Europe

Cool things to do in Berlin with under-fives

Berlin is about as child-friendly as European cities come and it didn't take long to work out where all the cool kids hang out.

Our first and last visit to Berlin more than five years ago was, shall we say, fairly alcohol-oriented. We were 26, childless and fancy-free; mostly there for the beer and with no itinerary whatsoever. Every day it rained and every day we drank our respective bodily volumes in apple strudel cocktails and weird German wine. It was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had together and we’ve always promised ourselves we’d return mit Kind and do it all over again – probably without all the clothes shops and hourly stop-offs for tankards of Erdinger, and probably with a few more toddler-friendly haunts thrown in.

We finally made it back in late November 2018, having booked our hotel and flights 48 hours ahead on a depressed whim and done basically zero planning. Thankfully Berlin is about as child-friendly as European cities come and it didn’t take long to work out where all the cool kids hang out, from the interactive kindermuseums devised purely for children to the copious familiencafes poised to provide parents with a caffeine hit while their little ones do their worst with the wendy house. We stayed six days and still didn’t manage to cover everything we wanted to, but then we are pretty extra and I reckon you could still quite comfortably fit the must-sees into a long weekend.

MUSEUMS: DDR Museum

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An absolute must, with or without babes, the DDR Museum is said to be one of the world’s most interactive museums, as well as being one of the largest and most diverse of its kind. Offering an immersive taste of everyday life in the former East Germany, this utterly absorbing museum includes an authentic reconstruction of a high-rise, five-room ‘Plattenbau’ apartment in which you’re free to make yourself at home; a chance to take a simulated drive inside an original Trabant P601; plus a replica of a 1970s East German kindergarten that little ones will love. Pretty much everything is touchable, wearable and/or inhabitable, with countless cupboards and drawers to open, games to play, films to watch, Soviet clothing to try on and basically everything at toddler height – plus all information in German and English. Possibly my favourite museum in the world ever, and that’s saying something.

DDR Museum, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 1, 10178 Berlin

Kindermuseum MACHmit! 

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Housed in an old church in Berlin’s child-orientated Prenzlauer Berg district, MACHmit! is like no museum you’ve ever been to, featuring interactive temporary exhibition spaces; a handful of ever-changing, supervised craft booths (design a T-shirt, make a bracelet, etc.); a big red pipe to clamber through; and, most excitingly, a huge, double-sided, four-storey wooden maze that’s kind of like a soft-play structure except, y’know, hard, with bridges, swings and a lot of steps. It’s great, and very Grand Designs, but absolutely knackering and basically impossible to remove a child from thanks to its numerous stairways and dead ends. Should you manage to escape, MACHmit! also offers a sizeable cafe, a small shop, a mirror room, a pirate ship, tons of interactives and a bunch of those weird rubber dog things to bounce around on.

Kindermuseum MACHmit!, Senefelderstraße 5, 10437 Berlin

Labyrinth Kindermuseum

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I loved the simplicity of Labyrinth, which is housed in a former factory in north Mitte. More giant Montessori play centre than a museum as such, Labyrinth is laid out over two floors with a series of wooden cube structures on the ground floor, each one accommodating a different activity: Lego, dress-up, dominoes etc. At the back of the space there’s a large, galleried picnic area – next to a small cafe and between the two sets of stairs that lead up to the first floor. Upstairs there are two enormous play kitchens/grocery stores filled with every kind of plastic play food you could imagine, a well-stocked puppet theatre and a soft-play area piled with squishy play bricks for den-making. Everything is open to interpretation and designed for imaginative, open-ended play, making it Babu’s favourite of the four museums we visited. Do bear in mind though, while the website is really unclear I’m pretty sure it’s only open to families on weekends and reserved for school groups during the week.

