After trying and failing to find a vaguely affordable sunny holiday for the October half-term holiday we decided to do our first City Break for a couple of years with OMB. Berlin has always seemed a fascinating and strange place, particularly in the light of its C20th history. We’d been assured by the guidebooks and locals that it was a child-friendly city to visit, but would this mean a stay that veered too much towards foreign soft-play areas and away from the interest of discovering a new city in the way we used to before having a family?
I’d recommend reading into the City’s history a little before planning a trip as it certainly helps in understanding some of the things that would otherwise seem odd. They’ll still seem odd but at least you will get a hint of why they are that way. We chose to stay in the Prenzlauer Berg area as it was central, reputed to be child-friendly and being in former East Berlin would help us to get part of the perspective on how the City developed since WWII and reunification. Having recently watched the excellent film, The Lives of Others, which had been partly set in the area it also helped to put the film into some context. Mrs B was also reading Anna Funder’s Stasiland which gives some good insights into the period.
We need not have worried, although the initial auspices were not too promising. We were staying at the Blue Home part of Ackselhaus in the Prenzlauer Berg district. On first getting off the U-Bahn we could not find the hotel following the directions given, the clock was ticking past 6pm and it was starting to get dark. After a long journey (albeit one that went very smoothly – we were pleased to find that EasyJet give priority boarding for free for those travelling with children under 5) the last thing we needed was to be locked out of our hotel, which had stated very firmly that reception would shut at 6pm on Sunday. Not to put too fine a point on it, the area looked pretty grotty with distressed plasterwork and more grafitti than you’d see pretty much anywhere in the UK other than a railway siding. Eventually, after having got helpful, but in each case, crucially inaccurate directions from passersby using my rusty GCSE German, we found a map with a large enough scale to show the street we were looking for and the fact that we’d been wandering around the area two streets to the south.
However, panic over, the hotel reception was still open and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful – don’t listen to your prejudices about officious Germans! We had booked a one bedroom apartment as this meant (in theory) that OMB could go to bed without forcing us to go to sleep at the same time. The apartment was very stylishly appointed (a testament to what someone with taste could do with the Ikea catalogue) and had a whirlpool bath which OMB loved. However, the excitement of being on holiday meant that most nights he was having too much fun to go to bed early and we were too tired to stay up all that late!
The hotel provided a great breakfast selection which set us up for our 3 days of exploration and had a nice honour system for its communal bar (where left-over pastries from breakfast provided a welcome snack in the evenings). Having found a great two-storey organic supermarket round the corner (eyewateringly expensive) and a Netto the other way (gratifyingly cheap) we were able to provide for a couple of evening meals using the small but functional kitchen. The hotel wasn’t the cheapest option, but definitely one I’d recommend.
As for the area, we discovered that our first wanderings hadn’t taken us to its best parts. It had a lot of interesting art galleries, craft shops and places to eat and drink as well as a very nice children’s playground where OMB would happily have spent hours.
Overall, it was a good base for the next three days in the City having good transport links and being in walking distance of many of the central sights.