Hi Frugalistas! I’ve been thinking long and hard about this post. It’s a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while, but acknowledge it may polarise my readers. It is an important topic though. One of the great things about traveling is seeing, learning and understanding history – some of that history is sad, some of it is a bit scary and some is just plain horrific. When you are traveling with children it doesn’t matter where you go – sad, scary and horrific history exists. As a responsible parent what is your role? Don’t touch the topic or embrace it and make it an important and meaningful part of your visit?
We took our daughter, Miss G, to Germany a few years ago when she was seven years old. We were going to be traveling through a large part of what had been East Germany, and would be visiting elderly relatives of my husband’s who had lived through the war and then either lived in, or escaped from the Communist regime. We were also visiting Munich (where we planned to visit Dachau concentration camp), Nuremburg (a major Nazi site), Dresden (bombed to oblivion during WW2) and Berlin, home of the “the wall”, checkpoint Charlie etc.
We are not psychologists, teachers or anyone else for that matter who really understands children, but these are the principles we used to “manage” our daughter and give her a great experience during her trip:
1. We understand our daughter
Our daughter is quite mature and has an enquiring mind. So we knew pretending nothing bad had ever happened was never going to work – the inevitable “why” questions were going to come, so we planned a plotted version of 20th century German history that she could understand. That Hitler was a very bad person, who did terrible, terrible things. That a lot of people were killed just because of their beliefs (no detail about how or why really), and that after the war the wall went up until about 20years ago. That was enough detail for her.
2. We did a lot of research on where we were visiting
What this did was allow us to focus on telling her about the things we thought she could understand, and that was appropriate for her age. That meant learning that Dachau had actually started out initially as a prison for political prisoners, rather than what it ultimately became. It meant focussing on the re-building of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, and on how the people of Coventry (whose cathedral was also destroyed in the war) had given the people of Dresden a special gift as part of the rebuilding. It was also about the power of the people in bringing down the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany.
3. We didn’t go everywhere or see everything
We didn’t go to the gas chambers at Dachau, nor did we mention them. We didn’t go to the Nazi sites in Nuremburg.
4. We gave our daughter permission to control her experience (within reason)
When we went to Dachau there was a museum, which MissG asked to visit. There was also a sign saying the museum was not suitable for children under 12. We explained this to her, and asked if she still wanted to go in. When she said she did, we explained there might be some upsetting things in there, and that the rule was if she decided she had had enough we would leave straight away. She controlled when we left the museum (which interestingly was about the time I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed too).
5. We focussed on aspects of the site that a child would find interesting or entertaining
Although we are not religious, we lit a candle at the Frauenkirche in Dresden to remember all the children and their parents who were killed in the bombing. At Dachau she loved the toilets in the living quarters (kids always love a bit of toilet humour!) In the Dachau museum we focussed on specific details she found interesting – like the old style German handwriting, the uniforms people wore etc. In Nuremburg we omitted the Nazi stuff and spent the day focussed on the Christmas Market. In Berlin we visited the part of the old East Berlin that bears MissG and my husband’s surname. She loved that – there was a place named after her.
6. We found plenty of fun things to do in fun places
We visited the beautiful town of Rothenburg, and my daughter spent a morning playing with some bilingual local children in the snow on their toboggans – something she had never done before. We went to Neuschwanstein and pretended we were king and queens for a day. We ate great food in some fun restaurants. Fun things that kids love, and that let kids be kids.
So what was the outcome? For me, a great trip, in fact, one of the best trips I’ve ever done. For MissG, a raft of memories that she talked about at school and wrote about at school and still remembers and talks about from time to time.
I honestly don’t believe it is necessary to pretend the whole world is a giant Disneyland, but like many things we do when traveling, planning and understanding before you go is key.
What do you think? If you are a parent, how do you handle these more sensitive aspects of travel?