Overseas Singaporean mama Sasha Seemann talks about the joys of slower-paced life in Germany, and the challenges of teaching her kids to speak Malay
Stay at home mother (SAHM) Sasha Seemann moved to Hamburg, Germany in 2012 when she was six months pregnant with her first child. This month, she tells us more about how it is like raising three children in Germany’s second largest city, the outcome of an unexpected trajectory of meeting her German husband when they were studying at National University of Singapore (NUS).
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Sasha, I’m 37 years old and a mother of three. About 11 years ago, I met my German husband while he was on an exchange program at NUS. We spent the next couple of years in a long-distance relationship and took turns shuttling between Singapore and Hamburg to spend time with each other. We got married in 2011 and in May 2012, we welcomed our first child together. This was followed by our second child in 2014 and then our youngest in 2018.
What brought you to Hamburg, Germany? How long have you been living overseas?
They say you move overseas either for love or career. In my case, it was the former. Truth be told, we both would have loved to set up base in Singapore but realistically, we concluded that Germany has better job opportunities for university graduates and also a lower cost of living. I moved to Hamburg two months after we got married and have been living here for eight years now.
Favourite aspect about living in Hamburg?
I love and appreciate that Hamburg as a city is small and compact. And yet, there are plenty of parks as well as canals, lakes and rivers which flow through and around the city. Like the Singapore River in Singapore, the center of life in the city is Außenalster (Outer Alster Lake). In many ways, Hamburg does remind me of home sometimes. I believe all these small details made it easier for me to adapt to Hamburg when I first moved here.
Being a mother, I also appreciate how child-friendly Hamburg is. It was one of the first cities in Germany to provide free childcare services for all children from the age of one.
And the worst part?
It is really difficult to pinpoint the worst part about living here. But if I really have to choose then it has to be the dark and cold winter months. Even after eight years here, I still feel unprepared when the cold season comes around. It’s not easy to dress appropriately for the ever-changing weather. You can have sun, rain, wind and hail all in one day if you’re “lucky”.
Your most recent purchase…
… for your children?
How do you think parenting in Hamburg differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
There is a big emphasis on independence here and it starts as soon as children are in kindergarten. Kids are given free rein to choose their own activities and at mealtimes, they can choose what they want to eat. When they start primary school, kids are encouraged to go to and come back from school on their own. I appreciate that they let kids be kids here and how they encourage outdoor play no matter what the weather is. In fact, there is a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad choice of clothing.”
You hardly ever see German parents molly-coddling their kids which then allows them to discover their physical abilities and learn social skills with minimum adult intervention. Fathers are very involved in parenting as well and on weekends; it is common to see fathers out with the kids on their own, be it running errands or going to the playgrounds.
Did you give birth to your children in Hamburg? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
Our three kids were all born in Hamburg and each birth was memorable in its own way. With the first one, it was an eye-opening experience. For example, the gynaecologist that I saw throughout my pregnancy was not present during the birth. Midwives were at the birth instead. Right after delivery, I was left to bond with my newborn for at least an hour before they came to do the necessary tests and then move us to my room. From then on, I had my baby with me all the time in the hospital ,as German hospitals do not have nurseries. But my most memorable experience was having a home birth with our third child. We literally had the baby ourselves as my midwife was simply there to help guide us along and what made it even more beautiful was the presence of our two older kids.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-babies?
Prior to moving here, I was an office manager at a now-defunct interior design and construction company. Now, I am a SAHM who manages our household and our children’s school and kindergarten activities. I plan to continue with my language course once our youngest is enrolled in kindergarten and hopefully I’ll be able to get back into the workforce here.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hamburg?
Vapiano, a homegrown Hamburg restaurant that now has outlets all over Germany. They are usually spacious and come with a kids corner. The best part: Kids (and adults too) get to see their food being prepared in front of them.
Top five places in or around Hamburg you would recommend to parents travelling with kids, and why?
- Miniatur Wunderland – Miniatur Wunderland is the world’s largest model railway and miniature airport attraction and is located in Hamburg’s historic Speicherstadt district.
- Planten un Blomen – A 47-hectare urban park in Hamburg with a large playground for kids. The park regularly hosts many water-light concerts, public theatre and music performances, too.
- Tierpark Hagenbeck – This is one of Germany’s most popular zoos. Don’t miss its tropical aquarium which is perfect to visit on cold winter and rainy days.
- Barfußpark– Located in Lüneburger Heide, about a 35 to 45-minute drive from Hamburg city centre, this leisure park is located in the middle of a nature reserve and allows visitors to walk around barefoot.
- Ferry ride on the Elbe – When you buy the Hamburg public transport Tageskarte (Day Ticket), you are also allowed to ride on ferry number 62 from Landungsbrücken. This is a cheaper alternative to the classic harbour tour!
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
For a long-haul flight, always choose a night flight if possible and then tire the kids out at the airport before boarding. Take advantage of priority boarding given to families with small children so that you can settle yourselves in the plane while everyone else is boarding. A baby carrier is especially handy when they are cranky. You can just strap them in and go to the back of the plane to try to comfort and soothe them.
For older kids, get them a travel backpack and let them pack their favourite plush toy or a couple of toys they like to play with. You can hardly go wrong with an activity or colouring book. We also bought children’s headphones so that it is more comfortable for our kids when they watch movies on the in-flight entertainment system. Don’t be afraid to ask the crew for snacks and treats for kids. They would usually be happy to oblige and would even give you more than what you asked for.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We are part of a Singaporean/ Malaysian cultural club here in Hamburg and will get together to celebrate festivities like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali together. We also try to attend community events organised by the Singapore Embassy in Berlin. If we can, we dress up in ethnic costumes for these events too. It is definitely easier to explain to the kids about their identities and cultures now that they are older.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Hamburg
For a child:
Wooden toys from German toymakers Hape or Haba.
For a mama friend:
Food items like chocolates, marzipan, coffee or Rote Grütze, a red berry compote from Northern Germany.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Not having family or a support system close by is definitely difficult when you factor in cultural differences and the language barrier, especially after the birth of our first child.
On raising multilingual children …
We speak three languages with our kids at home. My husband and I speak to each other in English, he speaks to the kids in German, and I speak to them in English and Malay. Our kids speak to one another mostly in English. It was and still is a challenge maintaining Malay fluency as it is not the most spoken language in our household but this is important for my husband who grew up as a monolingual household and wants our kids to be exposed to as many languages as possible, especially my mother tongue.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
We usually pack a box full of food items, spices and kitchen items for me and snacks for the kids.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Never skip mascara, blusher and lip stain.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family?
My kids always ask for chicken and rice, regardless of the way they are cooked so it can be chicken rice, nasi lemak with chicken, chicken baked rice, chicken katsudon… you get the idea 🙂
What’s the one thing you would miss about Hamburg if you moved away?
I would definitely miss the easygoing pace of life here, for both adults and kids. On Sundays, for example, it is illegal to do any housework in some states or cities as it is considered a Ruhetag (rest day), so Germans usually would go for walks in the parks with family and friends after lunch before proceeding to have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake).
Thank you for your time, Sasha. Click here to read about other Overseas Mamas!