Tag Archives: Germany

City Adventures in Berlin

Given the huge amount of history contained within this European city, it’s really no surprise that there is an incredible number of museums to visit in Berlin and somewhat understandably, by the end of our penultimate day, both children were beginning to grumble about feeling a little “museum-ed” out. We were lucky to enjoy some glorious sunshine whilst we were there, so we took every opportunity available to venture out on foot as well as making using of the “hop-on, hop-off” bus and highly efficient public transit system. I think (hope) we managed a good balance between those museums with exhibits about Nazi Germany and those about the Cold War era and it was great to hear G being able to explain in more detail some of the topics she has learned about at school. Here’s a list of some of our city adventures in Berlin this May:

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: A strangely effective and emotive memorial built within 5 minutes walk of the Brandenburg Gate. These 2,711 concrete slabs vary in size and shape and are constructed on undulating ground, which once formed part of the “death strip” that split the city into East and West by the Berlin Wall. There is no attributed significance to the number or design of this memorial, but instead it intends to invoke a sense of unease as you wander through the rows. Beneath the memorial, there is an information centre, which contains details and memories of some of the Jewish families affected by the horrors of the Holocaust from 1933 on. Unfortunately, the centre was closed on the day we visited and we didn’t have time to go back, but it is somewhere I’d be keen to revisit if we had the chance.

DDR Museum: Located on the banks of the River Spree, the DDR museum details life in East Germany under Socialist rule and is a fantastic interactive experience, which M really enjoyed. It looks at all aspects of everyday life from school and work to holidays, transport, national service and beyond. M was particularly taken by the opportunity to try his hand at driving the Trabant P601 simulation, whilst G spent a long time at the interactive desk which gave in-depth information about different parts of the political history of Berlin. My Grandad came from Czechoslovakia to the UK as part of the Allied forces during the war years and I found that the exhibits invoked many memories of how my grandparents lived, albeit in Northamptonshire, as well as of my first trip to Czechoslovakia in 1988 to visit our family who still live there. A great museum which kept us busy for between 2 and 3 hours.

Palace of Tears: This tiny museum is one we almost missed, but is definitely worth dedicating at least an hour to wander through it. It is based in the former border crossing point at the Berlin Friedrichstraße station, which was only used for those leaving East Berlin for West Berlin. It covers the timeline from the building of the Berlin Wall to its collapse, looking at the stories relating to the checkpoint as well as the process to achieve the reunification of the country. M and I spent some time watching the video of the fall of the Berlin Wall and talking about the fact that this event was living history for me – something that I remember happening during my childhood when I was about his age.

Jewish Museum: This was one of the museums recommended to us by G’s history teacher, but unfortunately the permanent exhibition is currently closed as it is being redeveloped. However, we spent the morning seeing what was open to the public and it was definitely time well-spent. Split over a couple of floors, we first visited the Holocaust exhibit, which displayed mementos, letters and photos from many Jewish families and relayed some of their history as well as detailing whether they died in a concentration camp or were fortunate enough to survive that terror. From there, we ventured outside through a memorial garden, before heading back in to the “A is for Jewish” interactive exhibit, which talks about the many varying aspects of contemporary Jewish life in Germany. Finally, we walked through the “Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves)” art installation, where you quite literally walk on 10,000 sheet steel faces of varying sizes symbolising all innocent victims of war and violence.

Mauer Museum at Checkpoint Charlie: This was one of the surprise hits of our holiday and one that we wouldn’t have visited if it hadn’t been for my insistence that I wanted to go to see Checkpoint Charlie on foot and our need for something to occupy our unplanned afternoon. Filled with an absolutely incredible amount of exhibits, it started with a look at the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman who is thought to have saved thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust before he disappeared in 1945 and was presumed to have died whilst imprisoned by the KGB, although there have been very many question marks surrounding the circumstances, and timing, of his death. Upstairs the exhibit moved through very many escape stories from East Germany, which absolutely fascinated M, not least of which was the armoured escape vehicle on display. There is also a huge area dedicated to human rights and worldwide civil unrest, including Ukraine and North Korea. An absolutely fascinating museum and one that you could easily spend a day, or more, exploring.

