German mothers then and now

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know how to navigate the dating scene here in Germany. My running gag is, “I don’t know how they make baby Germans.” But the truth of the matter – or the mothers – is, while Leipzig is experiencing growth in the birthrate, Germany is reported to have the lowest in the world.

According to a study by German auditing firm BDO with the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI), there were on average 8.2 births per 1000 people over the last five years. Meanwhile the UK has jumped from its 2.4 children to swing towards a figure more like 4. One reason for this seems to be those mothers who can afford nannies are having more as a symbol of wealth and also people moving to the UK from cultures where high birthrates are more normal.

With many worrying about the state of the future for retirement benefits in Germany, there could be truth in the concept of training the youth of people moving in from other countries to fill the gap. Interestingly, studies show that the next generation will adopt the standard lower birthrate.

There was another time in history when Germany had the world’s lowest birth rates. In 1923 Muttertag was created, similar to the holidays already being celebrated in the States and Norway. All the various factions in Germany thought honouring mothers was a good thing and the government hoped it would help unite a divided country. By 1925 the focus changed and it was more of an effort to encourage mothers to bear more children. This further deepened the divide between Nationalists, who were in favour of an idealised version of motherhood, and those championing the rights of working women. If fact Die Frau, the newspaper of the Federation of German Women’s Associations, refused to recognize the holiday.

Mutterkreuz: "German mothers then and now"

During the 30s and 40s, Mother’s Day was catching on in Europe and now France and the UK were also celebrating it. The Nazis had their own version of what made a good mother. They thought mothers were there to give healthy children to the German nation. There was even a medal—das Mutterkreuz—in bronze, silver, and gold (eight or more Kinder!), awarded to mothers who produced children for the Vaterland. (The medal had the popular nickname of “Karnickelorden,” the “Order of the Rabbit.”)

Thankfully after the war Mother’s Day returned to what we know today.

It’s a time we thank our mothers for all they tirelessly do for us.

We make them breakfast in bed. Give them flowers. It’s not really important to us how many siblings they have produced. We just want to do something special for those who brought us into the world.


Artist, curator and writer: maeshelle west-davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums.

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