Germany Knows Parks

Deutschland, you’ve outdone yourself.

WHEN I WAS A KID, I used to play at McManus Park in Bettendorf. Better known on the street as the “Rocket Park” because it featured a giant upright metal rocket that you could climb to the top, level by level. Each level an awkward series of rusty metal bars, ladders, stairs and hatches.    Everything was hard, sharp,  and the risk of falling, bumping, scraping was high – it was hard to get to the top unscathed.  20 or so feet below was a sand play area, the only problem being that the sand had either all been relocated to the rocket (where it got kicked in your eyes as you climbed) or had been blown away years ago,  and all that remained was the bedrock below.  Other play things like slides and merry-go-rounds were old, metal, rusty, and wicked fast.   Those were the good ol’ days.

A few years ago we took our kids back to that park of my childhood to play and found it had been replaced with this.  The three story rocket was gone, everything was made of some sort of soft composite.  Even the sand had been replaced with some recycled tire material.  It was clean, organized and super safe.

In otherwords, it sucked.

Enter the city parks in Germany, in this case the Luisenpark in Mannheim.  First, there’s the play equipment.  There are zip lines for kids, a tire swing contraption where the object is to actually collide with your partner, trampolines, and all manner of whip-lashing contraptions for kids:



Then there’s the wildlife, including a reptile zoo, aquarium, birds in cages as well as a few roaming free:

Jazz, if you can catch that bird I'll give you a Euro. "Ohtay, Daddy!"

There’s a Chinese garden replete with Koi pond:

A little adventure course with rope bridges and a chance to get your feet wet:


And this.  A playset made of real stone and metal, with a slide that will rip the skin off your back.  Ladders and fireman’s poles, big brick blocks and a million kids running wild. The kind of place that gives you a cold sweat watching your kids play.

The way kids were meant to play.


And not a single broken bone.

This time.







The Internet is currently not available in your country.

I LEARNED TODAY that Spotify, the digital music service, at some point became available to customers in the US.  I hopped right over to register and received the completely expected following message.

Oh well,  I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad. It took some time to come to the US, it will come to Germany eventually, right?  And besides, the Internet is a big place and there are always other ways to get music.  Like from Pandora, for example.

Or from Amazon Cloud?

Okay, fine. I’ll maybe something country from Walmart digital.

Aw, shucks. Well maybe it’s not the best way to listen to music, but when I’m desperate I know I can always head over to YouTube and find a teenager from Pocatello covering something from Miley Cyrus.

‘Sorry about that’ indeed.    Well, I guess streaming music is just not in the cards.  But I’m flexible, I can find better ways to wind down.   How about a movie? And who doesn’t use Netflix for movies these days?

WHAT!?! Hey,  I’ll settle for a bad movie. Hello, Hulu….

Oh hang it,  I thought the Internet was global?  They lied to me!  This is depressing.  Well when I’m down and out I know I can always count on Homer J. Simpson to cheer me up.

Or I usually really enjoy laughing at the misfortune of others.  Thank you ABC for Wipeout!

CBS? Late Night with David Letterman?

Oh well, I guess it turns out that the World Wide Web isn’t quite so…well, World wide.    Ah, but don’t feel too bad for us here, because we have all you could ever want of this:

Austria Gallery: Bertchesgaden and Königssee in Southwest Germany

Bertchesgaden, an Alpine area in southwest Germany just across the border from Salzburg, is home to high granite mountains and Hitler’s Eagles Nest. The nearby lake Königssee is said to be Germany’s cleanest high altitude lake.  Both are beautiful areas, but unfortunately for us both were obscured by cloudy weather.   The pictures below can also be found in Picasa. 


King Arthur and his trusty Velociraptor


As a parent of five young kids it seems like just about every day the kids get into the same old fight.  It goes something like this:

Dad: “What do you guys want to do today?”

Girl 1: “I want to go to a park where we can play among giant life sized dinosaurs.”

Boy 1: “What? No! I want to see a medieval village.”

Boy 2: “Boring! I want to ride a T-Rex!”

Girl 2: “A sword fight is way cooler!



Baby: “Bah booh bee ballee!”

It goes on and on like that, over and over, day after day.  I’m  sure the rest of you with kids can relate.    If I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a fellow parent wonder out loud “Why can’t someone just create a park that has both life sized dinosaurs and features a  medieval fair? Why can’t we just have both? Why do we always have to choose? WHY?”

Thankfully the good people at the Kaiserslautern Gartenschau finally put two and two together and created a match worthy of  a Kinder paradise.     I submit to you the kid equivalent of  peanut butter and chocolate; nay,  Sonny and Cher; nay,  Cancun and Pepto Bismol.   Behold, the medieval fair located within the dinosaur park.

A pack of kids like ours could hardly contain themselves.  And yes, we did buy the boys each their own long sword. What could possibly go wrong?

