In a leafy and prosperous suburban enclave of Berlin, a discreetly placed sign points to a pathway screened by bushes. At the top of the path, plants artfully disguise a heavy steel trapdoor fixed into a wall. It looks like a laundry hatch, but open it and inside is a cozy, lighted and heated cubicle. A sign reads “Babywiege”, the German word for a cradle: a tactful name for a steel box where newborn babies can be abandoned in complete anonymity and privacy at the city’s Waldfriede Hospital. It is a practice accepted in Germany, yet it is illegal.
The “baby hatch” is lined with a cheerful yellow baby changing-mat and a soft embroidered blanket. A plain white envelope addressed to the person abandoning their baby sits in the middle of the yellow blanket. It contains a letter offering counseling to the grieving mother, and a telephone number. Once the steel door closes, it cannot be opened again: a sensor is triggered by the baby’s movement. An arrival is recorded by a small video camera in the corner of the box, and an alarm goes off within the hospital. The future of a vulnerable new life is now out of the hands of its parents.