Disclosure: I’m half German and although I’d never actually lived there this was enough to hardwire me into a defensive position. Let’s just say that “two world wars and one world cup” was among the friendlier playground taunts.

So when the BBC sent me and my family off to ‘become’ German I was predisposed to like the place. And as it happens I did. But there were some surprises in store and they began on day one.

Our mission was to discover the secret of Germany’s economic success, by ticking off as many averages as possible. Average rental flat, average car, and so on.

And in order for us to become an average German family, I had to be a hausfrau. This included a very alarming four hours and 11 minutes of housework every day.

‘A traditional problem.’ Bee wants to understand why so few mothers with young children work

Back in our normal English life I’ve got four kids and I also work part time. So I don’t have the time, or the will, to devote such an abundance of time to cleaning.

I was surprised at how few German mums work. On average two-thirds of mums with children under three don’t work compared to a third in the UK. Why?

It seems a combination of financial incentives, short school days and cultural expectation is what keeps German mothers out of the workplace and this might make sense of the extremely low numbers of women in top jobs.

The UK hadn’t previously struck me as an especially easy place to be a working mum but at least I generally don’t feel frowned upon. It’s hard enough to balance work and family, without feeling guilty about it.

And I believe that keeping a foot in the door by working part time can make it easier for women to get a career back on track later on.

Although I was a failure at the hausfrau gig our other adventures in Germanising were a resounding success.

Can joining a choir give Bee's husband Justin Rowlatt a sense of communal purpose?

We learnt to save more money (on average Germans save 10% of their monthly wage, the British only manage 1%) and to relax more together as a family.

Both of these are skills I’d love to bring back into our British lives. Plus the six-year-old loved her Waldkindergarten. This is a forest nursery where children play, eat, sing and run wild outdoors whatever the weather, all year round.

Germany exports more than all its neighbours, indeed it’s the third largest exporter in the world, but they still manage to have shorter average working days. They also have less household debt.

Discovering how they pull all this off was a great adventure and our German neighbours helped us along with kindness and good humour.

And while I may not have cut it on the housework front I’m happy to report that I did score full marks on pork and beer consumption!

Bee Rowlatt is the co-presenter of Make Me A German.

Make Me A German is on Tuesday, 6 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD.

More on Make Me A German
The Telegraph: The reluctant hausfrau: being a German mother

The Telegraph: What we can learn from the Germans

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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  • Comment number 100. Posted by Alan

    on 24 Aug 2013 07:41

    do agree with mark, these two are more than just in a foreign country. early in this forum a british builder commented about german tools and differences in education and focus. bet he would have brought back 3 times as many useful insights from this field trip!

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  • Comment number 99. Posted by Mark

    on 23 Aug 2013 23:39

    If the point of the documentary was to illustrate the differences between the UK and Germany, why send a carefree London couple (who can afford to have four kids and a career) to a bleak, rural industry town like Nuremberg? The experiment might have worked nicely with a factory worker from Leicester, but the way it is, it turned into a parody (well documented by the guy's comical and clumsy attempts at "embedded" assembly line work and his wife's often shocking inability to cope with a life she's unfamiliar with – while knowing as little about housework as her husband did about making pencils).

    The Rowlatt's might have been able to unearth some nuances in a pricey, but much more liberal and cosmopolitan city like Munich, but they would have been much harder to find.

    By the way: how to spend four hours doing housework? I'd start by shopping for fresh groceries at a market or a better store instead of getting ready-to-eat crap at a discounter. Knowing how to cook helps, too, (and I'm saying this as a guy who likes to prepare meals for his kids).

    Some valid, interesting observations, still (particularly about a mainly non-corporate economy), but the constant whining was almost unbearable...

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  • Comment number 98. Posted by Theo

    on 20 Aug 2013 23:06

    I am German and 52 years old.

    So I think we have shown you only the best side (chocolate-side) of German life.
    e.g. at FABER-CASTEL, they took a lot of consideration to the new employee,
    especially because the camera ran with. If it had been a normal German worker
    they handled him much more brutal.

    This efficiency is not due to an innate mentality but a military production
    from the time of the Prussian soldier-king Friederich II from 1712 to 1786.
    It states:

    "The common soldier must before his officers have
    more fear than before the enemy."

    And with this cheap trick the entrepreneurs have workers trained and kept small.
    That's really the secret.

    The workers are kept in fear, because if they can make a mistake
    the mean immediate expulsion.

    Since Chancellor Schroeder is now a Einhaitliche welfare and before that people
    are afraid. There are 700 euros for a single person, but of which that person
    must finance everything like rent food heating etc. Saving money is impossible.

