family travel photo strip

A Family Affair

My sister wanted Berlin.

Her 30th birthday loomed, and on the docket was a blow-out trip to Europe with her best friend. As you do. Meeting with her resident sibling abroad only made sense, so we joined our travel wish lists and Berlin was the set point. The single place in all of continental Europe where we both wanted to go, hadn’t been to yet, and could easily make work.



I’m sure I’ve written before about the unique challenges of family travel, especially with my family. There are a lot of us, we have loud and competing voices, and finding a moment of rest and respite is damn near impossible. They are my favorite people in the world, but we’re a force. In contrast, the idea of traveling with a single sibling sounded idyllic. The two of us haven’t explored much of the world together (other than with the aforementioned group), but we’ve done a ton on our own and it’s a passion we share.

In fact, side note, years ago my sister and her bestie worked an insane summer season on Nantucket to fund a 10-month world trip. Of course, working 80 hours a week for four months doesn’t leave much time for planning, so I did all the planning for them, sending them a bound dossier weeks before they left. They used my plans as their guide for at least six months, until they started running out of money and had to camp out in Eastern Europe so as not to blow their remaining budgets.



We approached our Berlin weekend planning as we normally do – I nailed down the apartment rental and looked up free walking tours, Drew did some research on key cultural highlights and made the restaurant bookings, and my sister, bless her, looked up the dance clubs.

Oh, did I mention that she’s a clubbing fiend, regularly visiting a place called Bootie back home in San Francisco? There, she dances the nights away and also has a proclivity for losing things like cell phones and her passport.


A couple weeks before the visitors touched down in London, I had a little talk with my sis. I reminded her that while I love her fun and free-spirited approach to life, and her bizarre but admirable need for very little sleep, some of us don’t actually love clubs (or as she calls them, ‘klerbs’). Some of us prefer to explore a city through its history and museums, its monuments and food, not its underground dungeons and abandoned factories where people play with glow sticks (is that still a thing?).

She reminded me that one of Berlin’s contributions to world culture IS its party atmosphere, and this is her birthday weekend after all.


And thus, my fate was sealed.

Most of our weekend in Berlin was spent soaking in the culture of this beacon of Europe’s history. We walked our little butts off, ducking out of the chilly weather into a museum or a memorial as needed. We also adored our free walking tour (a favorite thing of ours to do in many European cities). There’s nothing quite like having a local expert to make a new city come to life.

On the designated club night, we spent most of the evening playing Heads Up in our Airbnb flat. It’s one of the best games ever, and I laughed so hard a few times that I was literally rolling on the floor and trying to remember to breathe. To get our dance on, we ventured out to a local, but historically important dance hall called Clarchens Ballhaus. Here, people have been dancing the night away since 1913, and even these days, when fun cover bands play to a full ballroom on the weekends, the crowd is a melting pot of people – we danced next to people our parents’ ages, young folks, friends, and couples. Our favorite character from the night was an elderly gentleman, who must have been in his 80s. When the live band began, he nudged his way to the front of the crowd where he boogied with the best of them until the wee hours of the morning.



Berlin is everything you’ve heard and more.

It was the perfect place to meet my sister for her 30th birthday blow-out and if she and I can find an itinerary that suits both of us, you know that it is a city that legitimately has something for everyone. And now that I’m  recovered from a very, very late night, and have had plenty of sleep, I am happy to report that Berlin’s party scene really is a good time.

I know. I didn’t expect me to say that either.

Now I am scheming to reunite my entire crazy family in Berlin so we can take our mom to the dance hall at Clarchens Ballhaus and see what happens when you let the entire Smith clan out a city that actually matches us in chaos and energy. I can’t promise we won’t lose a cell phone or two, but it should would be a fantastic time.

  • February 15, 2016

    One of the benefits of traveling with someone who has very different interests to your own is that they can push you out of your comfort zone and force you to try things you otherwise would have never given a second thought… and sometimes those things wind up being awesome! I likely would have been groaning at the prospect of going clubbing as well (it’s possible that just yesterday I was in bed by 9:30…), but it sounds like you had a great time & the dance hall wound up being one of the more memorable parts of your trip. The historic sites in Berlin will always be there (and it sounds like you got to fit in quite a few any way!), but it sounds like you guys managed to strike just the right balance with catering to your wild child sister for her birthday weekend! 😉
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…A Return to Form… in ColombiaMy Profile

    • February 17, 2016

      Definitely nice to have a little kick in the butt from a travel companion, inspiring you (or sometimes forcing!) to do something different and experience something out of the ordinary. Like clubbing in Berlin for instance…

  • February 17, 2016

    Totally agree with Steph ^ I love traveling with people who pull me out of my comfort zone. I also LOVED Berlin, though we didn’t hit the ‘Klerbs.’ I feel like I need to go back with your sister to get the full experience!
    Jenny recently posted…What We’ve Learned After Five Years of TravelMy Profile

    • February 17, 2016

      The nightlife was actually a blast. Its a very egalitarian scene, in that places don’t judge people at the door or force club goers to dress up to be allowed in. The club we went to had all ages, and most people just rolled up in sneakers, jeans, and tee-shirts to enjoy some dancing. It was refreshing to see.