Dr Julien Drouart
Berlin with children: pedagogical tips
Dear parents, you are planning a holiday trip to Berlin with children under the age of 13. A family holiday is possible, as there is so much on offer for youngsters. Depending on their age and the age difference between them, you will adapt your stay so that everyone can fully enjoy the German capital.
The constraints will be both practical and educational. On the one hand, it will be necessary to find spaces where they can rest, change their nappies or simply get some physical exercise. On the other hand, some themes do not lend themselves to the world of children. Let me give you some guidance on visiting Berlin with children.
The basics for a family holiday in Berlin
First and foremost, it is understood that this article is not intended to give parents any good or bad points. Each parent develops his or her own pedagogy and relationship with the child. It is not a moral issue. All the advice or recommendations that follow are drawn from real-life experience. The aim is also to prepare parents as well as possible by helping them to avoid certain regrettable pitfalls.
The main point is that you are on a family holiday. It is about having a good time together. With young children, memory issues and traumatic places should not be discussed. You should adapt your stay for the sake of the child, not for your own interests.
In order to have a successful holiday in Berlin, you should plan your trip in advance so that you are not caught off guard. Set an acceptable budget for your activities, and then draw up a programme that satisfies the whole family: neither a traumatic place nor an infantilizing space. Finally, if the weather permits, choose outdoor spaces so that the child can exercise.
Talking about twentieth century history to a child on holiday
The risk of marking the child
Berlin is a city of history, that of the totalitarianisms of the 20th century. It may be tempting for parents to take advantage of the holiday to satisfy a desire to visit the themes of National Socialism and East German communism.
Totalitarianisms can be discussed in the presence of children, provided that the presentations are verbal and sufficiently distanced so as not to make an impression. Spaces where the visual imposes itself should be avoided. Children do not perceive their surroundings in the same way as adults. They do not understand historical discourse. On the other hand, he or she will absorb emotions, those of his or her parents, those of the place. The images he records may remain in his memory as a persistent memory, an impression, a feeling. He may even be shocked without being able to express or acknowledge it. It is therefore unthinkable to bring one's children to places of deprivation of liberty, murder and inhumanity.
Another important piece of advice is not to leave your child alone with an audio guide. It may seem like a fun gadget, but you will have no control over the information that is given. If you are not giving a guided tour but still want an audio guide, take only one per group. If explanations must be given to the child, use your own words and not those of the machine, which is necessarily dehumanised because it is mechanical.
How to deal with historical questions?
However, the question of totalitarianism should not be dismissed at all costs. Generally speaking, children are very interested in historical questions. It is just necessary to ensure that the discourse is adapted. Some museums manage to do this, I will come back to this.
An alternative to the museum would be to give priority to guided tours in the city. On a public tour, you will benefit from the presence of other visitors and a group dynamic that will lessen the relationship to the speech. If necessary, you can always disengage by taking a step back. The only constraint will be the duration of the visit, about 3 hours. In case of bad weather, do not consider taking your child on such a walk in the cold and rain.
Finally, if there are two parents, they can take turns so that one can satisfy their curiosity while the other stays with the children. Depending on the length of your stay in the city, this is a very viable option, provided it is agreed jointly. This remains an exceptional case in the context of a holiday that is above all a family one.
Some rewarding activities for the whole family
The success of a family holiday in Berlin depends to a large extent on the ability to diversify experiences and combine culture, discovery and fun in a single dynamic.
Choosing the right historical sites
Visiting historical sites or museums with children poses no educational problems when the setting allows for a double reading of the places without any voyeurism or shocking images. Consequently, the child will receive a completely different message from you because he or she will not yet have a key to reading the chronological events.
On the history of the Cold War
I recommend two emblematic places that are accessible for guided tours with children. Note that these places also allow you to have a picnic. Firstly, the Berlin Wall Memorial can be visited outdoors with beautiful views from the top of the documentation centre. Secondly, in Dahlem you will find the Allied Museum, where you can see a British aircraft and a French military train carriage.
On the history of National Socialist Germany
You can visit the Olympic Stadium. The site of the 1936 Games, this architectural complex impresses by its size and the perspectives it offers the visitor. A self-guided tour is recommended. You can also visit the dome of the Reichstag buiding, with an impressive visual and again a double reading of the place.
Finally, for pre-teens, the Otto Weidt Museum is an excellent introduction to the subject of the Holocaust. The emphasis is on the biographical aspect, without any voyeurism or sensationalism. Even better: the conclusion can offer positive perspectives.
Leisure activities necessary for the development of the child
For a close encounter with nature, plan a trip to the Grunewald forest and walk to the former hunting castle of the Prussian kings. You can also go for a walk in the Suedgelaende Nature Park, where classical and alternative cultures coexist. Both trips become adventure expeditions with many surprises along the way. More centrally, you might consider a trip to Berlin Zoo, a huge, well-equipped complex with a feeding area for children.
As far as museums are concerned, you should visit the Museum of Technology and its extension, the Spectrum Museum. The former takes the form of vast warehouses full of old locomotives, aircraft cabins and various machinery. The second is a fully interactive science experiment and play area. Then, for children under 6, I highly recommend the Labyrinth Children's Museum, which combines discovery and fun.
There are two addresses to keep in mind to amaze children and pique their curiosity. First, the Natural History Museum with its imposing dinosaur skeletons. Secondly, the Neues Museum for a look at the Egyptian exhibits. Both of these outings can be made to look like indoor walks.
Finally, for a physical workout, head to the city swimming pool at the Olympic Stadium. In the shadow of the National Socialist architecture, the atmosphere in the former Olympic pools is striking. A sporting moment with a double reading of the place.
What about the cultural budget?
On the basis of a 6-day, 5-night stay in Berlin for a family of 4, I suggest a programme including 11 activities of your choice: 3 museum visits (40€), 2 guided tours (80€), 2 historical sites visited freely (30€), and 4 recreational outings (90€). So a cultural budget of about 240€, or 40€ per day.
Such a programme is realistic because it takes into account the necessary downtime. The historical themes are approached discreetly and the places to be visited will arouse the interest of all. The total cost is relatively reasonable, as most of the state museums in Berlin have special or even free admission for children. In the end, you can use the savings to treat your children to a trip to the Berlin Zoo or a magical ice cream in a Berlin café.
I wish you a successful family holiday in Berlin. Welcome to the German capital.