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Berlin "must-dos" for active family with 10, 13 yo

We are thinking of staying in Berlin 3 nights next year. I checked out and looked at his recommended "3 star sights." Thus far strongly considering:

  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Berlin Wall Memorial
  • DDR Museum

What else do you recommend? We are an active family. I see that Rick recommends the Reichstag and climbing its dome, but what is it exactly and why is it rated so high? What else is there to do besides climb the dome? What makes the Checkpoint Charlie museum different than the Berlin Wall Memorial, and is it worth doing both?

We have a "one 'traditional, big, fussy' museum per trip" unofficial rule in our family, which we will have already exhausted on this trip with the British Museum. Are any of the other museums (e.g. German History Museum) smaller or more "bite-sized"? We are also not interested in museums that we could see elsewhere (e.g. Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection sounds interesting but I can see Surrealists anywhere, including America). Similarly, we're not interested in "typical kid-type" attractions that we can see pretty much anywhere else like aquariums or botanical gardens.

Thanks for any help! Basically, we are looking for something "uniquely Berlin" that will appeal to both kids and adults without overwhelming us with "museum fatigue," ha! Our family is very interested in WWII history and my kids are good travelers, although I don't want to get into anything too sad/Holocaust-related with them just yet. My oldest has been studying the Holocaust a lot in school but I don't think she's ready for visual displays at museums. I can barely take it myself. :(

Posted by
1493 posts

Absolutely unique is that Berlin was the absolute frontline of the Cold War with two different states. Related to this we have a lot sights fun to explore at a day. I place them in an order which I find meaningful to follow.

Please do not wonder that Checkpoint Charlie is not listed. Common opinion in diverse Berlin that this sight is unauthentic and commercialized - so currently long discussions what to make out of it. This is also the answer of difference between places: authenticity. Also three things in list above are more commercial but still some sort of authentic in experience, e.g. Trabi Safari. That was the only available car with delivery times of 10-12 years.

I grew up in Berlin and lived with that stuff on the western site of the wall and can tell you that this was really not fun. Just as example: I never knew as a child which small towns are around Berlin because they were simply out of range, no chance to get there. Why I should have known their names? Even just driving right through GDR on pre-defined transit streets was a real intimidating experience.

It will be a long day you will never forget. May be let your kids prepare that.

Posted by
7748 posts

Mostly an outside exhibit, please do take your family to visit the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews.” You walk through and around it. It is strong but your daughter ( or you) won’t be seeing graphic depictions of the Holocaust rather a memorial to innocent lives lost. In a sense, you are paying your respects to them.
It is about one block from Brandenburg Gate and fills a city block. There are many memorials in Berlin dedicated to the Holocaust very different from other parts of Germany.
Take a WWII walking tour. You will be shown where the wartime sites were located although today modern buildings are located there.
Don’t bother with CheckPoint Charlie, a touristy redo of original site.
A boat ride on the Spree River which travels in between the new govt buildings would be a fun excursion.
The Reichstag?(Germany’s Parliament)
Rather than me explaining it, please google for the explanation of it’s history, the fire during Hitler’s time, the restoration, etc.. We waited to get tickets when we were in Berlin but they were all sold out. I would definitely visit it.

Posted by
901 posts

@MarkK, the Trabi Safari looks awesome! Exactly the kind of “quirky/independent yet semi-guided” thing we like to do.

@Suki, thanks for the suggestion of the outdoor memorial, will def. consider that.

Posted by
5557 posts

If you don’t know what the Reichstag is, then you have some basic research to undertake! It’s certainly worth getting tickets in advance as the tour is excellent.

Avoid checkpoint Charlie.

I enjoyed the tour of the former Tempelhof airport, but I had a week there. With only 3 nights ie 2 days, you aren’t going to be able to cover much of what the city has to offer.

The DDR Museum doesn’t take long to go round and is best covered in the evening when there are no queues. The Holocaust Memorial is worth walking through. I went on an excellent half day walking tour.

Posted by
12898 posts

"...very interested in WW2 history...." Depending on your level of interest in the subject, you can track down a number of related sites. Aside form the coverage in the German History Museum, I would suggest the museum on the Eastern front in Berlin-Karlshorst, housed in the same building where on 9 May the Germans signed the surrender with the Soviets. In 1945 the Germans signed 4 surrenders. This building in 1945 belonged to the Army, which was undamaged amidst the bombing, artillery shelling, and devastation that was going on.