Labyrinth Kindermuseum, Osloer Staße 12, 13359 Berlin

East Side Gallery

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We chose the most bitterly cold day to visit the East Side Gallery, a 1,316m-long remnant of the Berlin Wall located in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, which was an error as obviously it’s outside, but I’m still glad we saw it again, having visited and signed our names (now long gone) when we came to Berlin in 2013. This is a difficult one to explain to a two year old, and they may wonder what the hell you’re doing trailing around in arctic temperatures staring at a slab of concrete, but there are plenty of games (find your favourite mural, i-spy) that you can incorporate into your visit to try and engage your child, and I think we just about got away with it before she started complaining that she was cold and bored. Look out for colourful cartoon heads by the amazing Thierry Noir, Birgit Kinder’s painting depicting a Trabant crashing through the wall, Thomas Klingenstein’s Detour to the Japanese Sector, and don’t forget Dmitri Vrubel’s My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, depicting the ‘fraternal socialist kiss’ between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker in 1979.

East Side Gallery, Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin

Legoland Discovery Centre

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Kind of cool but also kind of my own personal hell, the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre is based in an underground lair in the bowels of Potsdamer Platz, central Berlin. Don’t get me wrong, I love LEGO, but we managed to hit this particular tourist trap during the holidays (it was the end of November but whatever) when it was swarming with massive children, and there were some pretty terrifying moments in the Ninjago City Adventure soft-play section involving some exceptionally violent eight year olds. Thankfully there are enough areas aimed at under-5s to make it worth the trip, despite the lingering feeling of claustrophobia, including a giant rubber Duplo-brick building zone, a much smaller and gentler soft-play area aimed at toddlers, and the mechanised Miniland LEGO city upstairs, which Babu found fascinating. In addition to all that there are a handful of LEGO build and play stations, a themed cafe and a couple of rides – although under-3s aren’t allowed on those. If you’re short on time I’d be inclined to leave this one out, provided you don’t have a die-hard LEGO fan in the family.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, Potsdamer Straße 4, 10785 Berlin

PLAYGROUNDS Berlin is famed for its copious innovative playgrounds, but since it was around 2 degrees every day during our trip we weren’t in a massive hurry to visit any of them. Should you happen to visit at a warmer time of year, you might want to check out the Dragon Playground on Schreinerstraße in Friedrichshain, the Witch Playground on Eisenacher Straße in Schoeneberg, the Snow White Playground on Mommsenstraße in Charlottenburg, the Circus Playground on Thielallee in Steglitz-Zehlendorf or the huge playground in Buschkrug Park, featuring a giant vampire head. All of these playgrounds are themed, differ drastically from the usual British offering and are dotted around the city, so you can take your pick depending on where you’re staying and what else you’re seeing. It’s also worth noting that Prenzlauer Berg, where many of the museums and shops I mention are based, is jam-packed with playgrounds. Basically if you want one, you’ll find one.

SHOPS: Kleine Fabriek

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If you’re getting ready for a new baby and have a bottomless budget then Kleine Fabriek is the shop for you. With branches in Mitte and Schöneberg, this upscale baby boutique is total nursery goals, offering the creme de la creme of ultra-tasteful, Scandinavian-style furniture, prams and accessories. Expect pricy but perfect cots and bunk beds by Oeuf, Oliver Furniture and Rafa-Kids; playful teepees and beanbags by Ferm Living and Nobodinoz; quirky lighting by Mr Maria and A Little Lovely Company; and beautiful bedroom accessories from Liewood and Konges Sløjd. We tested and fell in love with a Highway Kick scooter, and ended up ordering it for Babu for Christmas, and I still have my eye on a Lulalula play mat for the baby.

