Kita/childcare in Berlin: Please tell me I shouldn't freak out

(28 Posts)
dreamingbohemian Mon 07-Oct-13 10:30:12

Very excited to be moving to Berlin in 2 months! But increasingly frightened after reading expat forums on how impossible it is to get into a bilingual kita or international school. Would greatly appreciate any advice!

We have one DS, 3.5 years. We'd be looking for him to be in kita from January. My husband is German but neither DS nor I speak German yet (we've been living in France) so we'd really like him to go to at least a bilingual environment.

We can't afford the super pricy schools and also need something with public transport. So we've been focusing on Berlin Metropolitan, Be Smart Academy, Berlin Cosmpolitan and the JFK preschool in Steiglitz. Also some bilingual kitas like Max und Moritz in Schoneberg (where we might be living).

Am I deluding myself that we can get a place?

If we can't, I don't really understand how the childminder system would work -- I understand it's subsidised up to 3, and can be subsidised after 3 if no kita space is available, but it's not clear to me whether they might also subsidise if you can't find a bilingual space and your child does not speak German.

Thanks for any advice!!!

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swingingthelead Mon 07-Oct-13 13:56:30

I cannot tell you about Berlin ... but my children went to a local german kindergarten and neither my husband nor i spoke any german. yes my daughter had a tough couple of weeks but she soon settled and 2 yrs on she is fluent.

just a thought

dreamingbohemian Mon 07-Oct-13 14:48:27

Thanks swinging!

Can I ask, how did you manage engaging with the school without speaking German yourself?

I am keen to avoid our current situation, where my son is in a French school and my French is not good enough to really take care of all his school stuff on my own. In Berlin I will really need to be able to take care of school-related things independently.

Also, we have just been through the process of putting DS in French school -- he has adapted extremely well but I'm worried that now putting him in a German school so soon will be a bit too much, on top of a move that may be somewhat upsetting (leaving family here).

I would like him to go to a regular German school eventually but I thought bilingual might be good for a year or two of transition.

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swingingthelead Mon 07-Oct-13 16:34:43

I think there are a few Berliners here and hopefully some will come along soon. The teacher spoke a bit of english and I bet in Berlin lots wilk be pretty good at english. It was as a say hard for my DD and the first few weeks were tough but she settled very quickly and this teacher would speak english too her when it was important. we have actually done it the other way round - german kindergarten for yrs and then bilingual school. both children now speak and undertstand german very well, the older one on a paar with a native child. you do have the advantage of a german husband and getting him to speak german to your son at least some of the time could help.

i underrstand where you are coming from for him to have yet another language.

i am trying my best to learn german and have made good progress in that time but the kindergarten did help me - they translated the important notices for me into english - but your husband could read any stuff you get and make sure you do not miss anything important.

i think your sons german will improve much more quickly in a kindergarten and ours has been super.

best of luck

swingingthelead Mon 07-Oct-13 16:36:27

german kindergarten for 2 yrs

dreamingbohemian Mon 07-Oct-13 16:41:56

Thanks so much, swinging, that is food for thought indeed.

At our current French school no one speaks any English and there is no hope of me having anything translated, which is really what I want to avoid next time. It would make a huge difference even to have one teacher to communicate with when necessary. Really appreciate hearing about your experience, thanks!

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scottswede Mon 07-Oct-13 18:00:18

When we moved to Sweden my then 2.5 & 4.5 yr olds only spoke English. We sent them to a Swedish daycare and with dh's help (he's Swedish) within 6 months they were pretty fluent. I agree with swingingthelead to sending him to a local daycare if you can. smile


dreamingbohemian Mon 07-Oct-13 19:23:41

Thanks Scott, that's really interesting. I think I will indeed look into this more.

It's true that DS's French has improved amazingly in just a month of French school, I'm just worried about what may happen with yet another language thrown at him.

My DH is quite worried because he himself was forced to go to a school where he didn't speak the language when he was quite young, and he found it so traumatic that he hated school for most of his childhood. I think he was 5 though.

It's all a bit stressful so I do appreciate hearing other people's experiences, thank you.

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NulliusInBlurba Mon 07-Oct-13 20:33:06

Hi Dreaming, I'm a long-time Berliner, both my DC have been to Kita here and are now in primary/secondary school.

It's by no means impossible to get into a bilingual Kita/school, but it's certainly extremely difficult to get into CERTAIN ones.

