Our annual summer sabbatical this year started in NYC. Each year when we spend time in Manhattan, we try and give the kids a taste of what real New Yorkers do. Yes we are technically tourists but since NYC was our home for so many years, we can be both tourist and New Yorker all at the same time. We want our kids to be more New Yorker than typical tourist so we do our best to show them how a real New Yorker lives, how they get around town, where they eat, shop and what they complain about.
We left our hotel the first morning and started walking, not sure where but searching for a breakfast spot. Back in my day, living in Manhattan, you couldn’t walk one whole block and not pass a diner. Well we walked and walked. Ended up going up a few blocks - over a couple of avenues - back down a few blocks and finally came across a typical NY coffee shop.
It occurred to us as we were walking with the kids that the diners were becoming a thing of the past. On the avenues, many brownstone style buildings were being replaced with more and more high rise buildings with sky rocketing rents that seemed to be inhabited by more upscale trendy restaurants. There always seemed to be a ton of tall buildings and expensive restaurants no doubt, but that NYC character is what was noticeably missing.
For Keith and I, the diner holds a lot of history. We had our first daytime date in a diner in Midtown. (which we ended up walking by this very same day and seeing a for rent sign in the window) We had many very late night greasy bacon cheese burgers delivered (yes, pre vegetarian days!) and many mornings eating Feta Omelettes and drinking endless cups of diner coffee, meeting friends, reading the paper, just a part of every day life.
And now here we were trying to explain to our kids why we were sad to see the diner experience fading. Over the years, I’ve sensed that the kids don’t find the diner as charming as we do. A sign of the times? But it is one of those things. Like sitting and drinking coffee in an actual cup, not counting the calories in your greasy breakfast, enjoying the personalities that worked in these diners as well as those that frequented them.
When we returned to Phoenix after our month away, I googled the phrase “disappearing NY diners”. After all, was it just me or had anyone else noticed??? Was anyone else concerned or worried? An article in the NY Times laid it all out really well but even better was this in depth article on Grub Street that gives a history lesson on the NY diner through words and photographs.
The diner + old style coffeeshop are just an example of things dying off right in front of us. We don’t notice at first - but then when we start to look around we lament about what is gone. These spots were great equalizers. I’m sad to see them go.
John’s Coffee Shop 825 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10017
Just the idea of a concentration camp makes most adults shudder. So why should you visit with your kids? For us it was a no-brainer. Our children were 12 and 9 and we knew we would approach it with their ages in mind. Remembering the recent historical past in an age appropriate way was our goal.
We stopped in Munich for a few days and decided as a family that we would visit Dachau. My little one’s limited understanding of the atrocities of World War II were enough to make her a little nervous. Our 12 year old had read the Diary of Anne Frank, watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and several other war related movies. She had a certain fascination with the war that both Keith and I remember having at roughly the same age.
So approaching Dachau would be based on their understanding of what had transpired so many years ago. We weren’t going to over emphasize anything that would upset the kids, they didn’t need to study the horrific photos to understand the gravity of where we were.
We exited the short train ride from Munich to Dachau and waited for the bus to take us to the camp. As the bus made its way towards the camp, my 12 year old asked if people lived this close to the camp during the war. Sadly, the answer we would find out once inside was Yes! People had lived right in this town, close to the camp. What they were told or what they were led to believe or what they chose to not believe is up for debate. But for a 12 year old to ask this question speaks volumes. How could this happen in plain sight?
Without a strong understanding of WWII my younger one could walk through the camp without overthinking what had taken place. That might sound superficial but we didn’t need to tell her to be somber or reflective. It was a general mood the moment you walked through the gate. She understood the magnitude without needing to visually see or hear what had taken place within these walls. The rest of us listened to the walking tour through our head set, read the plaques throughout the camp and stopped to read through the incredible permanent exhibition at the memorial site. It was overwhelmingly emotional.
An adult can not understand how this could happen. A thinking person can not begin to process these atrocities. The incredible tragedy. A child can’t even wrap their head around most of this. But a visit to this concentration camp opened a dialogue with both of our children on different levels. Learning about history, learning what led to this, how this happened and how we can insure that this never happens again is potentially one of the benefits for visiting.
We travel with our children for all sorts of reasons. There is the fun component to travel and there is a serious side. We hope that they always take away something from everywhere we visit. Regardless of how young or perhaps not well versed on a subject, there is still the ability to learn and put things into their own perspective. The true benefit of travel.
How to get there? A short 25 minute train ride (S2) from Munich’s Central train station (Hauptbahnhof). Once you exit the train, you will wait/board the 726 towards Saubachsiedlung to the entrance of the Memorial site. This is a regular bus that takes people around Dachau, so it does make other stops. It was pretty crowded, standing room only on the bus.
Things to know: The admission is free. The Memorial site is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm. The audio tours are available in several languages for a nominal charge. There is a lot of walking on the tour, so wear comfortable shoes. There is a cafeteria for lunch, snacks and drinks.