15 Berlin Adventures Your Whole Family Will Love
With miles of bike lanes, quirky pop-up museums, a massive hotel boom, and some of the world’s tastiest street food, Berlin is drawing a new breed of traveler: families.
4. CLIMB AROUND IN A CHURCH
Not all art in Berlin is conspicuous. The MACHmit! Museum for Children (which roughly translates to "join in!") hides within a converted Protestant church and is outfitted with Bauhaus-inspired climbing shelves, fun-house mirrors, and a series of hands-on arts and crafts and cooking exhibits (Senefelderstrasse 5, machmitmuseum.de, $6). Transit geeks with good timing can immerse themselves in the history of the city's subway at the pop-up Berliner S-Bahn-Museum, hosted by a group of train enthusiasts in a former railway station the second weekend of the month, from spring through autumn (S-Bahn Griebnitzsee, s-bahn-museum.de, adults $2.75). There, guests can play conductor behind the wheel of a drive simulator modeled on century-old technology.
5. REFUEL ON THE CHEAP
Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte may be boutique- and stroller-filled neighborhoods now, but they were once the center of the East Berlin resistance. The counterculture ethos still exists in pockets, including FraRosa Weinerei (wine bar), one of three related honor-system restaurants in Berlin where patrons pay what they will (really) for everything from lunch to tea and cakes to four-course dinners of German specialties made with organic ingredients—and, of course, wine (Veteranenstrasse 14, weinerei.com). Honigmond Kaffeehaus-Restaurant charges a bit more, though $9 for its wonderful, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is still a bargain. Besides, the lovely corner bistro has had a fascinating life: Before the Stasi secret police raided it in the late '80s, it was the unofficial headquarters of the East German opposition movement (Borsigstrasse 28, honigmond.de/restaurant.html).
- BERLIN TRANSIT TIP: GOING UNDERGROUND Although the city's once-bisected subway system has been reconnected, crossing town on the U-Bahn remains a challenge. The first rule of riding: Know your zones. There are three in the city (A, B, and C), and failing to pay for all those you travel through could get you in big trouble with the undercover inspectors who roam the cars. For most trips you'll only need zone A, or A and B (about $3 each way), while airport trips call for a three-zone fare ($4).
6. EXPLORE AN ANIMAL PLANET
Built on the site of the 18th-century pheasantry that once supplied fowl to the King of Prussia's royal kitchen, the 168-year-old Zoological Garden was Germany's first zoo and, with 17,727 animals, has one of the most diverse populations in the world. Savvy visitors will want to sync their trips with the feeding times of their favorite animals (pandas at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., penguins at 1:45 p.m.), or splurge on a private, 20-minute visit with a single species, complete with zookeeper Q&A. And be sure to keep an eye out for the zoo's newest arrival, Kathi, a baby hippopotamus born in October. Hardenbergplatz 8, zoo-berlin.de, from $29.50 for a family ticket; private tours an additional $107.
7. FIND A STREET'S SWEET SPOT
Every Berliner has a favorite secret street, a place like the cobblestoned Gräfestrasse in Kreuzberg. The four-block-long stretch serves as a microcosm of the modern city: here, Kadó, a highly focused candy store that sells 400 varieties of licorice—and nothing else (Gräfestrasse 20, kado.de, licorice from $2.10); there, Lilli Green, an eco-minded design shop that stocks the shelves with "upcycled" objects such as pencils made of old Japanese newspapers and storage baskets fashioned from recycled car tires (Gräfestrasse 7, lilligreen.de, pencils 12 for $7). And then there's Little Otik, a rustic New American restaurant whose out-of-the-shadows evolution mirrors Berlin's own. Its owners, New York transplants Kevin Avery and Jeffrey Sfire, started hosting by-appointment dinners for 10 in their pop-up supper club in February 2009, then decided to take their underground sensation public, with a changing menu of seasonal dishes such as white bean and farro soup, grass-fed rib eye with bone marrow butter, and date and almond pie with vanilla ice cream (Gräfestrasse 71, littleotik.de, entrees from $12).