I knew that being outside and finding parks were key to my duties as "grandma/nanny" (aka "PB") while taking care of sixteen-month-old Solomon in Berlin for three weeks this August. I'd read the travel guides about child-friendly activities in the area and a recent article about the 1800 parks in Berlin, and saw some of the innovative and creative play spaces spread throughout the city.
Solomon and I quickly found a rhythm to our days while his parents worked. We often started with a short walk either before or after breakfast to the nearest park with duck pond and slide before returning to the apartment to plan the longer stroller walks to bigger and better play structures.
Soon enough, Solomon would grab an assortment of shoes in the closet and put on his hat, signaling to me that it was time to get going! Christopher or Kate would prepare the diaper bag, containing a few treats in case he got thirsty or hungry, and then we were off. Solomon discovered his favorite activity, sitting (although always a little hesitantly) on the big blue net swings; climbing up and sliding down slides and playing in the sand with his new bucket and shovels were close seconds.
I was amazed at the variety of play structures, situated every few blocks, with plenty of variety to spark the imaginations of different ages of children. Most of them were made of natural materials, tree trunks, ropes, wooden cars, sand boxes (one had a water spigot so the children could make sand castles as if at the ocean or lake), towers, pulleys, zip lines, etc.
I loved watching the kids play with one another, often strangers, often speaking to us in German and not caring that we responded in English, sharing or playing side by side. There was an independence, an openness to their play that is not so prevalent at parks in the U.S.
The kids got dirty, sometimes fell, maybe squabbled over whose shovel was being used to fill a sand bucket, but left to their own devices, they worked things out. Sometimes, however, the play structures were a little intimating to our young one!
Here are some of my favorite pictures of some of the parks we visited and Solomon doing what little boys do--play!
This park was closest to the apartment and the duck pond. As the days passed, Solomon eventually also wanted to swing on the "hands' free" swing, watching two brothers fly ever higher before jumping off!
We couldn't figure out this blue rubberized circle but it seemed to work well for hiding and shoveling sand.
Several highlights of our stay were trips to the Berlin Zoo (where he would jump into my arms when he saw the bigger animals like the elephants and giraffes, whereas he was content to watch the chickens, roosters, and big birds without my help) and Aquarium (very child-friendly, letting kids even touch the carp). We could sit almost against the glass aquariums, which was fine until a hammer-head shark (or something as ugly) swam up close to us. Baby quickly jumped up and grabbed me for protection, turning over the stroller in the process. Some kind young men helped put us back together...and we were off for more exploring.
Thiel Park near the Institute was probably our most-frequented venue. The block structure was perfect for a little boy to practice his "high steps" while also letting him explore with bark. Another small backyard park with a car with moveable steering wheel and gear shift gave him more minutes of pure joy.
We visited Domane Dahlem Farm, a working farm in our neighborhood. The multi-generational play structures, e.g., elliptical machine, old tractors, swing sets, were fascinating. We didn't stay long enough for the carousel to start but we were intrigued by the very old animals.
The park in Spandau along the river where the bigger kids used these logs for their forts.
Rope courses were all around us. Baby tried several times to figure out how he might play on them, but the rungs were too far apart...until Dad came along (below).
On my last day with Solomon and his parents, we visited Spandau, where he climbed (with our help) ALL the stairs to the top of Julius Tower AND convinced his father that he could play on the spider ropes, usually meant for the older kids.
I didn't see many museums this trip but learning about this city through a toddler's eyes was pure delight. Even water fountains around the various cities (here, Gorlitz, a medieval town in southeast Germany that crosses over into Poland) could be the subject of much amusement. Dogs, one of his first words, were a hit whether bronze or real!