“Stroller Wars” dividing urbanites worldwide

If you ever happen to wander into Ralf Rüller’s Berlin café that just opened last weekend, you can have your coffee any way you want — as long as it’s black.

Adding milk or sugar to coffee is “like adding milk to champagne”, he says.

Don’t open up your laptop anywhere other than the designated “media table”, or you’ll be asked to put it away.

Don’t expect service in German, even though the café is in the heart of the German capital. For uncertain reasons, the employees only serve customers in English.

And above all, don’t expect to be allowed to wheel any baby strollers into the café. A metre-high bollard at the entrance makes that almost impossible, and a “no strollers” sticker at the entrance drives the point home.

Rüller’s café sits within walking distance of where the Berlin Wall once iconically separated democratic western Europe from communist-ruled eastern Europe. Now, his café symbolizes a different kind of divide: that between stroller-users and stroller-haters.

“The reason why we don’t allow for prams is a high risk of fire or smoke in our manufacturing space,” Rüller told the German news magazine Der Spiegel, referring to his coffee-roasting machines that reach temperatures of up to 220°C.

“A high volume of prams would make it extremely difficult to handle evacuation in case of fire.”

Therefore, no strollers allowed.

Wheelchairs are permitted, though. Employees will happily remove the obstructing bollard — nicknamed Pollino the Doorman — for disabled customers if needed.

Rüller’s policy, which is entirely legal in Germany, has sparked a debate in Berlin, and online, about the rights of parents versus the rights of customers.

“I love to read with good coffee,” one commentator wrote on Der Spiegel‘s web site. “Music, laptops and even lovely children and their somewhat less lovely doting (or complaining) parents make it impossible to concentrate on the text.”

“There are plenty of other places to get coffee in Berlin,” a commentator with a different viewpoint wrote on Facebook. “Places that don’t discriminate.”

The debate started the same week as Air Asia X, a Malaysian low-cost carrier, announced that it would be introducing a “Quiet Zone” on its long-haul flights beginning early next year. The “Quiet Zone”, at the forward end of the cabin, would be off-limits to children under 12 years of age.

Such policies are seen in some quarters as part of a growing contempt toward parents with young children.

It also comes just a month after Winnipeg-born British newspaper columnist Tyler Brûlé caused controversy with his criticism of “21st-century parents who travel with prams and buggies requiring the heavy-lift capabilities of the US Air Force.”

“So sorry that the breeders of the world . . . have interfered with your jet-setting life,” one reader sarcastically wrote.

From a more sympathetic reader: “I and my wife have brought up two and I share Tyler’s irritation at the recent trend towards SUV strollers.”

The battle between stroller-users and stroller-haters extends far beyond Europe.

This summer, parents planning to visit Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego were warned in advance that strollers would not be permitted into more congested areas of the convention centre for safety reasons, to the disappointment of some attendees.

While the convention was taking place in San Diego, an Australian father went to the press after arriving at a Melbourne-area café only to be told that strollers aren’t allowed in the restaurant during the more crowded weekends.

The debate even reached Canada when the local transit authority in North Bay, Ont. introduced a new policy requiring that strollers more than two feet wide or four feet long be folded up upon boarding to make room for higher-priority elderly and disabled passengers.

The new policy, coming in the wake of complaints that “mothers with strollers have tried to shoo seniors out of their seats” according to the North Bay Nugget*, was introduced around the same time as a Scottish public transit service backed down on a “pram ban” that had been in force since 2008.

Lothian Buses’s “pram ban” drew the ire of an ad-hoc group of parents called “Babies on Buses”, who made their right to use public transit a political issue.

A compromise policy introduced in April welcomed stroller-using parents back on to the bus, as long as they willingly ceded their space to wheelchair users when necessary.

Locally, Winnipeg Transit’s official policy on strollers reads: “Parents traveling with strollers should use the priority seating area at the front of the bus or move their stroller to the back of the bus. Parents should make sure that their child is secured using the restraint system of the stroller. Strollers must be clear of the isle [sic] to allow other passengers to board.”

Parents’ rights to push strollers into restaurants or to bring them aboard Winnipeg Transit has not been a significant public concern so far in this city — though Transit users undoubtedly have their own stories to tell. (Hell, all Transit users in this city have stories of some kind to tell…)

But as the “stroller war” pops up in more and more places worldwide every year, it’s probably only a matter of time before the battle lines between stroller-users and stroller-haters show up here as well.

* – I knew the reporter who wrote this story during my time in North Bay in 1996-98. I’m happy to say that he hasn’t aged a bit, judging by the photo!

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

4 Responses to “Stroller Wars” dividing urbanites worldwide

  1. TRex says:

    Some of these strollers are as massive as the Curiosity rover, maybe fine for outings in the park or the aisles of huge box stores but not really built for small cafe’s or most types of public transit. A little common sense might be in order as there are still the older models of stripped down design that seemed to be adequate before these over engineered behemoths hit the market. Think retro, like a Vespa. It might also be that non-breeders need to periodically shrink their comfort zone to something more manageable in order to accommodate our tiny citizens and their oblivious parents. I live in a crowded, very old city and sometimes you just have to bend a little to maintain the peace.

    Now, fixie bikes are another matter entirely! 😉

  2. Or, people could just get a collapsing umbrella stroller. but I guess that wouldn’t have a tray to place your cellphone and starbucks, huh? I don’t understand why people need the monster stroller when a collapsible umbrella would be so much easier. Oh, and those that insist in carrying their 4 yr old in a monster stroller on the bus – yes, I am giving you the stink eye!

  3. @YWGger says:

    Oh, it is a nuisance here in Winnipeg. Not as threat of injury like bikes on the sidewalk are, but quite the annoyance nonetheless. It isn’t so much the stroller itself, but the parents’ self-centeredness and carelessness with regard to their stroller use.

    Winnipeg’s ‘downtown stroller moms’ typically travel in packs and walk side-by-side-by-side blocking the sidewalk while not allowing people any room to pass. I’ve also seen the downtown stroller moms on escalators, holding the stroller behind them with one hand while on their iPhone*… would be a certain tragedy if they accidently let go, not only would their ‘baby bonus baby’ be hurt or killed, the people below them on the escalator could be as well. This and is bound to happen in Portage Place or Cityplace one of these days, unfortunately.

    * – how does a stroller mom, who seemingly has no job and wanders downtown all afternoon with a litter of babies and toddlers have an iPhone anyway?

  4. theviewfromseven says:

    The risky escalator behaviour doesn’t surprise me. I once saw a woman going up the Cityplace escalator in a wheelchair, clinging desperately to the handrails, her wheelchair just barely perched on the escalator step. Amazingly, people continued to board the escalator below her.

    Luckily, she made it to the second floor safely. Had she lost her grip, though, there would have been injuries requiring medical attention.

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