German Spy Museum: The unquestionable highlight of all the museums we visited in Berlin and it got a definite thumbs up from both children. Starting with a timeline of the development of espionage worldwide through the ages, this museum blends its interactive experience with a particular focus of espionage during the Cold War era. The main exhibit was divided between East and West Berlin and how spies played a part on both sides for many years. The laser maze gives visitors the opportunity to see if they can successfully work their way through the lasers to reach the abort button before enemy missiles are launched. Sad to say, neither G or M managed it, triggering the alarms as they made their way through it, although they both had great fun trying. There was also a section about fictional spies, most notably 007 himself, James Bond with some memorabilia and clips from several of the films. We hadn’t left ourselves enough time to see everything this museum had to offer as we had to head back to the airport for our flight home, so it’s definitely one to revisit in the future.

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Bringing History Lessons to Life in Berlin

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a big fan of holidays. Not just the trips themselves, but I absolutely love the process from the moment we start thinking about the perfect destination to pick and, much to Mike’s frustration, can frequently be found thinking about where we should travel next, even before we’ve left home on the next one booked. We haven’t done too much travelling since our trip back to Canada last summer, but no sooner had G and I got home from our fantastic day out at the Strictly tour, than it was time to finish the packing and zip up the suitcase for our 5 day half-term break.

Our holiday was perhaps not what people expected, in that we weren’t chasing the sun with a few days at the beach, even though both G and M are desperate to go back to Greece and mention it every time they can possibly shoehorn it into any conversation. Instead, we had taken inspiration from G’s GCSE history syllabus and her learning about Superpower relations, the Cold War and Nazi Germany during the inter-War years, subjects which also happen to tie in quite nicely with M’s focus on World War 1 in his history lessons this year; and so headed to Berlin. As the children have got older, we try to involve them more and more with planning our activities whilst we’re aware from home and this trip was no different. G spoke to her history teacher just after Christmas as the school had taken a group of their A-level students to Berlin a few weeks earlier and came home with some recommendations of the best places to visit to help solidify her learning and understanding of these eras.

Armed with that information as well as the additional research Mike had carried out in the preceding weeks, we had plenty to do to fill our time and couldn’t wait to get started. I had found what looked like a great place to stay: the Citadines Kurfürstendamm Berlin apart-hotel, meaning that we had access to a full kitchen which always makes life a little easier when travelling with food allergies. We were ideally located not too far from the main retail street and within easy walking distance to not only shops and restaurants, but also the Berlin U-Bahn, or Underground rapid transit system.

Our first day started, as it so often does when we travel to a new city, with a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus tour, although we weren’t as impressed with the City Circle Tour offering as we have been with other tour companies we’ve chosen in the past. However, it gave us a great introduction to the city of Berlin itself and helped us work out how to get to the various sights on our list as well as ticking a few of them off without too much hassle. Both G and M were fascinated by their first view of the few remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and the bombed remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, all of which really brought their history lessons to life.

A European approach to Allergy-friendly food

IMG_0515[1]Given our Italian break was courtesy of a competition win through the Allergy and Free From Show and Dr Schär, it didn’t come as any surprise that there were several gluten-free items available at the amazing Vigilius Mountain Resort. However, what we didn’t expect were the allergy-friendly offerings we discovered from the minute we arrived at Munich airport and these were the things that possibly impressed us the most. Mike and I had a 2-hour wait in Munich before the shuttle-bus arrived to take us to the hotel. It wasn’t really long enough to venture into the town itself, but gave us more than enough time to explore the airport and its shops. I was particularly keen to see if I could spot any of the German delicacies featured on the Munich episode of Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes and was delighted to be able to snap a quick photo of freshly made pretzels to show M when we got home.

