To be completely honest with you, at the end of three weeks in Italy, I’d have been happy to come home. Our holiday had been wonderful, but home is home. If someone had tapped me on the shoulder and cut it all short, I’d have happily relinquished our week in Germany and scooted home to Melby without much hesitation. As it turned out, our extra week’s holiday in Berlin was well worth sticking around for.
Berlin is one fascinating place! Never before have I experienced a city so altered and abused by different forces; a city that has grown out of contrast and contradiction and is now an intricate fusion of varying ideologies and newfound solidarity. A simple drive through the city heralds everything from stark and boxy soviet-style building facades, to brand new historic buildings rebuilt to former glory, commemorative structures that inspire, overwhelm and intrigue, and everything in between. It is awesome.
We had five days there. Five little days to breathe in as much of Berlin as we could! It was going to be a tough task to do all that and take it slow for the kids. Something was going to have to give!
Jay, our resident ‘history-phile’, was super keen. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s pored over books on WWI and II with impressive voracity and has built up an extensive knowledge base on the countries involved and the events that shaped this part of our world’s story. He had been hanging to see Germany, and had a long list of places he wanted to visit. I knew he’d be pretty devastated to come all this way and not see them.
We were prepared to give it a good shot. Armed with a tattered map, a walking history-book for a husband (meant only endearingly), and a pram-load of snacks and cold drinks, we took to Berlin’s streets on foot. Our apartment was in Berlin’s Mitte (centre), about a kilometre east of the Brandenburg gate, so it wasn’t hard to find things to see within a short distance.
Our first day in Berlin gave us a number of firsts:
- First of several near-death experiences with Berlin’s ‘stop for no man/woman/defenseless child’ cyclists
- First pretzel – delish…but boy to the Germans love their butter!
- First raw beef and onion sandwich that Jay unwittingly selected for me from the local café’s menu. “Thanks honey, but I’ll pass. It’s not feeling like a raw mince kinda day, you know?”
- First glimpse of that dual-cobblestoned line that winds its way innocuously through Berlin’s streets, appearing without warning and sending deep jolts of unease through me.
- First wonderful experience at a Berlin Bier Garten, thanks to my super gorgeous friend Amy and her lovely partner Robert.
Our next stop was the Berlin Wall memorial, an open-air monument that extends several blocks along Bernauer Straße. This was incredible and very easy to negotiate slowly with the children. They too, were intrigued by the story of the wall and its forty-year divide. This memorial gave us all a very tangible experience of it. We ended up spending several hours there, wandering around, talking it through with the kids (mainly our six year-old) and trying to imagine the lives of ordinary people so affected by its history.
After these first two sterling days, the weather in Berlin went nuts and our plan to pound the pavement with the kids had to be somewhat revised. “Three. Nine,” said our disconcerted cab driver on day three, indicating the day’s impending temperature with his fingers. “No good for kinder,” he added, pointing to our kids. Hmmm. He had that right!
Eventually we decided to tour Berlin’s major sites by car, hopping out for brief photo opportunities along the way. It wasn’t great, but it was the only way we could do anything outside in the heat. After a morning of street-hopping, we picked something we knew the kids would love, and headed indoors to Legoland. They loved it! So did we. There was even an interactive mini Berlin cityscape featuring Lego mini-figs pulling down a piece of mini Berlin wall outside a mini Lego Brandenburg gate. Truly awesome!
For the rest of our stay in Berlin, the heatwave continued. Much of the indoorsy stuff in Berlin are museums, and whilst we would have loved to see more of them, taking three children under six into museum after museum and expecting them all to tag along quietly and remain well-behaved is…well…impossible, quite frankly. In the end, we found one that was perfect. The DDR museum, just across the canal from the Berliner Dom. It was kid-friendly, interactive and very interesting, allowing visitors to engage with the history of the GDR in a very tactile, playful way.
We also went up in Berlin’s captive hot-air balloon, visited Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and had the kids looked after by their uncle while we checked out the Topography of Terror and the Jewish Museum.
Of all the places we stayed on our holiday, Berlin left the deepest imprint. While none of what we saw was wholly new to me, just being in the space and having the physical experience of it was incredible. I can’t wait to go back there when my children are older, as there was so much of Berlin they weren’t ready for.