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The People You Meet at Brandenburg Gate

Kid: “Dad, why are the soldiers at Brandenburg Gate?”

Me: “Well, there used to be soldiers here who stood gaurd.  Now they are here so you can take your picture with them.”

Kid: “Dad, what is the big ugly guy painted white doing at Brandenburg Gate?”

Dad: “That’s a mime. They are all over in Europe.”

Kid: “Dad, why are there horses and Brandenburg gate?”

Me: “Um, I guess so you can take a ride on a carriage through the city.”

Kid: “Dad, why is there an American Indian at Brandenberg Gate?”

Dad: “Huh? Uh, I’m not really sure. Maybe because a lot of people in Europe really like the old west.”

Kid: “Dad, why is there a tiger at Brandenburg Gate?”

Dad: “That’s not a tiger up there, those are hors….oh, yeah, that.  I’m not really sure. I guess so you can get your picture taken with one.”

Kid: “Dad, why is the San Diego chicken at Brandenburg Gate?.”

Dad: “Thats not the San Diego Chicken.”

Kid: “Yeah OK,  but why is there a big yellow bird here?”

Dad: “I really don’t know.”

Wife:” Can you ask the man in the gorilla suit to stop scaring the children? ”

Dad: “Of Course honey.”

Buchenwald Concentration Camp

We took a break from our drive back to Berlin to visit the site of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Weimar – a powerful experience. Thumbnails below, see the gallery here for full size images and captions.

Welcome to Berlin, and please stop jumping on the Holocaust Memorial


Who says a big family can’t travel?  We’re figuring this thing out!  This week we rented a three-day stay in an apartment in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin and took our 5 kids out to tour the city.  Since we’ve already earned our “large European city tour with 5 kids” badge in Paris, just to make it more exciting we threw in a couple of grandparents to make it 9 people in total.

Our lesson learned this time: As long as you keep your head down and keep moving, you can successfully take in one of the busiest tourist destinations in all of Europe.  Here, for example, was our rough itinerary for day 1:

  • 9:00AM:  Showed up at the subway and bought our passes, waited for the U to Alexanderplatz. (Subway station in our neighborhood is “Senefelderplatz”, seems appropriate”).
  • 9:11 AM:  Arrived at the Fernsehturm, the TV Tower of Berlin and got an eagle-eye view of the city from the observation deck.
  • 9:25 AM:  First “the kids are so embarrassing” comment heard from Melissa.
  • 10:51 AM:  Photo op at Checkpoint Charlie.
  • 11:20 AM:  Stroller breaks down.  Emergency lunch stop while I try to patch it together.
  • 11:42 AM:  Arrived at the Berlin wall.  Toured the museum/memorial Topographie des Terrors  on the site of the Gestapo Headquarters.
  • 12:34 PM:  Arrived at Potsdamer Platz, the “Times Square” of Berlin.  Found there is not much for 5 hyped up kids to do at Potsdamer Platz, moved on.
  • 1:03 PM:  Short stop at Starbucks so Melissa could have her first Chai Tea Latte since summer 2010.
  • 1:28  PM:  Arrived Jewish Holocaust Memorial, a group of randomly sized blocks occupying a city block in Berlin.
  • 1:29 PM:  Kids asked by security not to “jump on the memorial.”  Herd moves on.
  • 1:38 PM:  Brandenburg Gate, probably the most recognizable icon of Berlin.
  • 1:41 PM:  Lose Anna in the crowd at Brandenburg Gate, group is down to 8.
  • 1:47 PM:  Find Anna, back to full strength.
  • 2:11 PM:  Arrive at Reichstag, the seat of the German Bundestag.
  • 2:51 PM:  Duck-duck-goose with Grandma in the Tiergarten.
  • 3:30 PM:  Stroller breaks for good (or so we thought).  Back to the apartment for a short breather and mass feeding frenzy.
  • 5:31 PM:  Evening stroll in Volkspark Friedrichsain, the oldest municipal park in Berlin.
  • 8:00 PM: Lights out for the swarm.

And that was just day 1!  Day 2 included a cornicopia of public transportation (Cable Car, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, and Water Taxi), a walk down Unter den Linden (the Champs Elysees of Berlin), a stop at the Lustgarten, a walk back down Unter den Linden, a walk away from Unter den Linden and then back to Unter den Linden again, then back down the other direction on Unter den Linden, until turning around and heading back up Unter den Linden for a last time (The ladies referred to this  as “shopping”) …before finally retiring for dinner in a Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood restaurant.

Berlin, like Paris, is an excellent place to see a lot of history in a short amount of time, and it’s hard for five kids to do much damage to places like the Brandenberg Gate (it survived two World Wars, after all).  It was also a place for some great photo opportunities that the kids will appreciate when they are older (one would hope).