This concerns the nuisance of having someone else’s young children nearby. One legal dispute has gone to Germany’s highest court.
Behind the dispute, which has been replicated many times across Germany, lies not so much a legal disagreement as the collision of two socially desirable but, for now, mutually exclusive goals: noise abatement and increased fertility.
For years, Germany’s fertility rate has trended below the rate needed to keep the population stable. While the causes are many, experts have long singled out a decline in adequate child care, which forces women to choose between a career and motherhood. German unification, which left the economy of the East in tatters, accentuated the problem as children became a financial hardship.
But advocates of more child care — an uncontroversial goal, perhaps — are facing the hurdle that many Germans, as the lawsuit would indicate, are increasingly allergic to the additional children this change implies.
A grumpy, graying population leaves a country with more and more households where children never romped and screamed, or did so long ago. Jana Frädrich, a sort of ombudsman for child-related complaints for the city of Munich, uses a metaphor drawn from early childhood to make the point.
She says that "the majority have been ‘weaned’ off children."