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).    

The Night Watchman of Rothenberg ob der Tauber

THE MOZZARELLA STICKS I FOUND at the Italian Cafe across from our hotel were pretty tasty, but the best cheese in Rothenberg ob der Tauber comes in the form of the Night Watchman.

(photos from our trip to Rothenberg and neighboring Dinkelsbühl)

We spent a kidless Night in Germany’s famous medieval town, and in Rothenberg nothing is more famous for the tourists types than the Night Watchman’s tour.  It has practically reached legend status.  The same Night Watchman – Hans-Georg Baumgartener – has been giving the same tour since 1991.  In fact, open Rick Steve’s Germany book and page over to Rothenberg, and you will find a photo of Hans-Georg dressed with a cloak and lantern, leading a bunch of tubed-socked, camera-toting, pot bellied, grinning American tourists around.  Melissa and I laughed at the stereotypical vision of the Americans abroad.  Would we ever be caught dead do something so ridiculous?

Of course we would.

We sat in the marktplatz until dusk when the guy with the cloak, candle, lantern, and wicked-looking staff showed up, stood for a few photos, and took a couple dozen tourists on a stroll through the city.  With a delivery that was a mix between Steven Wright and Andy Rooney, we followed the guy around town for an hour and listened to him explain the history of Rothenberg ob der Tauber – from the defense and fall of the city, the arrival of the black plague, the visits from kings and emperors, the history of the buildings, and even the story of its near destruction in WWII – mixed with with humor that ranged from cheesy to sublime.  Example: The Watchman led us by a local tavern called “Zur Höll”, meaning ‘to Hell’, which gave him an excuse to tell us all to “Go to Hell!” several times. ´(Think that’s funny?  How funny would that joke be if you had told it every day for the last 20 years of your life?)

HE’S NOT SO MEDIEVAL, it turns out.  They day after the tour, Melissa and I sat at our Italian cafe – you know, the one with the Mozzarella sticks – when a man zoomed by on the cobblestone street on a Segway.  Melissa said, “Hey, that’s a Segway.  And hey, that’s the Night Watchman!”  (Thinking “Pictures or it didn’t happen?”….here’s your proof.)

And just to be sure you don’t miss out on any details of the tour, beneath his cloak he carries US-formatted DVDs of the Watchman’s tour (complete with bonus footage), offered to you for only 15€.  What sucker would ever buy such an obviously overpriced tourist trinket?

Of course, we would.

I’ll admit…cheese and all, it was well worth it.  I recommend a stop in Rothenberg for a chance to stay in the quaint, medieval-styled hotels,  a chance to walk the wall, and a chance to stop in the many tourist shops (this is the home of the famous Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store, after all).  And if you’re here at dusk, you might as well take in the Night Watchman’s tour (and learn a little about the life medieval).

And I’d also recommend the Mozzarella sticks.