Family Vacations to Berlin, Germany
|Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, a monument to peace. (PhotoDisc)|
The epicenter of both world wars and the literally point of division for the Iron Curtain, Berlin has shrugged of the shackles of its past and is today one of Europe's most exciting capital citiesalbeit a sprawling one. Western Berlin continues as the established section of the city, while the former East Berlin, home to some of the city's most interesting sites, is fast becoming a trendy center.
Since so much of Berlin's history and so many of its buildings and structures link to its turbulent past under Hitler and as a Soviet Union satellite, a visit provides a unique history lesson about World War II and the Cold War for gradeschoolers and teens.
The Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), a triumphal archway modeled after the entrance to the Acropolis, was constructed in the late 18th century as a monument to peace. During the city's separation, the gate became part of the Berlin Wall. A room of silence provides visitors with a place to reflect on the city's dark history.
The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961, divided the city into the "free" west and the communist German Democratic Republic until November 9, 1989, when the wall opened and people could come and go as they pleased. Enthusiastically torn down, sold off, and picked at, only sections of the 100-mile, barbed-wire-topped Wall remain. A good way to see the fragments near the city center, as well as to see Berlin, is by pedaling along the Wall's former patrol road on a guided tour. To see a section of the actual Wall complete with its 16-foot-deep "death trap" ditch, visit the Dokumentationszentrum Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Documentation Center) along Bernauer Strasse, one of the streets that separated East Berlin from West Berlin.
The Checkpoint Charlie Museum's exhibits detail the ingenious and desperate methods East Berliners employed to escape, from false passports to hot air balloons. Berliner Unterwelten engages kids' imaginations with its tours of Berlin's WWII bunkers. At the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum)one of the most remarkably designed museums in the world, learn about the city's vibrant Jewish community before World War II.
But don't think that Berlin is nothing but periods of dark history. Family fun can also be had; take a boat cruise on the Spree River and its canals; visit to the Botanischer Gartern (Botanical Gardens); picnic in the Tiergarten, Berlin's largest green space; and tour of the Berlin Zoo within the park. 'Tweens and teens will appreciate time to meander the scores of shops at the Potsdamer Platz Arcades. For side trips from Berlin, visit Potsdam, with its two castles (check to make sure you can get a tour in English) and Spreewald (Forest of the Spree), where boats cruise along canals cut through forests.
Tip: Save money on transportation and museums with either the Berlin Welcome Card.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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