Family Travels: Berlin

Monday, 23 February 2009

The travellers: Australians Andrew and Eleanor Flowers, and kids Grace (11), Celeste (8) and Jasper (6).

The perfect itinerary: Berlin is great for families with kids of all ages––from the endless parks, playgrounds and delicious chocolatiers, to fun museums and fascinating war paraphernalia. Seasoned Berliners, the Flowers family spent three years in the capital and have many suggestions on the ideal family trip to Berlin. Germany can be expensive, but with a little local savvy, you’ll save enough Deutschmark to splurge on local delicacies and treasures.

The sights: The views from the top of the Reichstag’s spectacular glass dome will delight the whole family; kids will love racing up the ramps to the top. Home to the German Parliament, the inner cupola features a mirrored cone that will split your reflection into a myriad of pieces. Eleanor says to expect long queues, so go early. If you have a stroller, you can bypass the queues and take an elevator straight to the top (subway: Unter den Linden, +00 49 30 2273 2152, 10am-1am).

Little princesses will love a visit to Schloss Charlottenburg––a whimsical 17th Century castle with beautiful French-style gardens. You can picnic in the forested area behind the lake and two playgrounds will keep the kids busy. The Flowers family say a palace tour is worthwhile (http://www.spsg.de/).

The Wall: Alas, not much remains of the historical Berlin Wall that once divided the capital. At Checkpoint Charlie, only the East German watchtower remains, and few places offer more than a small pile of bricks. For the largest section of Wall still standing, go to Muhlenstrasse along the Spree River. Now called the East Side Gallery, this part of the Wall has been decorated by artists from all over the world. Don’t miss the 200-year-old Brandenburg Gate, where thousands cheered as the Wall crumbled to the ground in 1989.

History on tap: Berlin is packed with over 170 museums of mind-boggling assortment. Must-sees include the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie where the history of the Berlin Wall is documented at this most famous of border crossings. Kids will love tales of espionage and daring escapes, and be sure to see the display of children’s art, documenting the fall of the Wall (http://www.mauermuseum.de/).

The Pergamonmuseum is Berlin’s premier spot for older kids who love art and history, with a full-scale, jaw-dropping replica of the Gate of Babylon among other ancient wonders (www.smb.spk-berlin.de/e/loc/m.html).

The Deutsches Technikmuseum enthralled the Flowers kids, with its Spectrum science center and fabulous exhibits on machinery and technology, with plenty to push and pull (http://www.dtmb.de/).

Don’t miss the Natural History Museum for its full-size dioramas on the evolution of life––from dinosaurs to the solar system (http://www.museum.hu-berlin.de/). Get yourself a three-day museum entry pass and remember all state museums are free the first Sunday of the month.

Out and about: Berlin abounds with parks and playgrounds, and Eleanor suggests the Tiergarten––once a summer residence of Prussian kings––for a great family day out. Hire rowboats then have coffee at the biergarten on the lake. Bikes can be hired from just about anywhere in Berlin, and pedaling is a perfect option; like Beijing, the city is quite flat. You can even take bicycles on trains at off-peak times.

In summer, take a cruise on the Spree River but watch out for naked Germans on the banks! Three-hour round-trip cruises leave near Schloss Charlottenburg and include the Landwehrkanal canal which runs through Tiergarten. Eleanor says the kids will love Berlin Zoo (http://www.zoo-berlin.de/) with its famous resident, Knut, an abandoned polar bear cub raised by zookeepers.

The neighboring Aquarium offers an impressive playground when the kids are all fished-out. After the zoo, take a walking tour from Zoo Station. Berlin Walks (http://www.berlinwalks.de/) offer very affordable and interesting tours––a prime way to explore town. Despite some stairs, Eleanor says the walks can easily be done with strollers.

Food: If you are a family of foodies, you’ll love Germany. Sausage, in all its incarnations, is a must-try, and the Flowers family think everyone should try currywurtz––a hotdog with ketchup and curry powder.

The Berlin drink of summer is Berliner wiesse mit Schuss––German wheat beer with raspberry syrup. Germans love their coffee and the winter drink of choice is Milchkaffee––a large bowl of milky coffee that will warm your hands while your toes defrost.

The exquisite Fassbender und Rausch (http://www.fassbender-rausch.de/) has an incredible array of fanciful chocolates, as well as the world’s best hot chocolate, according to the Flowers. Other Berlin delicacies include Wiener schnitzel (Viennese cutlet) and Johannisbeer Baiser––a heavenly meringue and red currant cake from the Leysieffer patisserie chain, found all over Berlin.

For a lazy brunch, Eleanor suggests the gorgeous Café Wintergarten at Literaturhaus, where kids can browse the bookshop in the basement (Fasanenstrausse 23, +00 49 30 882 5414, 9.30am-1am).

Getting around: Berlin’s public transport, including the U-Bahn underground train and S-Bahn above-ground train, is fantastic and affordable, especially if you buy a 72-hour Berlin WelcomeCard which allows unlimited travel on trains, buses and trams for three days, as well as up to 50 percent off entry to more than 130 sights. Families can buy a card for one adult and three kids (up to 14 years), saving even more money.

Another tip is to take the hop on–hop off bus, with 15 hot-spot stops around the city. Tickets are valid for 24 hours and you can hop on or off at any time, with buses arriving every 15-30 minutes. If you have two hours, take the full bus tour, with English commentary.

Where to stay: The Flowers family recommends looking for a pension or guesthouse in Berlin, as they are better value than hotels. Try en.venere.com/pensions_berlin for unbiased reviews on pensions, B&Bs and serviced apartments.

Buyfest: Kurfürstendamm (Ku Damm), the Rodeo Drive of Berlin, is a must-browse. If you want something a little less purse-draining, Berlin’s regular weekend markets are a must-see, with antiques, handicrafts, toys and astounding food. If you have older children who love to shop, don’t miss KaDeWe, a Harrods-like department store––the largest on the continent. Steiff Bears on Ku Damm is well worth a visit for teddy-bear lovers and is perhaps even worth a splurge, or a childhood-inducing daze at the very least.

Biggest splurge: Restaurant meals are expensive in Berlin, and you could easily blow a fortune on the exquisite local porcelain. Stores sparkling with Christmas decorations are open year-round and will quickly empty your wallet, but nothing beats Germany’s superb, hand-made ornaments, according to Eleanor. She highly recommends the beautiful weihnachts pyramides––or Christmas candle pyramids.

Biggest bargain: Dad will be happy––beer is cheap everywhere, and strict laws on production means it’s all good. As for food, Eleanor suggests going out to brunch or a late breakfast; these enormous meals are great value for money. Laden with traditional meats, sausage, eggs, cheeses, bread, juice and coffee, they will fill up your family till dinner time.

When to go: All seasons are wonderful in Berlin but winter creates a fairytale wonderland. If you go in December, you can’t miss the Christmas fairs and markets happening all over town, sparkling with ornaments, candles, food and Christmas magic. Gluwhein-sampling for mom and dad is a must. Eleanor says there’s always some festival or event happening at this time. Check www.berlin-life.com/events/events.php before you travel.

For more information, visit http://www.visitberlin.de/ and http://www.berlin-life.com/.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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