The holiday season in Germany has begun and the Christmas Markets are in full swing. Even if, like myself, you are not a big fan of the season to be jolly, Germany’s Christmas markets are a wonderful place to warm the cockles and chase away our inner Grinch. The little wooden huts that spring up at the end of November are like little alpine villages complete with warm welcoming firelight, the enticing smells of roasting meats, sausages, and chestnuts as well as the sounds of merriment accompanied by the pleasant clinking of glasses and mugs full of mulled wine. In between the food, drink and sweets stalls a visitor can also expect to find handmade wooden crafts and toys, candle makers, lambs wool boots and slippers and all varieties of wintery apparel being sold by rosy cheeked vendors warming themselves with a steaming beverage around outdoor heaters. The prices are reasonable though be aware most places charge a deposit for the mugs which also make a great souvenir if you don’t want to return them. In the capital there are many places to get into the holiday spirit Teutonic style. Since most tourists tend to stay in the central district of Mitte we will start there.
The easiest market to find is at Alexanderplatz due to the 50 meter/yard high, brightly lit up ferris wheel which is nonetheless dwarfed by the TV tower next to it. The market is set up in the square in front of the red town hall “Rotes Rathaus” and due to the ice skating rink and other carnival style rides and games this is easily the most popular market in the city for tourists.
My favorite however is the Christmas Market at Gendarmenmarkt. All year round the square is generally acknowledged as the most beautiful in Berlin. A statue of Friedrich Schiller stands in front of the beautiful neo-classic Concert house built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and framed on both sides by the domes of two magnificent former churches. During the month of December a village of white peaked tents pops up making this one of the more upscale Christmas markets in Berlin. In the middle of the square a stage has been set up and unlike other markets in Berlin almost half of it is indoors as they have built temporary constructions housing restaurants, bars, clubs and shopping centers for handmade crafts. The one drawback here however is that they do charge a one euro entry fee which is in my opinion completely worth it. The performers range from acrobats to a cappella and jazz and variety shows.
In between Gendarmenmarkt and Alexanderplatz is another market set up on Unter den Linden which winds off the street back towards the Foreign Ministry next to the Crown Prince and Princesses Palace. As a tour guide this was one of my favorites simply due to convenience. It is located in the historic heart of Berlin, across the street from the German History Museum, next to the river Spree and UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum Island. Since this is where I would generally end the tour after a full day of sightseeing I would be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t do with a sausage and a steaming mug full of mulled wine or Gluhwine as the Germans call it.
Potsdamer Platz also has a special attraction set up. In addition to all the stalls and vendors with candied apples, lebkuchen, marzipan and other seasonal treats they have built a man-made hill on which to go sledding. Since Berlin is quite flat this is something to see. So far this year we have been blessed with a relatively warm start to the winter but the snow machine ensures the tobogganing will go on!
For those not averse to traveling outside the main district of Mitte, just to the north there is a Christmas market in district of Prenzlauer Berg, in the Kultur Brauerei. What was once a former brewery has been repurposed as a collection of bars, pool hall, movie theaters, concert halls, as well as all sorts of shops and a Rewe grocery store. For the month of December however it is transformed into a winter wonderland with logs set up around roaring fires to keep warm.
For those in West Berlin fear not. The Schloss Charlottenburg or Charlottenburg Palace also has its own beautiful Christmas market set up directly in front of the palace. There is perhaps no better backdrop in Berlin for a Christmas market than the residence of Queen Sofie Charlotte. They also have a stage set up here with concerts and if it gets too cold for you then you can head into the palace for a tour of Hohenzollern family history.
In the center of the former American sector of Berlin in Breitscheidplatz a lovely Christmas market has been set up with the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church as the back drop. Though the church is currently undergoing renovation and is therefore behind scaffolding this market is still well worth the visit.
One of the largest Christmas Markets in Berlin can be found in the northwest of the city in the district of Spandau in the Old Town around Reformationsplatz and St. Nikolai Church. Though a bit further out than the other markets Spandau has a charm all its own as does its yuletide joy.
If you did book your trip to Berlin during the oft frosty month of December you would be doing yourself a great injustice to not visit at least one of these markets. Have grown up with an all pervasive consumer culture which peaks obscenely around the holiday season has frozen my heart to the true meaning of the season of giving. Yet with each passing year my heart thaws out a little bit more in no small part to the German tradition that are Christmas markets.