    Chancellor Merkel is lying when they presented only 3 million unemployed in
    Europe in Germany. In fact, we have 10 million unemployed and are very highly
    qualified in the majority of people, including many engineers and

    The trick behind it comes from Churchill:
    Do not trust any statistics you did not fake yourself.
    When people are unemployed, you get 1 year of unemployment benefits-1
    which is about 60% of the last net wage. After that, people only get
    unemployment benefits-2 that is social assistance and in this moment
    they are deleted from the statistics of the unemployed.

    Germany's universities produce 3 engineers or nature-scientists on a free job!
    The remaining two are unemployed and then after 3 years without a job,
    the diploma is not worth anything.

    In Germany rampant another lie, the lie of the so-called skills shortage, at
    least from the perspective of the government, which is absolutely lied in
    comparison the number of graduates of colleges.
    Because this birth-desaster they take Turks from Anatolia near the Iraqi border
    to Germany and us they told from government this people are professionals,
    although in the villages where they are coming from is no electricity or
    running water.

    The reason is simple:

    The pure Germans are a dying people. In the next 100 years there will be no real
    Germans on this planet. If more people die than are born, more and more homes
    are free and and the supplier of energy including IT providers get nothing.
    So they take migrants, which then on welfare pay the rent for home, electricity
    and gas costs to put the money in the pocket of the rich germans.
    But the community must pay that all.

    Again on efficiency:
    The German workers pay for this efficiency a very high price!
    Namely the health!
    At the age of 50 years or more literally explode the motoric back pain or other
    musculoskeletal problems. That costs huge sums every year, although the success
    of the treatment in 80% of the cases is equal zero!
    The German employer cares not who make their pockets full and the medical
    treatment must always pay the general public.

    Jobs at the office, it is similar only outweigh the mental illnesses such as
    burnout or bullying there. We have now so many absences as absences by simple
    colds due to mental illness.
    That is what makes this terrible pressure to perform.
    It would be better if the entrepreneur get less money and the unemployed
    people get a new job, because in the end all parties involved would have
    something of the matter.

    Work is much more than just make money, but work has a social function where
    people come together and implement a plan.

    The social component is what makes a person, for example, if you can talk about
    what happened at work on the weekend. One employee has met a great woman,
    the other has a fat carp caught in the river.

    It is absolutely vital that people can exchange such information,
    and even have to create a social climate.

    And that's what I find in other countries such as Great Britain or France or
    Spain well, because humanity and human interaction can not be subordinated
    to the job!
    All other poses serious health consequences for the workers!

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  • Comment number 97. Posted by anna in bavaria

    on 19 Aug 2013 17:34

    This all makes most interesting reading! Perhaps some of you - Bee included - might be interested in my Brit-in-Bavaria style blog. I actually posted about the Rowlatt's programme:


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  • Comment number 96. Posted by Katharina

    on 19 Aug 2013 10:08

    Thank you for your documentaries on Germany. Having lived and worked in Germany (Ba-Wü) as an Anglo-German working couple with one 14 year old child for the last 20 years we had the impression that the data must have been a bit outdated: More and more mothers work (if part-time, divorce laws have changed recently), child-care is - if slowly - improving, rents particularly in urban areas have been rising dramatically and there is a increasing proportion of working people who do not benefit from the wonderful working conditions such as at Faber-Castell: 7.1 mio employees (24.1 % of the workforce, press release Institut für Arbeitsmarkt +Berufsforschung/Nürnberg 26.7.13) receive low-wages - only Lithuania shows a greater wage inequalitiy in the EU. We feel this is the price to pay for Germany's competitiveness within Europe! But where does it lead to?
    An issue which would have been interesting to look into is why German women neither have kids nor careers? If life is so wonderful? Jobs so secure, kindergartens so cheap and out in nature? Some sociologists link this to a deep-seated German insecurity (similar to other former fascist countries like Spain/Italy) about the future - and don't see it just in the tax system which seems to penalize both parents working. We look forward to some more.

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  • Comment number 95. Posted by Vcg527

    on 19 Aug 2013 08:11

    I too was horrified at the "fully functioning members of society" comment! How very offensive! I didn't realize that by being a stay at home mom I wasn't fully functioning or contributing to society! I thought the program was really quite good. I was very impressed to learn about the financial incentives for stay at home moms and the shorter school day! Is it surprising that when two thirds of moms are stay at home moms thus providing excellent child care for their children and the short school days maintaining some semblance of a childhood- the Germans are the top economic performers in Europe??!?!? Maybe if we invested in our children the same way in the US and UK we wouldn't be in quite e quagmire we are currently in! Ps I think her husband nailed it when he was talking about the choice to stay at home!!!! I have a degree in political science and theology from an excellent university and I choose to stay at home with my son! Thankfully my husband makes enough to support us comfortably but not everyone is that lucky- we would actually be better off tax wise if we were unmarried and both of us worked! Unbelievable!

