We have been to Berlin a couple of times now, first time was in the early 90s. This post shows you a couple of highlights of Berlin. Things to do when you are in town for just a couple of days. I do focus on traveling with children, but hey, when we travel we all are eager to discover and become kids again, don’t we? Let’s travel to Berlin with kids!
Meet the Ampelmann!
Have you ever paid attention to pedestrian traffic lights? You should! That little man turning green and red differs in each country all over the world. In Berlin the guy has become extremely famous! Meet Ampelmann (which is German for traffic light man). He originates from East Berlin and is a real hero in town!
There are dedicated gift shops with Ampelmann goodies and there is even an Ampelmann restaurant. I have to admit, it’s awesome marketing. The goodies are great and we couldn’t leave Berlin without one as our children adored the Ampelmann. No traffic light will be the same ever again… ”Ampelmann!!”
The main Ampelmann shop is situated in the lovely Hackescher Höf (take S or U train to Hackescher Markt station)
You can rent bikes throughout the city, we used Fat Tire Bike Tours. The main part of Berlin is not that big and can easily be managed by bike. You can cross Berlin from East to West in 20-30 minutes.
Cycling the Nikolai Quarter (Nikolaiviertel)
As in many places, cycling is the best way to experience a city. You can easily hop on and off when you see yet another interesting shop or building. There are enough places to leave your bike to go for a short walk. Just make sure to lock them…
As we did in Bangkok, London and New York, we rented bikes for one day. We discovered Prenzlauer Berg (see below) and the Nikolaiviertel (the historical quarter, part of the historical heart of Berlin). With our bikes we circled the German Reichstag (parliament) and even passed straight through the famous Brandenburger Gate! Bikes can go anywhere you want in Berlin, really!
Right through the Brandenburger Gate
You can find Fat Tire Bike Tours at the Alexanderplatz (right under the TV Tower) or at the Zoo Station (Zoologischer Garten). Prices are € 12 per bike for 24 hours. Guided tours are also available. Want to try something different? Try their Segway tours!
Up the Reichstag!
The parliament building called the Reichstag is impressive. It was heavily damaged during World War II but fully renovated. The main dome has been replaced by a futuristic piece of architecture. You really have to get inside the Dome where you can walk in circles to reach its top. There is a small opening where you watch the clouds pass by and the views on the city are an extra benefit.
There is one thing to take into account though: you have to ask approval prior to your visit to the Reichstag! Due to security reasons, nobody is allowed inside without confirmed approval. Go the Reichstag website and ask for approval at least 3 days in advance. Don’t forget to bring passports because you still have to identify yourself before entering the building. It’s worth the effort though!
The closest subway station is Bundestag (only one stop from Berlin Central station – which is by the way an interesting sight-seeing spot on its own).
Watch the Berlin Wall and relax on the beach!
I think I don’t have to explain you about the Berlin Wall. It came down in 1989 and scattered through the city you will find pieces that were left to remind us all. There is one longer piece of the Berlin Wall however that is left as it was in the past. This place is called East Side Gallery.
East Side Gallery is a great way to show your kids (and to see for yourself) how big and massive the Wall was. On this part artists have left their messages on the Wall in text, drawings and even sculptures. The other side of the Wall is covered with graffiti. Although now just a piece of concrete, it used to divide people physically and mentally. It for sure is the most famous piece of massive concrete in the world.
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A great place to take a rest around this area is the so-called Ost Strand (East Beach). They have created a beach-like area in the middle of the city, close to the river Spree. On the river they have boats with relaxing chairs…
Another great detail is to be found on the famous Oberbaum Bridge, close to East Side Gallery. The bridge used to be on the border of East and West Berlin. When you cross the bridge you will find numerous locks fixed to the bridge. Evidence of couples that were about to get married and wanting to show the world their eternal love.
The East Side Gallery is situated close to the train station Ostbahnhof. Look out for great ice cream shops and bakeries here!
My favorite area in Berlin. When walking and cycling this area it felt like being in certain parts of New York City again. The whole area is up hill in the Eastern part of the city and owns a wealthy collection of (design) shops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Cycling the area is easy and in the center of this neighborhood there is a nice playground for kids (Kollwitz Park). Strolling around the leafy, cobbled streets, this is the best area to wind down from the hectic downtown Berlin and watch the locals get together.