Taking the S-3 to Karlshorst, then walk 35 mins or the bus that stops just about in front of the Museum. You'll recognise it when you see Soviet WW2 tanks and artillery pieces in the front garden.

How about seeing the miltary cemeteries? The British RAF cemetery is on Heerstrasse, where British air crews shot down during air raids on Berlin as part of the strategic bombing offensive are buried. There is the Invalidenfriedhof ca 40 mins from Berlin Hbf, the oldest and most famous Prussian-German military cemetery in Berlin, has a section where victims of the Anglo-American bombing are buried as well as the WW2 section.

In Berlin are 3 Soviet WW2 memorials, in Pankow, Treptow (the big one) and in Charlottenburg on Strasse de 17 Juni, which prior to 1953 was known as "Charlottenburger Chausee".

Another museum "unique" historically to Berlin...the Resistance Museum, ie Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand, on Strauffenberg Strasse. This was OKH command HQ during the war where the Army resistance plot was centered in 1944 under the guise of the Replacement Army (Ersatzarmee). In 1944 this group right in Berlin remained undetected by the Nazi authorities the bomb went off on 20 July 1944, whereas the other two resistance groups had been detected. The grounds are a memorial site.

Keep in mind also that Berlin's historical sites are not limited to those connected with the Nazi period and the war. Numerous sites showing and connected to Prussian history can be seen too if you know what to look for and go.

Posted by
590 posts

If I ever return to Berlin, the Reichstag will be tops on my list, even though I have been there. It is amazing from so many perspectives -- historically, architecturally, environmentally, and it is a very visible tribute to the value of having a transparent system of government. You also have wonderful views across Berlin from the rooftop. The audio tour provides a very good description of all of it. Our time there was almost magical.

Posted by
8120 posts

You might want to visit the Olympic Stadium, Track 17, and go to the top of the TV tower.

Posted by
3034 posts

I think the Berlin Airlift continues to be one of the US's greatest moments (the UK also participated). A part of the Airlift that appeals to kids/teens is the story of Gail Halvorsen, the "Candy Bomber" who began dropping candy to the children of Berlin as a part of the Airlift. Here is a short, 5-minute outtake from a PBS documentary about the Candy Bomber (the full documentary is here).

Tempelhof Airport (mentioned above) was one of the primary airports for the Airlift (and candy drops!). I thought the tour was great, and there is a mural in the decommissioned airport related to the Airlift that is part of the tour. Outside the airport is a memorial to the Airlift and those who lost their lives during it.

There is a small exhibit about Halvorsen at the Alliiertier Museum (Allies Museum) that is located in the old US military section of the former West Berlin. The museum is free and reasonably small/manageable. On Sundays, you can pay 1 euro to walk through a Hastings TG 503 aircraft that was likely used in the Airlift.

Colonel Halvorsen is now 98 years old and still participates in candy drop recreations like this one on the North Carolina coast last December. He is easily the nicest man I have ever met.

I don't know your budget, but if you would like a little piece of walking history, consider a private tour with Robert Sommer. He was the 15 yo son of a DDR bureaucrat when the Berlin Wall fell. He can tell you about growing up in the DDR, his experience of the fall of the Wall, and the capitalist product he held out the longest on trying.

The history of the Reichstag/Bundestag runs deep. There is an audioguide to which you can listen as you walk the cupola; it talks about the Reichstag's history and tells you about what you are seeing in the cityscape. You can walk the cupola until fairly late (I did it at twilight) -- so, it can be an evening activity.

The Rausch Schokoladenhaus with its chocolate sculptures of Berlin landmarks, hot chocolate cafe, and other chocolate delicacies is an interesting place if you are in the neighborhood.

The Berlin Wall Memorial lets you see an original portion of the wall as it actually existed; Checkpoint Charlie is kitsch. I have to admit I have not been in the Checkpoint Charlie museum, so I can't comment on it.

Berlin Underground offers tours of a WWII air raid shelter. In a nearby park (Vokspark Humboldthain), you can stand atop a partially collapse WWII anti-aircraft tower (Flakturm).

Volkspark Friedrichshain has a nifty fairy tale fountain (Märchenbrunnen) and lots of Berliners being Berliners.

As someone mentioned above, your time is short, so you obviously can't do everything.

Happy planning!

