How to survive a scorching hot weekend in Europe: our weekend in Berlin
We’d been planning our trip to Berlin for a while, but who could have anticipated that our visit would coincide with one of the hottest weekends in Europe thanks to a front bringing to the old continent heat straight from the Sahara?
The moment we landed at Berlin’s Tegel airport, we knew we needed to revisit our trip schedule as no sane person would attempt a busy itinerary with lots of walking, especially with the two five-year-olds. So, we made a few adjustments and adopted a flexible right attitude, and managed to make this visit a successful one. Based on this new experience, I came up with a few observations that can be useful for families visiting Berlin or any other European city on particularly hot weekends:
- Be flexible and take it easy – very often, when we plan a weekend trip to a new destination we want to pack into our “to see” list as much stuff as possible. And there’s not always anything wrong with this approach, as long as we are ready to play things by ear and adjust our initial plans to a new reality — like blazing temperatures that reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). So, when traveling in summer, it’s best to be ready to update your schedule, cut down on the things you planned to see, find alternative attractions (particularly those with airconditioning or other “cool” properties) and just focus on making the trip pleasant for everyone. On our trip to Berlin we had to cut our list of “things to do” in half, but hey, at least everybody was happy and stayed sane – and mostly fully hydrated.
- Ask locals for advice – when you think about things to do in Berlin, you don’t necessarily have a beach in mind, do you? But it turns out, even a big city like that has treasures you would never find in a typical guidebook. With a hint from a Berliner, we discovered a wonderful spot where the local families chill out on summer days. In the city’s eastern Pankow district, we visited the Weisser See Park which offers a nice, sandy beach with a lifeguard; a sizable, clean lake with a separate swim area for kids; and a bar area where you can buy snacks and refreshment. Admission to the beach woth the lifeguard was only one euro when we arrived in late afternoon, but could be as high as 3 euros earlier in the day. The kids loved this treasure that most tourists don’t even know exists! Just watch out for the sudden drop off past the rope marking the outer edge of the children’s area.
- Mix outdoor and indoor activities – you can recharge your batteries and cool down if you mix outdoor sightseeing with a few visits to museums. Find attractions that are family friendly and interesting for the kids. Children become better tourists if they find traveling exciting and fun. Therefore, we always make sure we include on our agenda activities tailored to the youngest. In Berlin, we visited LEGO Discovery Centre at Potsdammer Platz (close to most of the main sites in Mitte, like Brandenburger Gate, the Tiergarten, Unter den Linden, and the government district) and the German Museum for Technology. In the latter, one could easily spend the entire day to see everything, but even a couple hours there was enough to escape the heat (although not completely – the very worthwhile train exhibits are not air conditioned) and put everybody in a good mood.
- Accessorize accordingly – never underestimate the sun, even if you feel you have enough shade from the surrounding buildings. A good sunblock and sun hats are musts when exploring cities in the heat of the summer. Also, remember to keep you and your kids hydrated. In hot weather, water warms up really quickly, so in order to keep it cool we always travel with thermos straw bottles. Our little travelers carry them in their very own backpacks, which is another handy accessory. Backpacks makes them feel independent (they can always reach for a snack or water themselves) but they also can carry their little treasures and games which come handy when sitting in a restaurant and waiting for food or riding on the S-Bahn
- Splurge if necessary – of course it all depends on our budget and how much we are willing to spend pver it when needed. In some European cities, including Berlin, air conditioning is a rarity. If you are dying for some AC, take a taxi. We discovered that taxis in Berlin are not only equipped with AC but also with booster seats. We don’t know whether this was true for all, but it was for those we used. Also, if you want to see more without extensive walking a good idea is to use a city tour like Hop On, Hop Off or splurge on a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or tuk-tuk type service.
The most important thing is not to ever get discouraged. Maintaining a positive and flexible attitude sure helps our kids do the same.