IMG_0516[1]Having exhausted most of the shopping opportunities available to us, we decided to take a quick whiz around the small supermarket before heading off to meet the bus. You can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when we stumbled upon this fixture filled with dairy-free alternatives, including the all-important rice milk that is now a staple in our household. There was a slightly smaller unit with an array of gluten-free products too and browsing the store’s shelves and fridges, I was able to pick out with relative ease other allergy-friendly foods. I think what impressed me the most was this was a small supermarket at the airport. Not some major out-of-town hypermarket, but somewhere where travellers would stop to pick up a few essentials before heading on to their final destination. Obviously I can’t comment on what would be found in larger stores around Germany, but this bodes well for what I can only imagine you might be able to buy. We have had mixed success in finding safe foods for both M and G whilst on our holidays in the past and this summer will be travelling back to Portugal for the first time since M’s diet became so restricted. I can only hope we find as good a selection as we stumbled across in Munich.

TIMG_0552[1]he Vigilius resort is owned by Ulrich Ladurner, who is also the founder and president of the Dr Schär group and so it comes as no surprise that every meal has gluten-free options available if wanted. Breakfasts consist of an amazing buffet containing just about everything you could conceivably want – cereals, pastries, fresh fruit, cold meats, fruit juices, smoothies, cooked breakfasts and cheeses. There was a separate section for the gluten-free choices and I was pleased to see that soya milk, local goats milk and cheese and dairy-free chocolate sauce were available too. Our evening meals at the resort were delicious and despite our initial plans to visit Lana for dinner on a couple of evenings, Mike and I ended up choosing to stay in the hotel and eat in their restaurants. There are 2 restaurants at Vigilius: the delightful Stube Ida serving regional dishes and wine, and the more formal Restaurant 1500 with exquisite and interesting menu choices. The menus were clearly annotated to show which dishes could be made gluten-free and gluten-free bread was also available on request. We enjoyed every meal we had there, and whilst we didn’t choose to eat the “Variation of Carrots” for our main course – Tartar of carrots, carrot-ginger cream, crunchy carrot peel and carrot spaghetti with curry and carrot gel – ,IMG_0539[1]the “Herbs of the neighbour” dessert – Herb cookies, herb chocolate ganache, hay Chantilly, camomile Panna cotta and lavender ice cream – was phenomenal, even if the occasional thought did flash through my mind that it was a little like eating a bowl of pot pourri! We chose to drink regional wines with our dinners, grateful to receive recommendations from the serving staff, who introduced us to some that have quickly become new favourites.

IMG_0637[1]In comparison, our lunchtimes were spent at various of the many gasthauses in the mountains surrounding the resort, where we chose meals that were equally delicious, but much simpler dishes than those we enjoyed for dinner. We frequently opted to share platters of local products, such as fennel bread, speck, goats cheeses and other cooked meats and of course, washed these down with a glass of local beer. Friends have told me that eating gluten-free in Italy is relatively easy and our experiences would suggest that to be true as we found a gluten-free section to a surprisingly extensive menu in a small, remote gasthaus at the top of Monte San Vigilio. I have to confess that we didn’t put these allergy-friendly options to the test as we relished the opportunity to eat “normally” without M and G around, but Italy has definitely become a potential destination for us in the future.

IMG_0557[1]Our final foodie surprise was on our way back to Munich, at what was advertised as the “last service station before Austria.” The journey to the resort on the Monday had been non-stop, no toilet breaks or opportunity to stretch our legs even once during the 4 hour trip. However, thanks to the driver of our return journey, who evidently considered himself to be the Michael Schumacher of the public transport world, we somehow managed to save time and were allowed to stop for 20 minutes near lunch-time. As we wandered around the service station looking for something quick and easy to eat before we climbed back on board, I also kept my eyes open for any last-minute goodies I could pick up as small presents for M and G from our holiday. Amongst the bumper-sized packs of pasta, bottles of olive oil and chocolate bars, I also spotted boxes of gluten-free rice flour cookies sitting in plain sight alongside their non allergy-friendly counterparts, something I’ve never seen in a service station in this country. Our holiday was a real eye-opener when it comes to how this part of Europe tackles the matter of allergy-friendly foods and has made us more confident to spread our wings and travel there with the children when time allows.