For a Kita I'd recommend the Montessori Tom-Sawyer-Kinderhaus. It's purpose built with a lovely garden, quite large (ie more places available), state subsidized, so the costs aren't too high. DD2 went there for 4 years and really enjoyed it. Each group has a German Erzieher/in and an English-speaking one. They usually have quite a few male Erzieher, which is always fab. The JFK one in Steglitz is also supposed to be OK, but the culture really is overwhelmingly American and most of the DC there will be going on to the JFK school later (which might be a problem for your DS to lose his friends, as you have little chance of getting in to the JFK main school as non Americans). There's another bilingual Montessori Kita in Zehlendorf but it's much smaller, just Google Montessori Preschool Berlin. I think they're more ideological about Montessori. There's another subsidized but semi-private bilingual Kita in Steglitz called Happy Kids. My friend's son went there and they were fine with it, but not ecstatically happy - there were very few genuinely English-speaking kids, it was almost all German families who wanted to give their DC a 'good start' by increasing their English exposure at an early age. Many of the 'English' Erzieherinnen were Germans who just spoke English to the kids (meaning that they might teach mistakes to your DS - not sure if you'd find that a problem. We also went to look around Happy Kids for DD2 and decided against it in the end because Tom-Sawyer seemed a better option (and has better premises).

I don't know the Max und Moritz Kita, but I've heard about one called Aufgepasst on Blissestrasse - to be honest it looks awful from the outside (in shop premises directly on a dusty street) but it might be a lovely, caring environment for all I know. We used to live in Schöneberg - bits of it are absolutely lovely to bring up a family, other bits are less desirable.

The private schools like Metropolitan and Phorms are all fairly recent and still having teething difficulties, I've heard. Quite a few DC transfer from them back into the state system after a few years. One of DD2's friends had 4 years in Phorms and her parents said it was fairly chaotic (the bilingual system tends to be chaotic anyway, but at least in the state system you're not paying for the chaos except as taxes!) The Amalienhof school is fairly upmarket and more established, but it totally follows the British curriculum I believe, so is mainly suited to families who want/need their kids to have a British education, and to be honest, people who don't really want to integrate into German society (which might be understandable if you're only seconded here for a few years). I think the Berlin British school is fairly similar in its expat culture.

The Nelson Mandela is really popular right now and has far more applications than places. Last I heard they weren't even taking people on the waiting list, but it's always worth a shot. You have more chance if you count as 'highly mobile' and your employer can confirm that. I think diplomat and journalist families also get priority there.

Your best bet of getting a bilingual state school place is the Europe School system - the Quentin Blake and Charles Dickens at junior level, and the follow-on Schiller Gymnasium at secondary (although I'd only recommend the Schiller to a child who is already competent in both languages, as a lot is expected). PM me if you'd like more info on the QB/CD - both of them have what I would euphemistically term 'issues' you should know about before sending a DC there. But then again, the same is true of any Kita or school in Berlin, if truth be told.

dreamingbohemian Tue 08-Oct-13 08:30:36

Oh Nullius, thank you so much!! It's so helpful to get these firsthand accounts, I really appreciate you taking the time to relay all that.

I have checked the Tom Sawyer kita and they are full up until next year, but I will keep them on our list to follow up with.

Re JFK, I actually am American (though I've lived abroad for some years) and DH is German but fluent in English, which apparently puts us near the top category for consideration (below the diplomats and such). But I have mixed feelings about this. I'm not sure we will ever live in the US, and if anything we will move back to London at some point.

I'm definitely more interested in the Europa schools, I'm just not sure yet whether we will still be in Berlin in 3 years. I think we will want to stay, the only question is whether I can get a decent job myself, for which I am hopeful.

Thanks again!!

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Bonsoir Tue 08-Oct-13 09:47:22

How about putting your DS in the French school?

dreamingbohemian Tue 08-Oct-13 10:07:51

We are still thinking about that, Bonsoir -- the issue there is that we're unlikely to come back to France while DS is still in school (purely for work reasons -- we really like living in France otherwise and would happily retire here). So keeping DS in the French school system might not be for the best. I think we will either be in Germany or the UK going forward.

And I would still have the same problem with my French not being good enough to fully engage with school. I used to study German a very long time ago and I'm hoping I will pick it up more easily than I've done with French.

But, it would be a nice way for DS to keep up his French, so we're not ruling it out either. We would apparently have priority as moving from France to Berlin for work and DS already in the system.

