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Once upon a time in Berlin

Written by Kirstie Pelling

Once upon a time in Berlin

Berlin stories

All childhoods begin with a story and this weekend we are taking our children to the place where fairytales began. On the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first Grimm Brothers collection, we’ll be trying to make sense of their home city. But the story of Berlin isn’t a simple tale; there are many shades of light and the dark in its dramatic history, landscape and vibe. Over the next few days we’ll be figuring out its plot and meeting its central characters by Trabi, bike and open topped bus…           

Ok then, I’m sitting comfortably.

“Once upon a time there was a rich and fertile kingdom divided by a wall. An ugly, unenchanting wall separating neighbourhood, friend and family. It cast dark shadows over their dreams and was feared and despised by those who dwelled around it for many moons…”

Berlin TV Tower

Berlin TV Tower. Image by T-klick under CCL
Could this be Rapunzel’s tower?

Enough wall stuff. Where’s the evil stepmother?

Er, I know we’re doing fairytale Berlin, but there’s no mirror on this wall. And the tale of this city isn’t as simple as boy meets frog, boy kisses frog, frog turns into Kate Middleton and everyone lives happily ever after. The recent story of Berlin is a long and winding tale of two complex and flawed characters; the East and the West. The plot is about their relationship to each other before and after a defining moment in history that figured largely as I was growing up.

Light and shade

Light and shade is always a feature of a fairy tale

No handsome prince then?

Luckily I’m bringing my own, and three of his kids. Together we intend to flick through the life and times of the city, and get our heads around its plot. We can’t begin to understand the whole history, but like the Grimm Brothers once did, Stuart and I hope to collect enough knowledge to craft stories for our children to help them understand and make sense of this world.  In the next few days, we hope to travel through place and time with the same creative spirit and appetite for a story that fuelled the Grimm Brothers way back in 1812. I’m not sure our musings will become one of the most frequently read collections in the world or be translated into 106 languages. But hey, you have to start somewhere. And at least you are reading this, right?

Odense Fairy Tale Centre

Not the Brothers Grimm but two grim brothers at the Odense Fairy Tale Centre

Indeed. So where does this story actually start?

It started when we entered Expedia’s Blogger Shaped Travel competition. And then you helped vote us to Berlin. But once we’re there, later this afternoon, what better place is there to begin a Grimm’s fairytale adventure than at the graves of the brothers? Well, there’s probably loads of more cheerful places to start in the dead of a freezing Friday night, but we’re starting there anyway, at their end.

We’ll continue the fairytale theme at the bizarre Propeller Island City Lodge. We were going to get everyone to sleep in coffins but that just seemed a step too far. Instead we’ll be settling our Hansels and Gretal down to sleep in some suspended cages. And before you ring the social services you should know they are luxury cages with an en suite bathroom, and the hotel won’t be serving the children up for breakfast.

When we let them out in the morning we’ll trace the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and much more at the Story of Berlin Museum, and we’ll see how Berlin artists have interpreted their history at the wall and in the galleries. We’ll follow the Berlin Wall in an old Trabi, eat salt snacks and go through Checkpoint Charlie with our German documents.  We’ll watch seven acrobats living together in a Berlin Loft create their own space in their own unique way at the Chamaeleon Theatre. We’ll tour Berlin by bike and open topped bus using our Berlin Pass. And if the weather’s good we’ll jump in the Fairytale Fountain.

Fairy Tale Fountain Berlin

Fairy Tale Fountain, Berlin. Image by Roland707

What? The weather’s always against you in a fairytale

Yeah, that’s a good point. And the weathermen are predicting temperatures of minus seven so we’ll be wearing ski jackets over our little red cloaks. But we might still encounter the wolf, disguised as an unassuming German Granny with a bag of sweets. This family can never resist a bag of sweets. If we don’t come home by Tuesday, promise you’ll follow the trail of crumbs…?

Graves of Brothers Grimm

Graves of Brothers Grimm in Berlin. Image credit: Thorleif Wiik

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About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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