Take the U-bahn to either the Senefelderplatz or Eberswalder Strasse station. Within the area you can find some small sightseeing spots like the Water Tower and the historic Jewish cemetery. Each Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm a farmers market takes over a couple of streets near Kollwitz Park. Buy your home made arts and handicraft, local vegetables, fruit, flowers and deli food.
Remember and play at the Holocaust Memorial!
A maze of concrete blocks, hundreds of them. A memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, but kids play hide and seek. Adults just wander around, thinking, remembering and losing their sense of direction. I visited the Berlin Holocaust Memorial earlier and I am glad also my kids now had the chance to walk around (and play) this impressive site. Some believe the Memorial should not be a playground, but I think having adults and kids create their own experiences just shows the power of the place.
The Holocaust Memorial is in between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburger Tor (easiest way is to get out at Potsdamer Platz station). You can visit the Holocaust museum which is located below the field of pillars. We have been warned though that the museum is not really suitable for your children.
Statues & Street Art: search and find!
There is another post dedicated completely to urban street art in Berlin (with lots of pictures, just click here). For your children though it’s fun to watch out for great sketches on buildings. But there is more: statues. We have seen several throughout the city and what greater fun than having your kids copy the statue. Just make sure to not overlook some lying (relaxing?) on the ground….
German food! Food? Food!
“Dad, can I have that sausage?” A real grilled, German bratwurst with senf (mustard). Who can resist that? Not me, certainly not when it comes with a nice glass of ice cold German beer after a full day of strolling the city. The list on this picture contains not really the local haut-cuisine but it’s so much fun to sometimes go along with the general stereotyping.
Another great thing to do with your kids is to visit local bakeries. The assortment in German bakeries are awesome: for breakfast and lunch. Our kids even didn’t mind eating stuff from the bakery for dinner! “Dad, let’s order a marzipan croissant, blueberry muffin, two salty pretzels, one piece of pie, two German rolls, and some of that chocolate bread…..what do YOU want by the way?”
You have to travel a bit outside of the main city center to find those great neighborhood bakeries. Some nice ones can also be found at the train stations.
35 kilometers south of Berlin you find the beautiful historic city of Potsdam. If you like Vienna, you will like Potsdam and particularly Sanssouci, the royal palace of Frederic the Great, King of Prussia. Situated just outside the town itself, this is a huge area with historical buildings and gardens. Feel like a king and queen for a moment…oh yes, this could very well be our house for a while…
We have only visited the palace of Frederic the Great while on our way back home. But Potsdam is an easy day trip from Berlin. You can take the train from Berlin directly into Potsdam city center or to Park Sanssouci, it will take you just over half an hour.
Climb the Victory Column!
If you haven’t got enough from cycling or walking from one place to another, there’s one more site I would like to add to this list: the Victory Column (Siegessäule). The great thing for your kids is: you can climb up the tower (285 steps) and enjoy a nice view over Berlin (if you don’t mind being squeezed a bit, because the area on top is really small!).
The column was constructed in 1873 to remember Prussia winning all kinds of wars (with the Danish, Austrians and French). The sculpture on top is Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, weighing 35 tonnes. The people in Berlin call her “Golden Lizzy” (Goldelse). Want to know another nickname (sure you will not forget this one): “Chick on a Stick”.
The Victory Column is open every day from 9.30pm to around 6pm. Before climbing the stairs you will be (forced) to view an exhibition on impressive landmark buildings around the globe. But is this column really on par with the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty? Well, you enjoy it anyway!
The Column is situated right in the middle of the huge Tiergarten park. You can choose from which direction to enter the park. One way is to take the subway train up to Tiergarten station and walk to the middle. It’s a nice walk because you will have the Column in sight all the time.
And more things to do in Berlin……!
This list contains just 10 of many great things you can do in Berlin. If you have more days to spend (or just drive around town like crazy) you can also visit the famous FernsehTurm (TV Tower), go drive an ancient East-German Trabant car (Trabi Safari), visit the zoo at Zoologischer Garten, sit on the lawn in front of the Berlin Dom or go on a boat tour on the river Spree. Or you know what, just hop on your bike and enjoy the different neighborhoods (don’t forget to take pictures). To finish this post some pictures of these other great Berlin destinations.
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