6th September

As I may have mentioned before, our day at IBA is punctuated by many breaks. There is breakfast at 9, lunch at noon, and tea at 2:30. Tea at IBA is taken in one's working groups, so perhaps ten of us gather in one of the labs for coffee, beer, and biscuits. (This contrasts in my mind with Bristol, where all the students and professors would form a river with their tea mugs and converge on a single room where well-dressed servers would have giant pots of water boiling.)

One day over lunch we are discussing linguistics and Ping mentions that the program (memrise) that we are using to expand our German vocabularies has presented her with the phrase “to have intercourse with”. The conversation quickly degenerates into the many variations one can use to express that. Somewhere in the middle, I ask Uwe what the birth rate in Germany is. “1.3”, he replies before conjecturing that within not too many years all the Germans will go extinct and the country will perhaps turn into an Islamic state.

A week or so later, when we're near Hanstein, the topic will come up again. I'd understood the different in birth rates between Norway (1.7) and Italy (1.1) to be primarily due to better government programs and laws supporting pregnant women. Norway provides paid time off of work, free child care, et cetera; Italy does not. Uwe explains that in Germany, one can take three years off from work after one as a child and still be legally entitled to get their old job back. Copied below are excerpts from a 02006 BBC article on birthrates in Europe. Keep in mind that birthrate of 2.1 in the “developed world” is considered necessary to maintain a population level (it may need to be much higher elsewhere).

Nordic governments employ a range of policies designed to help couples have more children. These governments have a long history of social policies aimed at helping people balance their work and family life. This is part of what is known as the "Nordic model". In Sweden, each parent is entitled to 18 months leave, which is paid for by the government. Public day care is heavily subsidised and flexible work schedules are common - women with children of pre-school age are entitled to reduce their working hours. Women's participation in the work force is high. In Norway, mothers are entitled to 12 months off work with 80% pay or 10 months with full pay. Fathers are entitled to take almost all of that leave instead of the mother. Fathers must take at least four weeks leave or else those weeks will be lost for both parents. The leave is financed through taxes, so employers don't lose out. Birth rates per woman: Norway: 1.81, Sweden: 1.75

In the UK, New mothers currently get six months' paid leave and the option of six months further unpaid leave. The first six weeks are at 90% of pay and the next 20 at £102.80 per week. New fathers are allowed two weeks' paid leave at a maximum £102.80 a week. The government offers free early education places. Children from the age of four get free part-time places at nurseries - some three year olds also get places. Parents of children under the age of six have the right to ask their employers for more flexible working hours. Although employers don't have to agree with the request, they have to show they have considered it carefully. Birth rate: 1.74

Germany has long had one of the lowest birth rates in the European Union and one of the highest proportions of childless women. According to EU statistics from 02005, 30% of German women have not had children. Demographers say Germany's problem has probably been made worse because it has been ignored for so long The government offers 14 weeks maternity leave plus parental leave of up to 36 months, with the level of pay depending on a number of factors. One of the biggest problems is a real lack of child care places. According to government figures, only one in five children under three get a place in day care. Not only do they close at lunch time, but the fees are incredibly high. Another problem for working parents is that traditionally, the school day ends at 1pm. The government has now lifted the birth rate to the top of the political agenda. In January, it adopted a bill to give tax breaks to families. It has also floated the idea of eliminating fees for kindergarten. Birth rate: 1.37

Italy has long had a problem with declining birth rates. The problems include what is perceived to be a bias in the workplace to women who interrupt their careers to have children, the high fees charged by private nurseries and a chronic shortage of affordable housing for young people. The Italian government offers a one-time payment of 1,000 euros (£685) to couples who have a second child. Late last year a proposal that mooted paying women not to have abortions gained popular support in Parliament. Birth rate: 1.33

Births per Woman in Europe

In looking at overhead maps of Heilbad before coming to it, one of my dreams was walking to walk each day through the forest. That forest turned out to conceal two tall ridges and no direct trail, ruling this out. It didn't stop me from walking home that way one day, though.

Coming around from the first ridge, I was feeling somewhat glucose-deplete, so I had one of the sugar packets I always carry with me and walked down the road a ways to see how far I was from town, hoping that maybe this would be a way to walk to work. Soon I saw that there was no such luck, I was well up between the ridges and quite a bit higher than the road. There was naught but mountains, trees, and beautiful, isolate cottage with some shaggy livestock grazing nearby. Since I am reading James Harriot (as I do every time I travel abroad), it was hard not to think of how lonely and cold it could be up here in a few months… and of animals giving birth.

I followed the road into the woods and then turned in the direction of home, but as I hiked along, I began to suspect that the road would eventually meet up with the path Ping and I had taken the other day. Therefore, when I arrived at the bottom of a steep gully, I was easily drawn up it and into a trackless territory.

But no part of Germany is truly trackless and soon, I was staring at a sign post which had every route on it save the one I wanted. Luckily, at that moment, Deitmar and Ingrid—two random people—showed up and invite me to walk with them.

Dietmar explains that he works with IBA's old sister company. The two used to be cojoined with IBA doing the base-level research and the other company doing the production, but it's hard to keep a group together when it's doing two different things like that. For the first part of the walk, I'm convinced that Dietmar and Ingrid are married, but he tells me later on that she's actually his mother. That explains the completely white hair, but she's quite spry, cruising up the ridge with us. Our conversation is primarily in German, but also in English. Dietmar says he learned this in school and was motivated to do well by the very attractive teacher he had, but complains that he doesn't get to use it very often. Not infrequently, the Dietmar will be speaking to me in German, gradually speed up, say something incomprehensible and then laugh loudly while maintaining a very observant look. Taken out of context, there's something vaguely menacing about it.

Eventually, we loop around to the Dunncross from which Ping and I survey the city last week. Dietmar translates that after the war, soldiers returning to Heilbad cleared a space on the hilltop and set up this giant cross overlooking the city. It's since been replaced once because the original wood deteriorated. We continue walking and the trail loops down to the edge of the pasture, then Dietmar and Ingrid say good-bye and walk back into the woods towards their car and I walk through Heilbad in twilight towards my flat. It's especially beautiful at this time of day, though disorientating in a spatiotemporal sense.

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Little Cousin - Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 21:10:18 (PDT)
That sounds like the most fantastic commute home. I envy you. Also - I love the photos of the shaggies! Most adorable.