I don't know. It feels like such a minefield, this decision.

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Bonsoir Tue 08-Oct-13 10:23:44

The French system, at least for first year, would (a) provide your DS with continuity (b) enable you to do the legwork on the ground and be in a better position to make an informed decision about how to move forward with his education. Can your DH speak German to him henceforth? Actually living in Germany with a German-speaking parent will help your DS learn the language.

dreamingbohemian Tue 08-Oct-13 10:36:15

That's very true. Hmm. I just looked at the maternelle in Berlin and they actually teach them in both French and German, so sending him there the first year would probably really be a good transition.

He loves school right now, I don't want to mess that up! Thanks Bonsoir, I'm going to look at the French school some more, that might really work smile

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Bonsoir Tue 08-Oct-13 10:37:20

French and German in the same French-system school sounds like a fab transition to me smile

oranges Tue 08-Oct-13 10:39:37

Aufgepasst on Blissestrasse is lovely inside. HUge rooms, and a large garden out back. The staff are great and my daughter was very happy there. WE moved her as it was in a tricky location for us and cost a lot - about eur 700 a month, though now there is a complicated voucher system in Berlin so you may get some money off that. She is now at an all GErman kita, speaking no German at all but learning, and playing happily with friends. Some staff speak a little English- enough for handover chats at pick up time.

oranges Tue 08-Oct-13 10:42:34

One thing about bilingual schools in Berlin is that they are very keen that pupils there speak one of the languages as their mother tongue. So you may struggle to convince a French/German school that your son is sufficiently fluent in French to attend the schools there if he also speaks no German.

dreamingbohemian Tue 08-Oct-13 10:57:27

Oh thanks for that review oranges! I do have Aufgepasst on the list so that's really good to hear. As I understand it, kita is now free in Berlin so even the private fees are much reduced.

I think DS would be okay on the speaking French side, he speaks french all day at school and at this point it's better than his English. I was thinking if he goes to an English school I would have a couple months to really bump up the English.

Unfortunately it looks like the French school might not work on the financial side -- we would qualify for quite a good bursary, which would make it affordable, but they don't seem to award them mid-year. Looks like I have some hours in French bureaucracy websites ahead of me!

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AndMiffyWentToSleep Tue 08-Oct-13 18:48:33

We moved to Berlin a few months ago. DS is in a bilingual kita. I can PM you its name if you like.
We visited in December to view some - most didn't answer the phone, return answerphone messages/emails or respond to webpage enquiries. So quite frustrating.
We managed to get a place in August, though we'd wanted one for May.
Max &Moritz is huge, IIRC, but divided into rooms with 15 kids in each. It has a big waiting list (overinflated I'd guess).

ZZZenagain Tue 08-Oct-13 19:21:10

I would take the JFK school over the Europa schools. It has a really nice community spirit and offers so much in the way of art, drama, sport, music for the children on site. You just don't get that to such a degree in other Berlin schools IME. It is very much an American school but definitely the dc grow up feeling at home in both American and German cultures. If you can get your dc in the JFK school, I would take it but even as an American/German family, you need to get in early. It is very popular and there are a lot of Americans in Berlin.

For secondary I think you have to choose which stream your dc are placed in - American high school diploma or German Abitur. AFAIK for primary and middle school, they are all together. I haven't heard the same kind of complaints from families with dc at the JFKS as I have about the Europa schools. It starts with kindergarten class , so earlier than the Europa schools.

If you are looking at the Europaschulen, they will be more likely to take you if they assess your dcs' first language to be English. In this case they can place them in the English stream which is not as oversubscribed as the German stream. If you want to be sure of getting a place, it might be best if the kita is english-speaking. If dc might be going to a regular German school, I would send them to a monolingual German kita. It is the best place to learn IMO.

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 08-Oct-13 19:30:23

Most Germans speak enough English that you would be able to get by in a German kindergarten. You could always do classes as well since he won't start school for another 3 years, so that you can get your level up to speed, they are pretty hot on homework and this seems to be the sticking point for most immigrant families.

BTW - kita refers to a full day nursery, which are private and tend to be pricier, and may have a waiting list. Kiga is the word for a preschool type nursery which the hours will usually be about 7.45 - 2pm. Because your son is over the age of 3, the state is required to find you a kindergarten place. Under 3 it is much more tricky as the Kitas tend to have long waiting lists (only kitas take children under 3, not kigas).

