Relocating to Basel with babies and/or children under five in tow? The usual stresses of looking after young children can seem much more daunting when you don't have close family and friends close by, nor the comforting presence of places, shops and playgroups you know and love.
To complicate matters, there's the language barrier. Well, don't panic, you're not on your own. Here's the lowdown on looking after your young ones in Basel.
ORGANISATIONS TO CONTACT
If you have babies and/or toddlers, that can be an excellent way to make friends when you arrive and your first step should be to get in touch with the brilliant Basel Children's Trust , a long-standing volunteer-run organization whose purpose is to provide help and information for parents and parents-to-be in the Basel area (including the French villages close to the Basel Swiss border).
As well as running popular ex-pat playgroups (see below), the BCT also organizes social events and neighbourhood get togethers such as coffee mornings which local members take it in turns to host. At these events each Mum (or Dad in some cases) typically brings along a dish such as fruit, croissants, cake or quiche and then everyone sits around having a good old natter, endless cups of coffee and a delicious feast while the children merrily play together.
Also get yourself signed up for the BCT's useful monthly news booklet called "Parenting Pages" featuring child-centric news topics and reviews. Annual membership fee is 85 CHF; contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Another organisation worth contacting is The Open Door, a meeting place for English-speaking families. Annual membership fee is 80CHF renewable August or half- year membership 40CHF.
There are several playgroups dotted around the centre of the city- Basel Stadt- and some located in Baselland (suburbs). Some are run by ex-pats and others by locals, some speak only English, some are bi-lingual and some are German-only speaking so it really depends what you are looking for.
The BCT run the following regular classes:
- Bumps & Babes for parents to be, parents and babies up to 1 year on Tuesdays 11.30-1.30 at Familienzentrum Gundeli, Dornacherstrasse 192, 4053 Basel; contact email@example.com.
- Bumps & Bruises for families with children 9 months to 3.5 years on Mondays or Thursdays 11.30-1.30 at the BURG, Burgweg 7, 4058 Basel contact firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Beyond Bruises for families with children aged 3.5 and up, held on Fridays 3-5pm at the Burg, Burgweg 7, 4058 Basel. contact email@example.com. On Tuesday mornings they also run a parent and toddlers/babies playgroup in Binningen at Binningen Familizentrum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
For other English-speaking or bi-lingual playgroups, have a look at Basel: Early Years Education Options for Expats. Some of the most popular with ex-pats are Gymboree in the centre of town which has a very happy vibe, Lilliput (a small group run by a lovely irish lady) in Oberwil and for more athletic types the American/Swiss run Kids Camp, also in Oberwil.
The Open Door also organises parent/toddler groups and playgroups for children aged 2 and above. Alternatively (or as well as), if you want to try immersing your family into the local language- maybe you are considering placing your child in local Swiss-German-speaking state school later in- there will be a "Spielgruppe" close to where you are living, usually one or two mornings per week, although there may well be a waiting list. Prices are usually very low compared to the international English-speaking options.
Visit your local Gemeinde (community centre) for more info. If you fancy adventurous outdoor fun you could try the Forest Playgroup in Reinach in Basel Land, where your children can have fun exploring the wilderness. Idea being to teach children about nature, animals and generally just having fun outside with lunch, story and songs (in German). Parents who have tried it report back that most children like it and come home filthy, happy and ready for a good night's sleep!
The international schools ISB, SIS and ELA offer places to children from age 3 provided they are toilet-trained. You will need to make an application as soon as possible and cough up a small fortune for the annual fees. Expect to pay somewhere between 15,000CHF-20,000CHF per annum. See full school details in Early Years Education Options for Expats.
If you are looking for music and dance fun, GYMBOREE close to the SBB Main line station in the centre of Basel offers a number of sessions during the week for different ages plus ballet, art and Kung Fu. Check their website for up-to-date times and prices.
KINDERMUSIK is another good one for teaching young children about music and movement. Sessions offered for parents and children from 18 months to age 3 plus child-only sessions for older age groups.
A very popular option with ex-pats, INTERSOCCER football takes place in Allschwil. They provide both weekly term time courses after school and holiday clubs for children aged 2-13. It's worth signing up for their email newsletter as there are offer discounts and special offers for early bookings. There are several excellent fun soft play centres in close proximity to Basel.
The most popular activity of all is probably OKIDOKI just over the border in nearby Weil am Rhein in Germany. Okidoki offers an enormous hall full of soft play fun- climbing walls, adventure trail, go karts, tricycles, football area, trampolines etc etc. Best for the over 4s although there's an area of padded floor made of soft bricks for younger children.
There's a cafe serving cheap hot and cold drinks, snacks and fast food and there are little themed huts dotted around the edges which parents hire out for children's birthday parties...very popular, and once children start school you may find yourselves at parties there every other weekend!
