Berlin 8th September
Rule number one of traveling with children. Do not have a plan. DO NOT HAVE A PLAN. If you plan to leave the limits of your city and you have children and nobody has told you this, I urge you to listen most attentively. Do. Not. Have. A. Plan. The thing I have learned from traveling with small people is this, if you have a plan, nothing, upon nothing that you have planned will work out the way you planned it. A brief idea of what you want to do. That’s fine. But a full blown, itemised, researched, documented itnerary. That will not work for you.
In Berlin, I had a plan. In the essence of keeping things simple I shall refer to it as The Plan.
The thing about Berlin is, pretty much anyone who has ever been there becomes very evangelical about it. It’s like you go there, you see all the things and from that point on your entire life is devoted to getting someone else to go to Berlin with you so they can become completely and totally hooked on it too. I’ve been to Berlin. Subsequently I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to convince my husband he needs to go to Berlin (with me) so we can have his and hers crushes on it. Needless to say when we decided to make it a long(ish) stop on this trip I was pretty stoked.
Berlin is one of my all time favourite cities. It’s full of history and sadness and politics and confronting reminders of our not so distant past. On the flipside it’s vibrant and eclectic, arty, quirky, edgy, and extremely beautiful. My first trip to Berlin was the quintessential surprise travel discovery, the serendipity that happens when you visit a place because you have to not because you want to and then you surprise yourself by loving it. During my first trip to Berlin my friend and I wandered around aimlessly, we explored and discovered, we sat and watched, we went to galleries and museums and absorbed all the history we could. We also drank a lot of beer, smoked a lot of, things that made smoke and we disembarked the train so fast I had to wear my pyjamas (which were of the these-are-unambigulously-bedwear variety) the rest of the day. Despite all that the thing I dream of most about Berlin is the kebab from a food van at the back the Tacheles squat. Best. Kabab. Ever.
It goes without saying for my first trip to Berlin with Wally I couldn’t just rehash my past visit. Any idiot knows that’s just a recipe for disaster. Not to mention, given our three traveling companions, who make it impossible to replicate such experiences in almost every single way. Imagine suggesting the idea of ‘sitting and watching’ to a seven year old who doesn’t even stay still when she’s sleeping. Any “wandering” we do these days has to be strategically planned to include the lure of something like icecream, or cake (or both) because oh my god, wandering aimlessly with a four year old is pretty much akin to asking the Devil to take a stroll with you, only maybe the Devil wouldn’t screech “my legs are tiiiiiiiiiiiiiired” or “piiiiiiiiiiiiiick me upppppppppp” quite so much. Whilst I would love it if my kids were the children you read of in
blogs fairy stories who want to absorb the rich history found in museums and galleries by actually reading the interactive information boards instead of seeing how fast they can spin them around or push them in and out or if they can blind their sister with the laser pointer thingy. They’re not those kids. Sigh.
No friends, there was not going to be any reliving of past experiences here. A whole new razzle dazzle itinerary needed to be formulated. Enter The Plan.
Of course everyone groaned – not even inwardly – because clearly we’ve all been together too long in a confined space to bother with being inward about anything anymore. There was much outward groaning and begging for No Plan. But if there is no plan we’ll spend our one precious sight seeing day wandering around aimlessly, watching people, drinking coffee and not seeing the stuff. I explained to them. Family, there has to be a plan. Trust me on this one. The Plan will be good.
Even when we were still waiting for the inefficient Efficient German Washing Machine at 10:00 but were supposed to be in town picking up our hire bikes. The Plan was on track.
Even as we were standing on the U-Bahn platform at 11:30am trying to work out how the hell we were supposed to pay for tickets when it only took coins and we had no coins and the paper money slot was jammed and our cards weren’t acceptable and no shops anywhere give change unless you buy something (we bought honey) and The Plan clearly stated that at that exact point in time we were supposed to be leisurely cycling down Linden Strasse, under the arches of the Brandenburg Gate and through the Tiergarten where we’d enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch, it still seemed like The Plan was a good idea.
Even at 1:30pm, as we sat on the ground in Alexanderplatz, eating salami stuffed into rolls and trying to avoid being shat on by 10 million pigeons. It seemed like a good idea to continue with The Plan.
Even at 2:30pm as we rode down Linden Strasse, on the road, in the traffic, towards the Brandenburg Gate, attempting to circumvent death by shouting to the children in varying degrees of crazy person; Stop! Watch for cars! Don’t watch for cars! Keep going! Move over! Don’t stop there! Get off the bikes! The Plan seemed valid.
Even as we made our way along the Topography of Terror, me attempting to tell the older children a somewhat abridged version of the historical significance of Berlin whilst hauling them off monuments they were using for gymnastics practice, hissing at them to be quiet and respectful and stop the freaking running around, giving them the evil side eye when they started playing the let’s-see-how-high-we-can-stack-the-rocks-before-they-fall game and facilitating three separate toilet visits. Even then I thought The Plan had merit. Though evidently I hadn’t factored in enough toilet breaks.
Even as we rode around and around the back streets trying to find Checkpoint Charlie and a skerick of the Wall that wasn’t crawling with tourists. Even as I watched the girls faces crumple in disappointment as we cycled along the back streets and past a huge Berlin-esque playground full of hot pink tubes and slides and pipes without stopping. Even when they begged us to stop longer at the ‘secret trampolines’ in Alexanderplatz, that look like drain grates, but aren’t. Even on the train on the way home, a journey which was delayed by thirty minutes because the ticket machine only took coins and we didn’t have enough coins and the paper money slot was jammed and our cards weren’t acceptable and no shops anywhere give change unless you buy something (we bought chocolate), with three tired, hungry, miserable, disappointed kids, one angry mum and a dad who had absolutely no reason to like, let alone LOVE Berlin. Even then the plan….
Well to be honest by then The Plan sucked.
As I tucked the girls into bed I apologised for what had ended up being an awful day. It seems along with inward groaning, inward reflection has also left the building and so they all had a free for all, telling me exactly what they thought. “Why couldn’t we just ride around on the quiet streets and not have to keep following the map?” “Why couldn’t we stop at that really cool park we discovered?” “Why couldn’t we have sat in the gardens whilst you went to the museum on your own?” and “Why didn’t we have afternoon tea at the trampolines instead of that boring place?”
Why? Because then we would have been just riding around aimlessly, (one of us would have been) enjoying museums, we would have been accidentally discovering new things, sitting around drinking and people watching and the fact that I just so happen to be wearing my very best they-might-look-like-pyjamas-but-really-they’re-pants pants means we pretty much would have been repeating history. And any idiot knows repeating history is a recipe for disaster.
Though in this case I suspect the bigger idiot is the one who insisted on having The Plan.