo Lingo. Even my 4 year old loved “doing” my German lessons with me.
Get Our FREE Checklist! ✅
While you are living in Germany with kids, you have a few options for schooling.
DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity)
Almost all of the military installations have a DoDEA school (K-12) and school services for children. This is obviously what the majority of service members choose simply because it’s in English and tuition free (for most).
Enrollment is guaranteed for “command-sponsored” children, those officially approved to relocate overseas at government expense. Children without command sponsorship may enroll on a space-available basis. DoDEA determines the enrollment policy, which will fall in one of four categories.
You can get an idea of what to expect at an on-base DoDEA school in the video below!
“Kindergarten” starts as young as 3 here in Germany, but is not the same “Kindergarten” that we think of in the US. It is more of a play/education based day care and is incredibly affordable! My son’s Kita (what they call the child care before 3 years old) is only $40 a month for 3 days a week! That is insane!!!
Granted, the catch is that most German Kitas and Kindergartens are very hard to get into. In some places near military installations, they actually limit the number of Americans that can get into a school per year (to ensure enough spots for the local kids). And in other towns, there is such a boom in young kids, that you have to be put on waiting lists months, if not years, in advance to get a spot.
If you want your child to have a head start on learning a new language, or just want to find a more affordable child care option, the Kitas and Kindergartens are great options to look into.
There are some International Schools in Germany close enough to American Installations. We actually have our son in the SIS school in Regensburg (we are at USAG Hohenfels).
This option really appealed to us because it is bilingual, so we thought it would be a really smooth transition into the German language, rather than just full on German Kindergarten. It’s also great for Military Members who know that their kids will go back to the US and integrate back into the school system there.
The biggest downside to this is that, unlike DoDEA, which is covered and paid for by the military, if you choose to go off Base, you are responsible for footing the bill.
Eating With Kids in Germany
Another hot topic when moving to Germany for the first time is parents are afraid that their kids are going to hate the food here.
I get it, we all think Germany is just a bunch of meat and potatoes.
But it’s SO much more! Here are my top German foods that you have to try when living here. But a few sure fire wins for kids would be:
• Käsespätzle: Just noodles and cheese!
• Brats: There are so many kinds, including just plain hotdog types
• Pretzels: I could survive on Bavarian Pretzels with Emmental cheese if I could!
• Pastries: Bakeries are a kids dream come true here in Germany!
They are sure to find something delicious anywhere.
Staying Connected With Friends and Family
One of the hardest parts of living in Germany with kids is knowing we are so far away from family and friends.
My husband came home one day with a Facebook Portal and I rolled my eyes at the purchase. Do we really need one more gadget in this house!?
Turns out, yes. Yes, we did!
If you have younger kids, the Facebook Portal is seriously the best thing. It tracks movement, so that means when your toddler moves around the room, Grandpa can still see him on the screen!
There are also interactive stories that Grandma can read to the kids and a snapchat style interface to play fun faces with Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and friends.
Alternatively, obviously just using Skype, Zoom, Facetime etc can be just as worthwhile when loved ones back home want to stay connected to your kids, despite being half a world away.
We do birthday parties together with Grandparents, Sunday meals with families over Zoom, and more!
Living in Germany with Kids is a Joy
Living in Germany with a family can be tough. You are in a whole new world with different languages, culture, and expectations. But, with the right attitude, a PCS to Germany can also be an absolute blessing. Sure, having a family often makes it a bit more challenging, but just think: your kids are getting exposure to living history, amazing foods, once in a lifetime trips, and a unique opportunity to have lived in Deutschland!
About the author
LeAnna Brown is a former teacher, current travel addict, and forever Mama. When not traveling the world with her family, she is living her best expat life in Germany. If you can’t find her at a local Christmas Market or Biergarten, then try looking for her at a German Spa/Sauna taking a “Mom’s Day.”
You can get fabulous German itineraries, German travel tips, and anything else Germany travel related at her Blog, WanderInGermany.com, get Insta-inspired @Wander.In.Germany or never miss an insider tip on Pinterest