I am not in Berlin but a different part of Germany, but we have only recently moved here as well. DS has been at a German kindergarten for 3.5 weeks now. He loves it and is picking up more and more language every day. He found it tough for the first couple of weeks, but actually this was mostly normal settling in problems and not so much to do with the language. The staff were very kind, and helped him settle in, and there was another little boy in the kindergarten who speaks English as well so he didn't feel totally alone.

I also know a French lady (we are v close to French border) who moved her DS to a German kindergarten when he spoke only French and English. He seemed to pick it up even quicker, perhaps the two languages he already had had helped, I'm not sure.

ZZZenagain Tue 08-Oct-13 19:37:23

I wouldn't worry too much about finding childcare for the dc. If you don't get a place in a bilingual kita which you like, send them to a local German one. They'll be speaking German fluently by the time they start school and you and the dc will have local friends. There are loads of them in Schoeneberg, so I would go around and talk and see where a place might be available. The problem with Schoeneberg might be the facilities. Offhand I can't think of any kitas there with nice outdoor playing areas for instance but that is not to say they don't exist. Quite a few are simply located in shops and the dc are taken to nearby public playgrounds. Schoeneberg has some nice quirky parts and some not so nice parts. Depends where you'll be. Friedenau is fairly middle-class and leafy, around Eisenacherstrasse/Apostel-Paulus-Str is quirky, Bayerisch. Viertel/Viktoria-Luise-Platz is ok, Nollendorfplatz/Winterfeldplatz, bohemian mixed with high immigrant numbers.

In Schoeneberg you aren't particularly conveniently placed for any of the Europaschulen or for the French or JFK. If you are going French, you need to move up to the north - Reinickendorf, Luebars. Two Europaschulen are in Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorf and one in Zehlendorf (south) where the JFKS is. Only the JFKS has a school bus system out of those schools. If you are going for a Europaschule, I would try the Nelson-Mandela.

I shouldn't think it is all that hard to get into a bilingual Kita, after all the dc are mostly German speakers and sent there in the hope of giving them a head start with English. It is in the interests of the owners to have English speaking families there.

The French school has a good reputation at secondary if you are happy with the French system.

dreamingbohemian Wed 09-Oct-13 12:03:41

Oh wow, thanks for all the details!! Really incredibly helpful.

I will PM you Miffy, thanks smile

That's really interesting about the JFK school. As I said, I have slightly mixed feelings in that my son doesn't really have any connection to the US and I don't think we'll ever live there, but if it's very much German as well as American that sounds great.

An update though -- it looks like we will be living in Mitte, not down south, which may make a lot of the schools not very convenient.

Does anyone have any thoughts on the Mitte schools? (Metropolitan, Cosmopolitan, Be Smart) We would actually be within walking distance practically, so it would be great if these were decent options.

Thanks especially for the reassurance on the kigas (not kitas, thanks!) DS would definitely be in the English stream so it's good to know this is helpful.

But I'm a bit worried that they don't seem to take students til August and we will need some kind of childcare from January. What do people do? Can you still get subsidised childminders, or does that end at 3?

Thanks again for all the help! smile

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ZZZenagain Wed 09-Oct-13 13:14:42

They are not established schools but schools in the process of finding their feet. This can be good (a bit more innovative and modern than regular Berlin schools, also more interesting language choices such as Mandarin) or not so good. They are very much inner-city schools which means you are not looking at great playground facilities etc. I know a couple of families who had dc at Phorms but then moved their dc to Europaschulen (didn't think the expense was worth it). I knew a teacher from the Metropolitan and he thought it was quite a good school. I don't know any families who had children at any of the schools you are considering, sorry. Perhaps they are mentioned on another forum for expats in Berlin. For the moment I can't remember what it is called, I'll let you know if it comes back to me. The tone on there can be a bit acerbic, so brace yourself for that!

If you need to , you can get a childminder privately to cover till you get a place you want but I think you will find a place. At dd's kiga they did take on a couple of dc outside their regular intake date but mostly the places were filled well in advance but I wanted a church-connected kiga and I think the state-run ones are quite different in terms of how much in advance you need to contact them.

ZZZenagain Wed 09-Oct-13 13:23:33


I remembered. Think this is an old thread with a lot of people discussing the school issue. Not sure if the schools you mentioned are discussed, the thread is 8 pages long. You could start your own thread on there maybe.

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