It’s taken me a while to get round to this but I thought I’d finally put pen to paper (well the digital version at least) and jot a few notes about our Berlin trip and, most importantly, what we learned about getting around Berlin with kids…
First and foremost if I can make anyone’s trip to Berlin with kids easier then I’d love to do so and this would be my number one tip. If you’re arriving into the airport at anything approaching a late hour TAKE A CAB. It’s expensive, true, which is why we initially decided against it, but just factor it into the travel costs and it will be worth every penny.
We arrived late, having done all of the research about what trains to get, where to get off, how to get to our place etc. and it still went horribly wrong. I’m still not quite sure how it went so horribly wrong but the trains were not running as advised by a million websites and we found ourselves still at the airport at 11pm with a pissed off Airbnb person calling because they were waiting for us and increasingly exhausted children (and a very frazzled mummy).
I’m sure plenty of people will say they made it into town fine and, if it was during the day, I’d still give it a go but if it’s late and you have kids… take a cab.
Where To Stay
We did a bit of digging before we went to Berlin about the best place to stay. Hotels are out if you want to have any kind of conversation in the evenings so as usual we opted for Airbnb and there were loads of fab apartments to choose from for really good prices (although book early for the best as we are disorganized and ended up with our 5th or 6th choice).
Having asked around a bit and done some research on family friendly suburbs we settled on Prenzlauer Berg as the best place to stay and it didn’t disappoint. It was close to the centre of town, had good transport links, plenty of family friendly amenities (there were 2 playgrounds on our street) and is also home to the amazing Mauerpark which turns into a huge, trendy flea market on Sundays which was great for a mooch. It’s also home to a million lovely bars and restaurants should you be able to make the most of such things!
For the Grown Ups
We spent 3 days in Berlin and so figured that we had plenty of time to see things that we wanted to see as well as keeping the kids happy with sights more tailored to them.
We spent the first day in Central Berlin on Museum Island which is home to five museums including the Pergamon Museum (housing the Pergamon altar), the Bode Museum (Byzantine art), the Neues Museum (Egyptian artefacts), the Alte Nationalgalerie (nineteenth century art) and the Altes Museum (ancient art and sculptures). We actually only went into the Neues Museum and that was to check out the building which was renovated by David Chipperfield after being destroyed in the war (my other half is an Architect) but it was also interesting for the kids as it was full of Egyptian mummy paraphernalia and, of course, a gift shop where Max bought himself a template for writing in hieroglyphics which kept us busy that evening.
We would have liked to also take a trip up the Reichstag building but unfortunately we didn’t book our (free) ticket early enough. We checked the website about 10 days before we left so if you are planning a trip do look it up early as it looks fab.
The final stop on the first day was the Brandenburg Gate and also the nearby Holocaust Memorial, created by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold in 2004. I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I would make of the memorial, and particularly with 2 small kids in tow who clearly have no concept of the Holocaust and the profundity of its impact but I’m really glad we visited it. Firstly because it’s an amazing structure, or set of structures, in itself and every turn you take gives you a different view that you just have to photograph. But secondly because despite feeling a bit of trepidation about how loud they would be in such a potentially solemn place, I looked around me and saw people of all different ages taking it in in very different ways and I found it quite comforting to see that this place where we go to remember can be accessible to all.
Where we were staying in Prenzlauer Berg was also close to a still standing section of the Berlin Wall which I found fascinating – but the kids not quite so much. Try as I might to explain the significant of a wall which stood during my lifetime dividing a city and country, to them it was just a wall, perhaps one to revisit in 10 years!
For the Kids
On our second day we visited the Natural History Museum which was a short tram ride from where we were staying. I was really impressed with the museum which had some pleasingly large dinosaur skeletons but a lot of other displays, including a planetarium type room (although the commentary was of course all in German) and a fascinatingly eerie room of animals in formaldehyde which looked like something out of a horror movie. And, of course, another gift shop where Max bought some crystals which then cracked by iPhone screen when I confiscated them 10 minutes later for some minor infraction. FML.
We spent a happy hour or two there on a Sunday morning and it would be a good pitstop to make if the weather was bad.
After the Natural History Museum we visited the huge Mauerpark which was just behind where we were staying so we could see the stalls going up from our window. The place turns into a giant flea market every Sunday with all manner of stalls including vintage clothing, bags and food with amazing looking treats. Wandering through the park we also stopped to watch a basketball game, several musicians (including a German guy singing Oasis songs) and a guy blowing enormous bubbles. We also spent some time in the sand-filled playground and visited the small farm where Max fell in love with a goat.
On our final day we visited Berlin Zoo (or Zoological Garden). You might think this one would come under the “For the Kids” section and we did head there thinking that would be the case but the zoo was just so amazing that I think it was just as great for us as it was for them.
The highlights had to be the wolves (Max’s all-time favourite animal) who helpfully put on a display fight while we were watching to his amazement but especially the hippos who live in a huge indoor tank and were being fed when we arrived. I’ve never seen hippos before and to be literally centimetres away from these amazing animals as they swam around and occasionally attempted to climb out of the tank was an unbelievable experience.
On top of that there were probably a dozen animals that I had never seen before so I felt like a 5 year old seeing them for the first time. We came away very happy and had sausage for tea on the way home.
It wouldn’t be a Feed the Team post if I didn’t comment on the food although I have to say I unfortunately had a bug when we were there and so couldn’t eat that much, very sad. We were expecting plenty of sausage and there was indeed plenty of sausage (including the very famous Konnopke’s Imbiss under a railway bridge in Prenzlauer Berg) but there was a lot more too. On our first day we found a very trendy café close to Museum Island which served amazing burgers and after the Natural History Museum we stopped at a café on the junction where the wall divided the city and where the kids split a pasta dish that was big enough to serve 4.
All in all we had a great time in Berlin. Despite the bad airport experience the transport system was very easy to navigate, even with a buggy and 2 small kids, there was plenty to see and do for all of us and the food wasn’t bad either (as long as you like sausage). City breaks with kids are not exactly the city breaks of old – if you want to get around there is an inevitable amount of carrying to be done – but I remain undeterred and will happily do it all again, I just need a few weeks to rest my back.