Berlin with Teenagers: Pedagogical Tips
Updated: Jun 24
Dear parents, if you're planning a trip to Berlin with your children aged 13 to 17, rest assured that a family trip is feasible due to the city's rich and accessible cultural offerings. The main challenge lies in creating an engaging and informative itinerary without encroaching on the educational roles of teachers or stifling your children's need for experiences beyond parental supervision.
Discussing adolescence seems appropriate for children between the ages of 13 and 15. However, starting from 16, they're considered young adults and should not be treated as children. Therefore, it's crucial to adapt your approach based on their ages and the age difference. Here are some suggestions for visiting Berlin with teenagers and young adults.
Key Points for a Family Holiday in Berlin
Primarily, this article is not meant to judge your parenting style. Each parent nurtures their unique relationship with their child and pedagogy. It's not a matter of morality. All the advice or recommendations provided here are based on practical experiences. The goal is to equip parents with knowledge to avoid potential pitfalls.
Remember, this is a family vacation. You're together to share enriching experiences. During this explorative and non-educational holiday, refrain from acting as a teacher. Your eagerness to impart knowledge should not deprive your child of experiences they might encounter differently.
To ensure a successful holiday in Berlin, plan your stay to avoid surprises while being prepared for sudden changes—flexibility is key. Establish a reasonable cultural budget and plan an itinerary with your children to explore the city, engage with its culture and history, and enjoy quality family time.
Discuss prospective visits and points of interest together. Encourage critical thinking but avoid forcing conversations; maintain open communication. You should accept your teenagers' mistakes and choices to a certain degree. Discuss any disappointing content without resorting to personal blame. After all, a bad experience is still a learning opportunity that can later be looked back upon with laughter.
Addressing Historical and Memorial Issues
There is no topic that can't be broached with teenagers, particularly with young adults. Nevertheless, parents need to contemplate why they want to expose their child to particular issues. It's vital to strike a balance between educating and raising awareness, without any personal biases.
Regardless of whether your children are 13 or 17, they should have a say in the activities. Forcing a historical visit upon them without prior consent could risk making them feel infantilized. Trust their judgment and consider their expectations and concerns without dismissing their feelings or presumed insensitivity.
A firm or indifferent "no" should indicate a shift in the itinerary towards an alternative that may appear less appealing to you but more suitable to them. This is particularly pertinent when dealing with historical and memorial topics.
Don't Rush the History Lessons
While it's important to educate, parents shouldn't act as impromptu teachers. A museum or memorial visit won't replace classroom learning. It's more about raising awareness about worldly matters rather than merely imparting knowledge. This is especially relevant for high school students who may not have covered certain topics in school yet. Don't push the curriculum if the timeline isn't mastered.
Be a Parent, Not a Confidante
Some experiences have a more profound impact on young people when they're encountered outside of the family. This is especially true for traumatic places such as concentration camp memorials. Despite your close bond with your child, it's crucial to let them navigate these experiences independently. This is the essence of educational trips in the school setting, which allow students to confront issues with their peers that were previously deemed suitable only for adults.
Take care not to interpret these recommendations as praise for laziness or an invitation to avoid historical and memorial topics completely. Doing so would question your child's intelligence and underscore your lack of faith in their ability to comprehend mature issues. Striking a balance is key.
Choosing Guided Tours
Public city tours are highly recommended. The advantages are plentiful and significant. Firstly, the authority of the guide replaces that of the parent and the group dynamics can help strengthen family bonds. Secondly, it allows for thematic tours that provide fresh insights into Berlin and its districts like East Berlin, Street Art, etc.
Avoid free tours as they often provide inferior visiting conditions due to cost-cutting. While a private tour allows for better interaction with the guide, it can make the experience overly personal. If your teenagers aren't keen on interactive questioning, it may make them uncomfortable and spoil the experience.
Whether the tour is public or private, the guide's language should be your native language. Avoid overdoing it with the guided tours. They're beneficial, but shouldn't deter you from exploring the city independently.
Note that some historical sites organize their own public tours. For instance, you can visit the Reichstag Palace's dome and attend a one-hour lecture on the workings of German institutions for free if booked in advance. Additionally, the Unterwelten Association offers tours of Berlin's underground passages, blending archaeology with history. Entrance fees must be paid on-site, on the morning of the tour.
Consult your teenagers about the places they want to visit and take their opinions into account when selecting group activities. Provide them with a list of pre-selected sites and be open to their suggestions. These primarily include, but aren't limited to, museums. However, never visit a memorial unguided.
If you're interested in the history of former East Germany, consider visiting the Stasi Museum and the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR. Regarding National Socialism, a visit to the Jewish Museum—impressive for its architecture—and the Topography of Terror Documentation Centre is also recommended.
Berlin's cultural offerings aren't limited to the history of totalitarianism. Therefore, also consider visiting museums dedicated to classical arts. On Museum Island, the Pergamon Museum and Neues Museum offer comprehensive exhibits where the visuals tell the story. Later, you can admire medieval and Renaissance paintings in the Gemäldegalerie.
Culture in Berlin is also contemporary and vibrant. The Urban Nation Museum offers an impressive free exhibition on street art. Don't miss the Lunchkonzert every Tuesday at the Philharmonie and the Sunday Karaoke at Mauerpark. Consider concluding your trip with a bowling night, which offers great family bonding and socializing opportunities.
How About the Cultural Budget?
For a 6-day, 5-night stay in Berlin for a family of four, I propose a program including 11 activities of your choice: 2 public guided tours (€130), 5 museum visits (€80), 2 cultural outings (free), and 2 historical site visits with a lecture (€55). Hence, a cultural budget of approximately €265, or €45 per day.
Such a program is feasible as it accommodates ample time for urban exploration. Historical themes are addressed without overemphasizing the emotional impact. The proposed places to visit offer sufficient variety to ensure everyone enjoys the trip. The total cost is relatively affordable primarily because guided city tours provide a concise overview of Berlin at a lower price. Ultimately, the savings could be used to buy tickets for a show, a film concert, or a football match at the Olympic Stadium.