Kleine Fabriek, Kastanienallee 63, 10119 Berlin

D.nik

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Another eye-wateringly expensive yet decidedly tempting kids’ shop, the D.nik ‘KinderConceptStore’ in trendy Prenzlauer Berg is packed with design-led treasures, from build-your-own cardboard play furniture and bObles Tumbling Animals to high-end bedroom furniture and enough Mini Rodini to kit out the cast of Annie. They were a bit funny about Babu touching things, which made our browse a bit stressful, but I kind of understand when everything is so beautifully arranged (and pricey). We lusted after basically everything in this store but, after being told off twice and deciding we’d outstayed our welcome, we settled on a plain white Calafant DIY cardboard castle with the idea that it might keep Babu occupied in our hotel room in the evenings, although that inevitably didn’t happen and I ended up making it by myself when we got home.

D.nik, Wörther Straße 14, 10405 Berlin

Mundo Azul

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I completely fell in love with this amazing little bookstore, which sells illustrated kids’ books in a variety of languages, from German and English to Russian and Korean. Admittedly there weren’t a huge amount of English books in stock but then we didn’t really go with the intention of buying a bunch of books we could have got at home; in fact I actually love looking at foreign-language books, even when I don’t understand them – which is always – and we ended up buying Babu a German/English copy of John Lennon’s Imagine, illustrated by the incredible Jean Jullien. Mundo Azul (meaning blue world in Spanish) also runs regular workshops and talks, and staff were setting up for one in one of the two floor-to-ceiling-shelved rooms when we visited. The owner, Mariela, was ridiculously lovely and even gave Babu a tour of the back room she seemed so fascinated by, as well as a beautiful illustrated postcard to take home. Definitely worth a look for the feel-good factor alone.

Mundo Azul, Choriner Straße 49, 10435 Berlin

Hase Weiss

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We had to venture to an area we wouldn’t otherwise have visited to check out Hase Weiss, a small but perfectly formed Charlottenburg kids’ boutique specialising in traditional handmade toys. Some of their stuffed animals were obscenely beautiful – probably the nicest I’ve ever seen – but the real stars of the show were the modular dolls’ houses, available in a variety of shapes and sizes and in mint green, pastel yellow, powder blue and baby pink; designed to stand alone or be grouped together, and accompanied by their own line of dinky furniture and handmade wooden dolls. Should you have a couple of hundred euros burning a hole in your pocket or be in the market for something extra-special then I’d say it’s worth the trek. Otherwise maybe give it a miss since it’s tiny and super-pricy. I was determined to buy something so settled on a pair of Meri Meri Christmas tree decorations, but if I’m honest this shop really is birthday present/rich person territory.

Hase Weiss, Windscheidstraße 25, 10627 Berlin

Zuckerfrei

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Another one we trekked out of town for (to Neukölln, which is kind of a dump), Zuckerfrei is a bright and modern breath of fresh air on an otherwise pretty blah street. A self-styled kids’ concept store, this cute toyshop stocked a lot of items we hadn’t seen elsewhere, from quirky nursery prints and bunting (we bought the most epic DIY cat bunting kit) to customisable cardboard wendy houses, educational games, innovative accessories and a large range of Steiner-style wooden toys and puzzles. Many of the items on sale encourage creativity and open-ended play, which I loved, and I’d definitely recommend a visit on the basis that we bought more stuff there than in most of the kids’ shops we visited – plus it’s not that far from the East Side Gallery.

Zuckerfrei, Anzengruberstraße 12, 12043 Berlin

JaJu

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Of the seven kids’ shops we visited (I know – I have problems), JaJu was by far my favourite. Beautifully set out over a large, bright space down a pleasant residential street in Pankow (very close to the Labyrinth museum), JaJu stocks a huge variety of nursery furniture, toys, accessories, books, gifts and clothing, as well as housing a ball pool, den and hopscotch floor decal that kids can amuse themselves with while you browse. I was tempted by a lot of stuff here, from the Lucky Boy Sunday knitted softies to the Liewood mobiles, the Eef Lillemor folding crates, the Sticky Lemon backpacks and the amazing dinosaur dress-up tails in every colour of the rainbow, but eventually decided on a Petit Monkey Matryoshka set (for me) and a Dotcomgiftshop bento box (for Babu). If you only visit one kids’ shop while you’re here, make it this one.