There is another branch in Kingersheim in France about 15/20 mins drive away. Alternatively the other big soft play centre is NEPOMUNKS in Neuenburg Germany. This one takes longer to get to (approx 20-30 minutes drive) but some families prefer it because it is smaller so easier to keep an eye on little ones. Another favourite for birthday parties.
THINGS TO SEE OUT AND ABOUT
Affectionately known to the locals as the Zolli, Basel ZOO is a fantastic place to go for a day out with children young & old. It is a real gem, centrally located and easily accessible by public transport or car (although note if you are driving, get there early if you want a nearby parking space). Large enough to have a wide variety of animals, interesting areas for young children to play and a large restaurant and cafe, but small enough to easily walk around in half a day even for little legs. Advise you to buy an annual familienpass- you will definitely want to go back!
THE PARKS - Basel has fab green spaces and playgrounds for children which mightily surpass the type of offerings you get back in the UK. The best are Park im Grunen, with beautiful landscaped areas, walks, trails, adventure playground, lake (with fountain in summer), enormous dinosaur, cafe, restaurant, picnic areas, crazy golf (summer); Kannenfeld park, smaller square park with brilliant futuristic adventure playground areas and Schutzenmattpark, again small but with a brilliant choice of playground activities and apparatus for the children and a cafe for the grown ups. Driving round Basel you also always see other little green squares and play areas with great climbing frames and interesting things to do.
GET ON A TRAIN
Trains from the main SBB train station will take you all over Switzerland efficiently and in impressive clean and comfortable style so why not take a trip to one of the many other beautiful destinations nearby such as Lucerne, Montreux, Zurich or interlaken? Spoilt for choice!
BOOKS & TOYS
Basel has a wonderful multicultural children's library called JUKIBU. Open Tue-Sat. Books in over 50 languages can be found here, and BCT storytelling takes place first Wednesday of the month at 10am and 3rd Friday of the month at 3pm. Events also take place at the JUKIBU on a regular basis in various different languages such as the storytelling event in Kannenfeld park in August.
If you are looking for some new toys/games to try out, each community usually has a Ludotheken, which is a place where games and toys can be borrowed as on a library basis. Just make sure if you take something with lots of pieces in it that it will be returned intact....this will be checked! Ask at your local Gemeinde for your nearest one.
NEED HELP LOOKING AFTER THE KIDS?
Sad but true, nannies, au pairs and babysitters are notoriously hard to find in Basel, especially English-speaking ones. It's as if mothers are never supposed to need a break from their little angels. With luck, if you are living in an international community area, you might be able to set up a rota of babysitting amongst the ex-pat parents so you can manage a sneaky night out once every few months.
Baby sitting by reliable teenagers can usually be found through lists circulating at the International School of Basel and the BCT. If you have enrolled your children in one of the larger daycare centres, they usually can organise babysitting services. As can the Swiss Red Cross (061 319 5656) although not always with an English-speaking sitter.
Finding a tagesmutter (childminder) is another possible option, although again these tend to be German-speaking. In Basel Stadt, you can contact the Verein fur Basler Tagesmutter (tel: 061 227 50 75) or contact your Gemeinde (local community centre).
AD HOC HELP FOR THE ODD HOUR
Basel Kindernaescht- this is a place where you can drop off your children for a few hours to play (subject to space) in the hands of experienced childminders, while you do your shopping or whatever in Basel. It is located close to Marktplatz right in the centre of Basel. Children accepted from 22 months. Only flexible service of its kind in Basel. Hourly rates 10CHF for first child and 7chf for siblings. At the time of writing there was a rumour that this facility might soon have to close due to some of its sponsors pulling out everyone is hoping someone will rescue it.
ILLNESS & EMERGENCY
A list of English-speaking doctors is available and should be given to you on request when you relocate (especially if you/your spouse are joining one of the large pharmaceutical companies). A good site is www.doktor.ch which holds a database of specialist doctors in Switzerland. Click on BL or BS on the map and you can then visit the websites of local doctors and find the English-speaking ones.
Kinderarzt (childrens doctors) tend to be good and are usually easy to get an appointment with. Do NOT be late or you will be fined per 5 minutes and this won't be recoverable from the insurance company you are using (private medical insurance is compulsory).
Kinderarzt is also whom you should contact about baby and toddler vaccinations. Please note you will be responsible for ensuring vaccinations are booked when they are needed; you won't get a reminder letter. In an emergency, you can take your child to the Kinderspital in Baselstadt or the Bruderholz Notruf if you live in Baselland.
Helpful emergency numbers: Ambulance 144, Poison Emergency Service 145.