Every year I spend a couple of days in Berlin for work, but never really get a chance to explore the city. So I decided to come back with the whole family for a long weekend.
I was a bit apprehensive as it’s the first city trip I do with the kids in Europe, and although they are both seasoned travelers, I was curious to see how kid-friendly Berlin would turn out to be as a city-trip destination. I was not disappointed!
Here are my top 10 reasons why Berlin is so kid-friendly and what you shouldn’t miss.
1. The Berlin wall and the memory of the Cold War
The Berlin wall, or rather what is left of it, is of course a fascinating building/place to visit for those of us who watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV, had parents or friends in Germany experiencing it or simply had a strong interest in history. But what would it (evoke) for young millennials like my kids? The great thing about the Berlin Wall is that it is a3D experience of the Cold War, as my son nicely put it. Its former position is marked on the ground by a line that one can follow throughout town, and it is still visible in several places, with educational and free explanations of how the system worked and how it changed peoples’ lives in Berlin after WWII.
My kids aged 6 and 10 were especially impressed by the Berlin Wall memorial where the last full remaining part of the wall, with its no man’s land and its lookout tower, still stand. They even had actors dressed up as Berlin wall guards standing in front of an old Trabant to really give you a feeling of what it was like during the Cold War. The most striking part of our visit was a video showing how young children, adults and old men and women jumped from high buildings into sheets held by West-Berlin firemen to flee East-Berlin as the wall was being completely sealed off in summer of 1961.
Both kids are now excited to share what they learned with their friends and schoolmates; my 6-year old daughter even decided she wanted to change her school presentation from rabbits to the Berlin wall. I heard the Palace of tears is great for kids too, but mine were so tired after wandering for a day that we had to skip it. It’s full of DDR artefacts and documents, and used to be the place where people left for the West, often leaving family and friends behind forever, hence the name.
2. The Jewish holocaust memorial
It is not easy to explain the holocaust to young children. The best is to tell it how it was without going into too much detail. My son, who is turning into a history buff actually had a couple of difficult questions while we were visiting the Jewish holocaust memorial in Berlin, and had been harassing us for weeks to see the movie ‘La vita e bella’ but he is definitely too young for that.
The memorial doesn’t offer a lot of explanations and that’s probably because we didn’t go all the way to the Eastern side of it and to the basement which hosts a room with all the names of the Jews murdered by the Nazis. On hindsight, we should have gone but I was warned that it would be a bit harsh for the kids. reading about it now on the Internet, I don’t really see what’s shocking about this underground part of e memorial.
The place is obviously a must-see and I invite you to let your kids roam freely inside it, even laugh and play hide and seek, after you’ve clearly explained what it stands for. There is no reason children should bear the guilt of generations of Germans and Europeans about the holocaust by harbouring a contrite and fake attitude during their visit, but it’s your responsibility to make sure they know about it, in a simple and honest way.
3. A living piece of history
History in Berlin is not only a thing of the past. My kids and I were so excited to learn how to easily recognise whether you are in Berlin East or West. Do you know how? There are several ways, although not 100% reliable. One way is to look at the pedestrian street signs: in Berlin West, the street lights for pedestrians look like the picture on the left; in Berlin East, they look like the one on the right.
OK, in reality this street sign division of Berlin is not 100% reliable but it was a fun way to make the kids conscious of the fact that we had been moving from one area of the city to another, and to make them realise that these were previously separated by the wall they had seen and touched earlier during their stay.
Another way – suggested by EU blogger and Berlin resident Jon Worth, is to check if the street has a tram; if it does, it is almost certain you are in East Berlin.
4. A safe and convenient transportation system
Berlin enjoys a vast public transportation network that will get you to almost anywhere in town provided you can walk a bit to the nearest U-Bahn station (which can be seen from a distance thanks to their large blue and white U sign) or S-Bahn station.
The kids enjoyed taking the metro and the S-bahn, and as we tried to avoid peak hours there was always a seat for them or someone offered a seat. And the adults spent time soaking in the incredibly diverse typographies and ceramic tiles decorating each tube station. I have to say that the Berlin transportation system feels very safe, and even when our son jumped into a metro that was about to leave and we didn’t make it in there because our daughter was too slow to react, we were quite confident we would find him at the next stop – which we did, luckily!
5. Easy and cheap accommodation
To be honest, we didn’t even explore the hotel option in Berlin as it was so easy to find good value accommodation in the area we wanted to stay in, ie Neukölln or Kreuzberg, as we had friends and family in the neighbourhood.
