25 – 27 November 2016
As much as I do hate winter, Christmas is probably my favourite time of year. I love the food, I love the festiveness and I love the markets. Until a couple of weeks ago, the only time I had been to actual German markets was back in 2004 when I was 13. I went on a school trip to the markets in Aachen and Cologne and they were amazing. They were so cute and festive. Since then, I’ve frequented multiple German-esque Christmas markets in England. My university town of Nottingham has a small one every year and London is rife with them. There’s the big Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – complete with both expensive fairground rides and a free German-style Christmas Market – and ones on the South Bank and by the Tate Modern – and they’re just the ones that I have personally been to.
Then at the end of November, I finally made it to some more actual German Christmas Markets in Berlin. Six in fact. In two days. I’d heard that the markets in Berlin weren’t as good as ones elsewhere in Germany but that is definitely not what I found. Admittedly I wasn’t a massive fan of Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Alexanderplatz or Winterwelt am Potsdamer Platz – the stalls weren’t as pretty and the stuff on sale wasn’t as good as I’d found elsewhere – but we found some other excellent options. The market around St. Hedwig’s Cathedral was smaller and quieter (and so free of crowds) but my top three markets were:
- For the fun: Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg
- For the gifts: Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt
- For the atmosphere: Berliner Weihnachtszeit am Roten Rathaus
1. Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg
I imagine any other year, the Charlottenburg Palace is the perfect backdrop for the annual Christmas market. Sadly, this year the palace was hidden under layers of scaffolding. Happily, whilst I may not have got the best photos, the market was still great (and still pretty).
Without thinking, I had filled up on breakfast before I arrived so couldn’t take advantage of all the food options (the roast pork looked particularly good) but I was able to successfully shop and made quite a dent in my Secret Santa presents (with earrings made out of shells and a colourful glass candle holder). The fact that I got there quite early (a bit after 12pm) probably helped with that as it meant that I didn’t have to force my way through crowds of people to see what was on offer.
If you actually read the above, you will recall I said that this market was where I had the most fun. That was probably thanks to the booze. I was there with my Dad and we both stopped off at a Berlin-brewed vodka stand which sold both ordinary vodka and apple vodka (which is served hot). We sampled both and got a bit overexcited. The excitement carried us all the way over to a bar selling gluhwein (basically mulled wine). I generally don’t like the stuff and my Dad definitely doesn’t but we were getting into the festive spirit and it was served in really adorable mugs. We then both got the giggles as we made ourselves drink it.
2. Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt
From what I’ve heard, the Christmas market in Gendarmenmarkt is probably the most popular one in Berlin. Unlike the rest of the markets on this list, the market costs a whole €1 to get into. It was also hideously busy when I went there (I arrived at 3.15pm on a Saturday and left just after 5pm when the queue to get in was even longer). But it was worth it.
Neither of the cathedrals on Gendarmenmarkt nor the concert hall had scaffolding on them so I could actually get some pictures this time. The market stalls here were less wooden and more tent-like but equally adorable. There was a big Christmas tree, performances going on and some market stalls were inside where it was much warmer. However, the best thing about this market was the stuff on sale. Some of it was more expensive but much of it was crafty and a lot seemed to be handmade. There was a woman making scarves at a loom, a man making pens out of wood and an actual printing press used to make business cards. I couldn’t buy as much here as I would have liked but that was due to a lack of funds as opposed to a lack of stuff I wanted to get (still I did get a wooden Christmas tree decoration and a photograph for my Dad).
Unfortunately, I had once again filled up on food before I went (and had dinner reservations shortly after) so I couldn’t eat here either – which I was very annoyed about when I spotted the amazing looking raclette. Basically, I have a lot of reasons to go back here another year.
3. Berliner Weihnachtszeit am Roten Rathaus
When I arrived at the Christmas market on Alexanderplatz, I was a bit disappointed. It wasn’t what I had hoped but I had read that there were a few markets in the area so I walked over passed the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), towards the red town hall and here I found an amazing Christmas market. My Dad said it reminded him of our trip to Disneyland Paris, with music playing, a big ferris wheel and an ice skating rink. This market (which I got to at about 11.30am on a Sunday) was busier than Charlottenburg but significantly less so than Gendarmenmarkt. That meant I got the atmosphere without getting carried around by the crowds.
Here I finally managed to get some Christmas market food. And it was well worth the wait. I had the tender-ist slab of gammon in all the world, served up with potatoes and sauerkraut. I’m not even a sauerkraut person but here it worked.
The stuff on sale here was similar to that at Charlottenburg – but not exactly the same, so I was able to get even more Christmas shopping done: pretty Christmas dollies for my grandparents, a wooden train for my friend’s new baby which spells out her name (or it would have if I’d known her name when I bought it, I had to improvise) and a magnet for my magnet-collecting friend. I left fully in the Christmas spirit.