As a family of 4, an adventure or simple jaunt around a city can prove fairly costly.... especially when taking in some museums, using public transport everywhere and even some shopping before a lunch out.... So we set out to discover Berlin and how we could enjoy it on a budget!
Following the success of our 'Stockholm on a Budget', we shunned some opportunities to take the girls to some of Berlin's premier attractions,. Focusing on seeing if we could enjoy one of Europe's most expensive capital cities... An exercise in seeing what can be enjoyed without the need to spend obscene amounts of money. With just the 'Berlin Welcome Card' in our pockets what would we discover
Having stayed in a huge variety of campsites and aires across Europe on our European Roadtrip Adventure, we've tried to compile these into our 'Top Places to Stay' page... Sadly Berlin will not features in that list. Firstly we arrived to find the central aire shut early (not an ideal thing to find with tired kids in the back!). The City Camping 1 was our only other option and is expensive for the sparse facilities on site. Sited under a flight path, beside a busy road and all for over £30 a night didn't start the day too well! Perhaps Potsdam's Marina might be a better option next time!
But undeterred, we headed into Berlin via the brilliant public transport system, being careful not to tread on the roads during red lights... in fact it proved to be something of real interest across the visit to the city, as the lights with the hat on denote that you are in East Berlin.. compared to the 'undressed' West Berlin lights!
Just like Bordeaux, Berlin's transport system is brilliant and really is a crucial factor in a successful city experience with kids (just look at how many times it features in our City Experiences Page) Perhaps even more interesting bearing in mind the 'Ghost Stations' that you hear about during it's 'divided time' as a city...
However, the first stop in Berlin was undoubtably going to have to be the iconic and free to view Brandenberg Gate. A monument to rival anything we've seen across Europe..... Certainly as impressive as Pisa's Leaning Tower or the London Eye or Big Ben. This place has been the centrepiece of all aspects of Germany's history... from the military parades, to the shutting of the gate for the Cold War through to the revolutionary displays in the 1800's... It's now a tourist honeypot with plenty to do and see... you can even hop on a bike for 9 (if you dare! - see above picture)
Perhaps we were lucky as we caught it on a sunny day. Perhaps it was because we've spent a huge part of this trip looking at European History and adding it to our 'Educational Opportunities' section to our website. But there's no doubt we will have to re-write our 'Top 10 Roadschooling Experiences' to include Berlin and it's place in World History
The educational opportunities exist throughout the city, so we left the fantastic information boards beside the Brandenburg Gates and headed towards the 'free to view' Holocaust Memorial... a sombre thought as we stared at the imposing 2,700+ blocks of concrete and considered just how important it is to remember these parts in our European History (just like our visits to the WW1 Trenches at the Somme)
Away from this history lesson, both girls love seeing how the city really works... Getting away from the bustling touristic centres of activity or the carefully manicured areas that you often get pushed into seeing. Nothing is worse than seeing a false image of a city, it just frustrates!! But when you combine what Berlin must have been like pre and post WW1/2 and during and post-unification... it really is amazing to see what they have done with Potsdam Plaza, and you simply can't miss this from any visit to Berlin.
Huge monolithic glass structures rise up and create an inspiring cityscape to rival any that we've seen... yet before long it is back to the wonderful older buildings that date back to the 1800's and a chance to see the iconic Berlin Wall.
The wall is preserved across certain parts of the city, but the area beside the infamous 'Checkpoint Charlie' is easily accessible, has great information boards throughout... and more importantly shows the opposing sides of the wall... to really give the kids something to consider... Sensitive photographs are available to show what it was like in operation and there are also the Gestapo Bunkers to view beside the wall... No words can describe the moment you see it... it's something both Catherine and I grew up with, and saw fall... for the girls, it is a critical part of their modern history that they need to learn and absorb... It really was somewhere to wander around slowly and reflect on the significance of the memorial
Sadly, we left the video camera in the motorhome, otherwise we could have added to our growing collection. But if you fancy seeing just what we've discovered across Europe, then we hope you enjoy checking out out YouTube channel below.
Throughout the visit to Berlin, we've asked the girls to imagine how it might feel to live in the city during the time when it was a divided city... our European journey is all about comparisons... is Stockholm more friendly than Bergen, does Seville have more culture than Florence.... But we're pretty sure that not many cities in Europe could compare to Berlin with perhaps the exception on Nicosia in Cyprus... The differences between the lives of children no more than 30m apart must have been enormous, especially when you see the Trabi displays above (an insight into life in the East pre-unification)
Leaving the Trabi cars, we headed to the Allied crossing point at Checkpoint Charlie and the scene of the tank standoff that almost plunged Europe in further chaos in 1961......... It feels a little like it has been cheapened by the constant throng of people wanting pictures taken... but it was great to sit down with the girls, read the information boards, see the huge picture of the Soviet & US soldiers and discuss the significant events that took place here over he past 50+ yrs.
Sticking to walking, we headed towards the central Friedrichstraße station where we had arrived. But no trip to Berlin should miss a chance to see the other iconic skyline feature, that of the Berlin TV Tower (somewhere to head up for lunch or a panoramic view). But as we'd tried to see 'Berlin on a Budget' this time, that will have to wait for our next trip to Berlin
So as we headed back to our motorhome, we discussed how you could have a fun, enjoyable day out in Berlin..... Does it have to be expensive, do you need to be up at the crack of dawn to enjoy the place or get your money's worth... well we'd say its a place for a weekend (you'll need 2-3 days) It's huge and full of interesting places we'd love to return to. Is it expensive? Yes probably, but no more so than other capital cities. Would we recommend the Welcome Card? Absolutely, it's worth it just for the public transport let alone the other benefits! Would we recommend Berlin? Of course we would, its an iconic European destination that we couldn't have missed on our European Roadtrip
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