Nov 1, 2014

Berlin with kids: "MACHmit!" kids' museum review

A fun, interactive space - perfect for damp and gray fall days.

It's not just half-term in the UK - Missy's thrilled that her Berlin school-aged relatives also have the week off, and even more thrilled that we're visiting them. But much as Lee wanted to spend the week perfecting her selfie technique with my sisters' electronic devices, reduce my grandfather's supply of Actimel, and explore the differences between German and British Netflix, I also insist on excursions.

Thanks for the very helpful "Top 10 Berlin" website (available in English and German) I found a list of the top 10 child-friendly museums in the city. After looking at the photos, we decided to check out the "MACHmit!" (Participate!) museum, which is currently home to a fairy-tale-based exhibit.

Prenzlauer Berg, where the museum is based, is a bit of a shlep from Wannsee but gave Missy the chance to go on her first-ever tram ride.

Though it's walkable, the closest U-Bahn (Eberswalder Strasse) and S-Bahn (Prenzlauer Allee) stops are about 1 km away from the museum and thus not the best option for little legs in crisp weather. 

Based in an old church, the museum's exterior is quite striking. A long Rapunzel braid is suspended down the façade, and a Litfaß column and Berlin bear decorated with the museum's posters add to a pleasant atmosphere.

The entry price – €5.50 for everyone over the age of 3 – is fair enough given the quality of the exhibit and the fact that it includes some crafts activities like collage-making. The foyer leads to a cloakroom (free of charge, but unsupervised - though our coats survived unmolested) and the museum itself.

You start off by literally stepping a Grimm's fairy tales book cover, and downstairs, have the option to partake in some favorite Grimm's fairy tales:

You can be Hansel, stuck in his cage 

Put on a Little Red Riding Hood puppet show 

Open a curtain to see why grandmother has such big eyes 

Check out some lovely little peephole dioramas with Schleich wolves 

Take the bread from the oven like Goldmarie or leave it in like Pechmarie (this is from "Frau Holle," a fairy tale less well-known in the English-speaking world), and be rewarded either with a shower of gold, or punished when a bucketful of coal, tar and soot comes down over you (the contents don't actually come down in case this wasn't obvious).  

There's also a hall of mirrors – shoes off – and an old-fashioned lost-and-found store:

Upstairs (note: the stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate) the fun goes on:

You can spin like Sleeping Beauty

Or get ready for the ball like Cinderella

This is also the part of the museum with the indoor playground - it's a bit like an apehouse at the zoo, and the little monkeys within all clambered around quite happily. Note that you can't wear shoes OR socks in this part of the playground, so slip-on or zippered shoes are a better option than lace-ups and tights in case the kids want to go in and out repeatedly (you can guess which Missy wore). Kids under 5 must be accompanied by equally barefooted adults. 

We joined in two crafts activities: making fairy-tale collages (no additional charge) and putting together your own herbal tea mix (€1 per sachet). Missy wanted to join in the letterpress activity, but after about 3 hours of fun I called time. 

The cafe is also quite cute - frothed milk ("kids' latte") is €0.50, and there's an assortment of baked goods and coffeehouse drinks at reasonable prices (though coming from the UK to Berlin, everything seems reasonable). 

What age group will get the most out of the museum? 
It's mostly suitable for the 2-10 age group, but younger ones will be able to toddle around freely and older ones can still have fun at the crafts stations (and the play area too if they're not too pre-teen abut it). 

Pros in a nutshell 
Many hands-on things to do, friendly and helpful staff, not too expensive, not especially crowded even though it's school vacation, and an easily overseeable not tacky indoor play area - perfect especially for the colder and darker months. I've already promised Missy we'll be back for Christmas break. And if you're based in Berlin, the museum also offers workshops, including the chance to get hands-on experience with an organ.

Are there any cons? 
The building has a few signs of wear and tear (think water damage along the walls); otherwise, the smell (just a hint of drains) takes a few minutes to get used to. Lee asked me to add that the taps in the bathrooms run cold, "which is very uncomfortable." Strollers are meant to be left downstairs and I don't think there's an elevator on site (so not one if you have knee problems). Still, all very minor quibbles...

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