JaJu, Brehmestraße 58, 13187 Berlin

Other kids’ shops that might be worth a peek if you’re in the vicinity include Monkind, a lush but pricey clothing boutique on Crellestraße in the south-west of the city; the Goldfisch Kinderkaufhaus, with branches in Mitte’s Brunnenstraße and the Bikini shopping centre off the south-west corner of the Zoologischer Garten; and C37, a concept store right opposite Mundo Azul that’s pretty cute despite sounding like a bus route. There are also an absolute ton of second-hand kidswear stores all over the city.

PLAY CAFES Like the Dutch, Germans are big on kindercafes, though as a rule Berlin’s offerings appear to be rather less stylish and rather more functional than the two-in-one concept stores we visited Amsterdam. Mostly for that reason we didn’t bother, but there are a few concentrated around the north-west of the city that look cute should you find yourself in a tight spot. Das Spielzimmer on Schliemannstraße in Prenzlauer Berg has a play house, cars and a climbing frame with slide; Paul & Paula on Friedrichshain’s Richard-Sorge-Straße features a large play area and small shop selling kids’ clothing and toys, Kiezkind in Prenzlauer Berg’s Helmholtzplatz offers a giant indoor sandpit, and Café Schönhausen on Pankow’s Florastraße combines a large playroom with playhouse and slide with a small on-site boutique.

RESTAURANTS There are a billion restaurants in Berlin but, of the ones we tried, the following were the most delicious and child-friendly. Schwarzwaldstuben, on Tucholskystraße in Mitte, was recommended to us before our first trip to Berlin and remains our absolute favourite place to eat in the city. Cosy, rustic and typically German, this reasonably priced gem serves hearty, regional dishes such as schnitzel, vegetable stews, pasta dumplings, and sausages with potato noodles and sauerkraut – and their continental breakfasts are pretty special too. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, Der Vegetarische Metzger, on Bergmannstraße in Bergmannkiez, offers a refreshing antidote to the millions of currywurst stands dotted around the city. A self-styled ‘konzeptstore’ comprising a veggie ‘butcher’s’ shop and relaxed modern cafe decorated with soft-toy sausages, Der Vegetarische Metzger serves a variety of meat-/animal-product-free takes on traditional German dishes, from bockwurst and bratwurst to schnitzel and stew. And while German food is great, particularly in freezing-cold temperatures, it does get rather limiting when one of you doesn’t eat meat, which was why the incredibly toddler-friendly Papà Pane di Sorrento on Mitte’s Ackerstraße was so great. It might be one of the most popular pizzerias in the city, but its staff were super-accommodating when we rocked up sans-reservation on a Saturday night. The pizza was amazing, even if I did accidentally order one without cheese, and our waiter was so nice with Babu and didn’t bat an eyelid when she smashed a glass.

TIPS Stay in Mitte if you want to be close to the child-friendly action and most of the key tourist attractions. We stayed near the zoo (which we chose not to visit on this occasion because of the cold) and ended up trekking up to Mitte almost every day. I’d recommend an apart-hotel with separate sleeping and living areas so you can stuff the kids in the adjoining room come bedtime and get a bit of time to yourselves. We managed this in Amsterdam and it was great but our Berlin accommodation was more of a studio/bedsit scenario and Babu ended up going down with us at 11pm most nights. I’d also suggest downloading the BVG (kind of like TFL) app and using it to buy a Berlin WelcomeCard for however many days you’re staying. You can also use the app to plan journeys, which saved us on countless occasions. The WelcomeCard is good for journeys by U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram and bus, and also gets you money off a handful of popular attractions. Plus it costs €42.50 for unlimited travel over six days, which I think is pretty reasonable. The majority of S- and U-Bahn stations have lifts, which is such a treat where you’re used to lugging a buggy around London.

Babu and Bab Dad brave the cold at the East Side Gallery, Berlin

 

 

 

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