Berlin is a big, spread-out city (especially sprawling when compared to Paris), with a wide variety of neighbourhoods. We were staying in an old West Berlin neighbourhood between Charlottenburg and Willmersdorf, which felt like it could easily have been in Munich or Düsseldorf. But then in the centre, you have what can only be Berlin: the very grand Prussian architecture of Museum Island and the Brandenburg Gate, modern steel and metal high-rises sprouting up in what used to be the no-man’s land of Potsdamer Platz. Then there’s crowded hipster buzz of neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukölln directly adjacent to the abandoned airport at Templehof Feld. It certainly makes exploring the different parts of the city more interesting, but at times it can feel a bit disjointed, or weird.
Visiting Berlin with children also comes with some challenges. On the one hand, the city is wonderful for the kinders: amazing playgrounds in expansive parks, big outdoor swimming pools, lots of nearby lakes, a first-rate science museum, so many different kinds of transportation, currywurst and kebabs. On the other hand, all the things that contributed to Berlin’s status as perhaps the most important city of the 20th century aren’t exactly kid-friendly. The Holocaust memorial, the Berlin Wall and its “killing zone”, Hitler’s bunker and the Gestapo Headquarters — it’s not easy stuff to handle. Museum Island‘s amazing offerings on ancient middle eastern history and renaissance art aren’t aimed at the 5/7 year-old demographic, and clubbing in East Berlin is obviously out for the same reason. So it was tricky to pick our way through the options. The aforementioned science museum was extremely impressive and a great hit with the boys, the Spy Museum was really well put together, and Checkpoint Charlie with its associated displays on the creation of the Wall seemed to bring some things home. Still, we were certainly left with the sense that the Cold War doesn’t make much sense to a five year-old; the world has changed so much in the last 30 years that the distinctions between East and West pale in comparison to the differences between the 1980s and today. We went to the DDR museum, and I’m pretty sure the kids took away that communism was bad because of the image quality on CRT TVs. We had to explain that mom and dad also used to watch sports on TV where you couldn’t really make out the players or ball/puck.