For 50 EUR per night, we had a lovely and fully equipped 2-bedroom Airbnb flat in a very quiet area near a canal and big park, and the kids had a mountain of toys to play with. Which means that we could take the mornings off during our 3-day city trip to let them play while the adults had scrumptious breakfasts and enjoyed their books 🙂 This made it easier to drag them to museums and must-see places in the afternoon!
6. An international and healthy culinary scene
There is such a vast choice of healthy and fun options for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Berlin that we sometimes actually had to arbitrate between two delicious menus. Of course you will want to drag your kids to a currywurst stand (eg. at Currywurst 36), where they will get their dose of greasy Berliner sausage and fries.
But once you’ve indulged in the official Berliner treat, let your imagination loose: our preferred were the yummy and healthy Peruvian (Chicha Berlin), Californian (Ca.B.Slam), German (This is the place to be) and a mix of everything (Burger Amt) restaurants.
Well, maybe the Kuchenladen wasn’t the most healthy food experience, but this well-known Konditorei was just on our way and the shop window just too tempting…
7. Kid-friendly restaurants
It’s not just that these restaurants had good food. They also all welcomed children like normal people, not giving them the look – you know, that look you get in French restaurants or many restaurants in Southern Europe, as if you were bringing some sort of untamed monsters to dine. And Berliner restaurants actually are very playful, which obviously appeals to kids, but not only!
My kids spent hours on swings in one place and in the loo of one of the restaurants because they were all covered in black paint and you could draw on them with chalks provided by the waiters and waitresses. I also really like that none of them had a child menu but would offer smaller portions of their main dishes. Not that mine actually accepted to go for the smaller portions, they ate like horses after all the walking and the sightseeing!
8. Creative playgrounds
Berlin has some of the most creative and fun playgrounds I have ever been with my children. There are two I can particularly recommend: the ‘Sherwood forest’ playground in Charlottenburg and the Nordpark playground in southern Neukölln.
Endless play and fun for your kids, best between the ages of 6 to 14. Do you know any other great playgrounds in Berlin?
9. Artsy craziness
Both kids noticed the ‘crazy’ people around them. Not just crazy in their dress code, which was both impressively creative and quirky, but also in the way they talk to people or behave. But crazy in a nice way too because everyone can just be the way they feel best about, and my son really appreciated this. I think his creative self took a mental note to come back here in 10 years or so 🙂
He even wrote a postcard to his class saying that in Berlin you can dress up the way you want, except walk around in underwear. He was really surprised when I told him this actually wasn’t a problem and that nudity here was kind of normal too and that Germans call it ‘FKK’ (in French this acronym sounds horrible)! Second mental note, what do you think? 🙂
10. Beauty where you wouldn’t expect it
What I love about travelling with kids is that it forces you to find different places or experience different things in a city that will also appeal to them. And while I do like visiting children-specific exhibitions at home, I really try my best to give my kids some unforgettable experience they can cherish when they’re older.
This special experience was the Neukölln public bath, an ancient Roman inspired thermal ensemble composed of two large pools and three saunas.
The bathing experience there was breathtaking, but only my daughter and I could experience it as it was ladies only day when we went on Monday. We should have gone there the evening before when it was FKK (remember?) to experience the real Berliner atmosphere and remind us of the nude bathing scene in the excellent TV series Sense8.
So what’s NOT nice about Berlin with kids?
While these 10 reasons should be enough to make you want to jump in the next plane to Berlin with your children, there are also a small number of downsides to the city.
The distance between city districts is huge, and sightseeing will involve a lot of walking. This could be compensated by renting bikes, which is a great way of visiting Berlin, except that nowhere on our way did we encounter bike rentals with children-sized bikes. Maybe a business idea to develop there? I’ve been told that there is a bike rental company in Kreuzberg, on Büchlerstrasse, that does offer all sorts of bikes to rent. We’ll try it next time!
We also found that public transportation as a family was not so easy, with a ticket to purchase for each individual and for a day at a time. Nowhere did we see a family ticket for 3 or more days. But maybe these need to be purchased in special shops? We only ever looked in the stations themselves.
Whatever your way of travelling, I’m confident Berlin can offer it to you and your kids. And if like us, you’re more of the ‘off the beaten track’ kind of family, then Berlin will definitely make you happy!
What is your favourite kid-friendly experience in Berlin?