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  • Comment number 94. Posted by Spacegourmet

    on 18 Aug 2013 20:51

    Bee & Justin, I am a German full-time working mother who has lived in the UK for 15 years. When it comes to Germany's attitude to mothers at work, I am firmly with Bee. German mothers are not really given a choice. Government actively disincentivises them from working, through its tax regime and ridiculous opening hours of kindergardens. Add to this societal pressure: in the ideological debate on what's best for children, Germans assign an almost mythical childcare ability to mothers. Many of my female German university friends stopped working for years after having children. I don't think that the German economy can afford for much longer to exclude the female talent pool from its workforce. And given rising divorce rates, some mothers will have a bitter awakening at a time when they may find it hard to re-enter the workforce and start building up a pension.

    I think your documentary was spot on, even though you would likely find similar level of professionalism and focus in British factories if you looked!

    Kind regards

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  • Comment number 93. Posted by Nico

    on 18 Aug 2013 03:17

    The whole stay at home mum argument is completely misplaced. The benefits given to a family in Germany are close to 100% identical regardless if it is the father or the mother who stays at home. I know a number of stay at home dads. Also, both father and mother can take paid time off from work after having a child without having to give up their job. Each family can decide for themselves how they wish to manage these rights. If a child is sick, both parents have an equal right to take sick leave etc... Please do proper research before making such a big fuss about this issue.

    Regarding Nuremberg being a typical German city: It is not! Bavaria, its customs and the social norms are considered very uptight and even backwards for most Germans. Most Germans do not live there! In fact many Germans consider Bavarian attitudes almost alien compared to what they consider to be normal. Bavarians like to think they are the "real" Germans but in fact the rest of Germany just thinks they are Bavarians...

    Germany is a big country with many, sometimes very different, regional cultures. There are aspects that a very similar throughout the regions giving a distinct national identity but it is very hard to generalize. Anyone who is considering moving to Germany needs to find the region which has attitudes they are most comfortable with. This is what the Germans do as well. Berlin attracts very different people when compared to Munich and even neighboring cities like Cologne and Dusseldorf will each attract very different people. In a country like Germany, a country with so many opportunities, you often do have the freedom to make that choice!

    One thing is certain, Germany is a country with strong social cohesion. They do care about what is best for everyone and they have managed to resist a lot of the Anglo-egotism that has become rampant throughout the rest of the Western world.

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  • Comment number 92. Posted by Janel

    on 17 Aug 2013 11:26

    Yes there are a number of good aspects to living and working in Germany - where I was for many years with my young kids in Kindergarten. At the time places were not easy to come by, but working in a hospital as a single parent gave me precedence. Better than staying to work in an NHS hospital back home, where it was very tricky to be able to afford childcare.

    There is more to do in Germany - for mums with kids, for families, for kids on their own and for adults on their own. Indoor sports centres, ice rinks, a host of clubs for primary and big school kids, jazz societies for adults and so on. Paths through woodland or "Parcours" for the more energetic families to exercise together. Cafes and bars that allow children in, to eat ice while adults around drink beer. So fewer unruly kids or binge-drinking adults, though of course there is always an element of that - which is quickly pounced on.

    The ratio of them:us is much more a great chunk of "us" and a small minority of "them" - the socially disruptive. Does this relate at all to our education system, and the predominance of public school/private school in relation to state school, in authority positions in society?

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  • Comment number 91. Posted by NarMUSEloch

    on 16 Aug 2013 06:03

    Thank you for this program, I'm an American who moved to Nuremberg with my family of four (very typical "German") just over 5 months ago. I have one child in kindergarten and another at home with me. Before pulling up stakes to cross the Atlantic, I was a successful professional. The transition to being a hausfrau has been difficult. I've enrolled in language courses for the fall (at night - because finding childcare for my little one was too expensive and difficult - I'd say the integration course is difficult for mothers to do - another way I see Germany as bending towards men and their maintaining "power") and hope this will help in a more successful integration and hopefully a return to the workplace. I loved the scene about the noise - Germans are the most serious about their free time/quite time. My husband mowed the lawn on a holiday (unknowing it wasn't allowed) and within 10 minutes we had a crowd of 8 angry neighbors at our gate. Ah, learning experiences. In closing, I also shared the link on Facebook and with our family and friends back in the States, this has helped them understand what our new German life is like. Best and Thank You!

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