Posted by
3111 posts

I do your children like zoos? Berlin has a world famous one on the edge of a gigantic green space in the heart of Berlin.

Spend a few hours at the zoo then walk over the bridge to the northeast and you are at one of the lakes in the garden, Neuen See in the Tiergarten. You can rent boats, have lunch or a snack at the cafe overlooking the lake or start a long walk or bike ride through the tree filled park.

Posted by
901 posts

Wow, thanks everyone - so many helpful responses! I have a lot to research!! :)

@Dave - The Berlin Underground tours you referenced look really interesting. There are 3 that would allow kids my age: Dark World (bunkers in the subway/WW2 bombing raids), Cold War Nuclear Bunkers, and Under the Berlin Wall (escape tunnels). All tours say they are recommended for ages 14 and up but allow kids as young as 8.

Which tour(s) did you do, and do you recall any super sensitive topics that might be inappropriate or disturbing for children? My will-be-10-year-old son is actually way more interested in/knowledgeable about the WW2/Cold War stuff than his 13-yo sister, so he's got the interest, but I do wonder why they say all over the site that they recommend age 14.

Posted by
12898 posts

If you want to see a battlefield site and memorial, I suggest going out to Seelow, ie take the regional train from Berlin Hbf to Frankfurt an der Oder, then the S-Bahn to Seelow to see the Seelow Heights memorial and battle site, the largest and greatest battle fought on German soil in 1945 when the Soviets began their massive offensive. It's called Seelower Höhen Gedenkstätte.

Posted by
3034 posts

I did the Dark Worlds tour. I do not recall anything that would be distressing to a 10-year-old, and I vaguely recall some kids that age on the tour. I looked at the minimum age section on the website. I think the issue is more the presentation style than the content. The presentation is geared toward adults; it's not a hands-on, fun-fun-fun, kid-driven experience. I'm guessing a 10 yo who lives with adults who want to broaden his life experience by doing things like taking a trip to Europe has been reared to be a thoughtful fellow who can manage one of the tours just fine.

My oldest has been studying the Holocaust a lot in school but I don't
think she's ready for visual displays at museums.

You should NOT include it on this trip because you do not have time (and because the kids need to be older), but I will say that I found the exhibit at Ravensbrück excellent. The story of the camp is illustrated mostly through drawings of the women who were prisoners there. There are few if any photos of atrocities.

Posted by
150 posts

You've gotten a lot of great ideas above, most dealing with WWII history. So I'm going to go in the opposite direction and recommend a trip to the KaDeWe - Kaufhaus des Westens. It's the second largest department store in Europe, and was a symbol of West Berlin's economic prosperity over the East. Now, you might be thinking, "Why would I go to a department store in Berlin?" And you would be right to skip the first five floors. But the top two - Oh, they are a foodie's paradise. Wander around the counters, try the samples. My dad and I must have spent two hours up there. I think your kids would get a kick out of it, and it could be a break from the WWII activities and sites. Then, about 10 minutes down the street, you can visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche/Memorial Church, which was bombed in WWII and left in that state as a memorial.

Posted by
21086 posts

I found the Checkpoint Charlie Museum very interesting. It has a heavy focus on escape attempts. It does get very crowded, though.

Posted by
1493 posts

Just as add-on to Allison's recommendation:
What you can see today as rest of old Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is not what was left over after war. Some of the original ruine photos can be seen on German Wikipedia page. People of Berlin wanted to rebuild it but were not allowed by occupation forces.

Posted by
719 posts

I would highly recommend the Berlin free tour that runs several times a day from the Brandenburg gate:

Your family will get a good review of WWII and communism, walk thru the Jewish Memorial, stand on top of Hitler's bunker, and many more sights. I consider this a "must-know" for your kids, and it's not just book knowledge--you are THERE, which makes an indelible impression.

My son and I had a tour guide whose family had been spied on by their neighbors. They learned after the wall fell that the people upstairs had dropped a microphone down into their chandelier. Needless to say the guide was passionate about what we should learn about communism. We were so impressed we signed on for a couple of pay-for tours, which were also good.

Posted by
3 posts

I would say for kids the smaller Berlin museums are not that great. Lots of text with very few interesting objects. If you've already done the British Museum, I'd skip them. I'd highly recommend the Stasi Museum. Really interesting and engaging! and since it is a tour of an actual headquarters it feels less like a museum.