Now that the season of festivities, gluttony and exhaustive family-time has now passed, we thought we’d let you in on a little trip we took to Berlin right in the middle of the December to see what makes the Christmas markets so special in one of the architecturally youngest cities in Europe…
In preparation for this trip I tried to learn a bit about the Christmas Markets and why there are so many. We’re spoiled here in London with a token selection of setups that do their best interpretation of the established European models (I’m talking to you Rekorderlig Cider Lounge/Southbank Centre/Overly-priced hot dogs [http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/southbank-centre-winter-festival-guide]). Historically, these Christmas Markets were nothing special really; just the regular seasonal markets held in a local town/village square near the local church. Friends started to gather and share stories over food and drink at these seasonal markets, and thus the tradition was born. All this happened pre-Martin Luther’s reform of religion and suggesting that children receive Christmas presents. Definitely have a read of this site for a much more in-depth history.
The next thing I learned was that traditionally, each market slowly became known for certain items/specialities that might be harder to buy or, in our case, consume! Want to know which markets to hit when you visit later this year (get your bookings in early)? Here’s our selection of markets you should drop in on:
Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt: South of the river but still in the Mitte district, is where you’ll find the 18th Century Gendarmenmarkt. Through the year the Konzerthaus, Französischer Dom and the Deustscher Dom jointly host chamber music and classical performances (the two “domes” are indeed cathedrals, one being French the other German….in honour of the languages practised in them in the 18th century). At Christmas time, the square hosts one of the prettiest and least-commercial feeling of the central markets. It’s a pay per entry (€2.50 per head) setup that has live music, Christmas angels and even a fondue restaurant. Beautiful decorations are on display (€6 a pop!) and there is plenty of food to keep you warm at night. Probably my favourite of the lot! Specialities: those hand-made decorations and just having a certain charm to it.
Spandau: Imagine taking the short trip out towards Acton and you’ll understand what I mean by “West” Berlin with this one. Taking it in as a day trip, the Old Town of Spandau has retained most of Berlin’s ancient architecture (read: there is a very “Gothic” feeling church there), yet also seems to have a bit of an obsession with, well…presenting you with EVERYTHING you can possibly imagine!! Start the day with Langŏs (Hungarian deep-fried flatbread topped with sour cream and cheese #drool), a warm gluewhein to kickstart you on a chilly day, and you’ll find yourself sprawling for literally hours around what felt like the largest (area-wise) market in Berlin. Specialities: As I said, they’ve got everything, but there’s a small cluster of Gothic performances, art and drinking right at the base of the church of St. Nicholas where you can gather around a firepit to exchange drinking stories!
Charlottenburg Palace: Probably one of the more stunning backdrops to a market, this is one for the kids (I’m positive I saw one of those large toy-train sets we used to ride on when we were small) as well as the adults! Unfortunately, the Palace was undergoing some works while we were there so couldn’t warm up inside, but the brass band that was pumping out a couple of faultless Christmas jams warmed up the air….with a little help with from the roaring salmon fire-pits and bratwurst (currywurst specifically this time actually). Specialities: The shopping was a bit more modern, kind of like a walking through the Lanes in Brighton.
Potsdamer Platz & Alexanderplatz: Remember that little dig a bit earlier that I aimed at that cider-house? Well…in the sense of fairness I have to admit that these were some of the less-memorable BUT most accessible markets in the City, so if you’re just passing through and don’t have the time to travel then these are like the Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square of markets; much bigger crowds and LOTS of rides and games to play! Specialities: Potsdamer Platz boasts a rather large dry-slope tubing run and Alexanderplatz’s public ice-skating rink makes you cringe just a little bit when you see how busy it gets!
I've got another short post to come with a list of a couple of places to check out while you're in Berlin. So keep an eye out for that one!
PS> This trip happened just days before the tragic events of Monday 19th of December, when an ISIS (allegedly) inspired attack on a Berlin Christmas Market left several dead and many more injured. We had hoped to be able to come back from this trip feeling sentimental about a long weekend spent browsing the German capital city and its various festive-themed markets, drinking gluewhein and gnoshing on bratwursts (in all their shapes and sizes).That’s still going to be the case, although it will most definitely be done with a slight trepidation. Sometimes I do still wonder what the world has come to…..