Dr Julien Drouart
Berlin with Teenagers: pedagogical tips
Dear parents, you are planning a trip to Berlin with your children aged 13 to 17. A family trip is possible, as the cultural offer is so rich and accessible. The main difficulty will be to propose a programme of initiation and awareness without encroaching on the prerogatives of the teaching staff and the need for life experiences outside parental authority.
Between the ages of 13 and 15, talking about adolescence seems appropriate. From the age of 16 onwards, we are talking about young adults who should not be infantilised. We will then have to adapt to the ages and the age difference. Let me give you some guidance on visiting Berlin with teenagers and young adults.
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.
This is a family holiday. You are together to experience an enriching moment. During this discovery and non-educational holiday, do not improvise yourself as a teacher. Indeed, your desire to share should not deprive your child of a life experience that he or she can often undertake otherwise.
In order to make a success of your holiday in Berlin, you must both plan your stay so as not to be caught unawares, but also be capable of sudden adaptations, in short of flexibility. Set an acceptable cultural budget and work out a programme with your children to discover the city, access culture and history, and have a good time together as a family.
Discuss visits and points of interest together. Develop critical thinking skills. Above all, don't force the discussion and keep listening. To a certain extent, you should accept your teenagers' mistakes and choices. After each activity, discuss the content that disappointed you without personal reproach. A bad experience is still an experience and you will laugh about it later.
How to deal with historical and memorial issues?
There is no topic that cannot be discussed with teenagers and even more so with young adults. However, parents need to think about why they want to confront their child with this or that issue. A balance must be found between education and awareness-raising, while avoiding any personal projection.
Whether they are 13 or 17, your children should have a say in the activities. Imposing a historical visit on them without their prior agreement would be to return them to their dependent status, or at worst infantilizing them. Trust their judgement, listen to both their expectations and fears, without objecting to their sensitivity or presumed lack of sensitivity.
A categorical or distant "no" should mean a change in the programme towards an alternative that may seem less ambitious in your eyes but is ultimately more suitable. This general observation applies even more to historical and memorial themes.
Do not anticipate the history lesson
If there is a duty to educate, it is not up to parents to improvise as teachers. A visit to a museum or a memorial will never replace the work done in class. It is not so much about learning knowledge as about raising awareness of the issues of this world. This is especially true for secondary education students who often have not yet studied certain topics. Don't rush the curriculum if the timeline is not mastered.
Take on the role of parent, not confidant
There are experiences that bring more to a young person when they are outside the family. This is particularly true of traumatic places such as concentration camp memorials. Despite the excellent relationship with your child, it is important to let him/her experience his/her own journey. This is the purpose of educational trips in the school setting, which allow pupils to be confronted in turn and with people of their own age with an issue that was previously presented to them as being reserved for adults.
Be careful not to take these recommendations as an eulogy of laziness or an invitation to completely turn away from historical and memorial themes. That would be to doubt your child's intelligence and underline your lack of confidence in his or her ability to grasp more mature issues. It's all a question of balance.
Choosing guided tours
I advise you to take public city tours. The advantages are numerous and not negligible. First of all, the authority of the guide replaces that of the parent and you will benefit from the group dynamic to reinforce family cohesion. Secondly, it is the possibility of visiting Berlin and its districts in thematic tours that are renewed each time: East Berlin, Street Art, etc. Finally, it is a fairly economical model. Count on about 66€ for a 3.5 hour tour with 2 parents and 2 children.
Don't choose free tours, which are a race to the bottom and offer poor visiting conditions for the most part. On the other hand, while a private tour allows for better interaction with the guide, this format makes the experience very intrusive. If your teenagers are not very receptive to the question and answer game, you risk embarrassing them and making the experience unpleasant.
Whether the tour is public or private, the performance should be in your native language. Do not overdo it. Guided tours are appropriate, but they should not prevent you from exploring the city on your own.
Note that some historical sites organise their own public tours. For example, you can visit the dome of the Reichstag Palace and attend a one-hour lecture on the workings of German institutions. Admission is free and must be booked in advance. Secondly, the Unterwelten association organises tours of Berlin's underground passages, combining archaeology and history. Entrance fees must be paid on the spot, on the morning of the tour.
Some activities to do with the family
Discuss with your teenagers which places to visit and consider their opinions when choosing group activities. Present them with a list of pre-selected places and be open to their suggestions. These are mainly, but not exclusively, museums. However, never visit a memorial on your own without a guide.
If you want to learn about the history of the former East Germany, you should visit the Stasi Museum and the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR. As far as National Socialism is concerned, I also recommend a visit to the Jewish Museum, which is very impressive in its architecture, and the documentation centre of the Topography of Terror.
The cultural offer in Berlin is not limited to the history of totalitarianism. That's why I advise you to also visit museums dedicated to the classical arts. On the Museum Island, the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum are comprehensive spaces where the visuals speak for themselves. Later on, you can discover the treasures of medieval and Renaissance painting in the Gemäldegalerie.
The culture is also more contemporary and lively. The Urban Nation museum has a beautiful free exhibition on street art. And don't miss the Lunchkonzert every Tuesday in the Philharmonie and the Sunday Karaoke in the Mauerpark. And why not end your stay with a bowling evening? A great way to get together and socialise.
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: 2 public guided tours (130€), 5 free museum visits (80€), 2 cultural outings (0€) and 2 historical sites with a lecture (55€). So a cultural budget of about 265€, or 45€ per day.
Such a programme is realistic because it allows for the necessary time for urban exploration. The historical themes are addressed without maximising the emotional impact. The places to be visited are sufficiently varied for everyone to enjoy the trip. The total cost is relatively reasonable for the simple reason that the guided city tours provide a condensed view of Berlin at a lower cost. In the end, the savings can be used to buy a show, a film concert or a ticket to a football match at the Olympic Stadium.
I wish you a successful family holiday in Berlin. Welcome to the German capital.