Thursday 7th – 11th December 2017
Day One: Thursday
My Dad and I arrived for our 5,000th trip to Berlin into Schönefeld airport on Thursday afternoon. We hadn’t eaten much so a visit to Max and Moritz kebab shop was inevitable. I’ve had many a kebab in my time – in fact I’d perhaps even go so far as to call myself a kebab connoisseur – but these are my favourite and they’d be hard to top. Although I’d be happy to do the research. Whilst we had come to Germany for the Christmas markets, by the time we had landed and filled up on kebabs, we weren’t really feeling up for doing much. Instead we crashed out for a few hours before my Dad suggested dinner. I still wasn’t hungry after my tasty, tasty late lunch but I admitted we needed to leave the house.
We made our way to our local Italian – Franceso Forgione – and I ordered my semi-regular choice of spaghetti carbonara. I love this place because it feels like a proper restaurant for locals. The staff are friendly and the food is like home-cooked comfort food. I felt guilty that I was too full to eat much of my lovely dinner. The waiter even commented on my slow progress. Thankfully I was able to slip my leftovers to my Dad while he wasn’t looking and still received my complimentary aperitif at the end of the meal. Our evening ended crashed out on the sofa watching pre-downloaded movies on my Dad’s propped up iPad. This is pretty much how every evening ended during our stay. I can’t for the life of me remember the movies we watched to fill four nights but I do recall that I watched my first ever Alfred Hitchcock movies: The Birds (loved, except the ending) and Marnie (less impressed).
Day Two: Friday
We’d learned from last year’s Christmas markets trip that eating beforehand was a dumb idea – so this time we did not. Instead we headed straight to our favourite market: WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt. We’d last visited late afternoon, it was busy and there was a short queue to get in which lengthened considerably by the time we left. This time we arrived so early it was practically deserted and we didn’t even need to pay the €1 entry fee. First things first, we needed food. I’d seen a raclette there the year before and so this time it wasn’t hard for me to recognise the smell. This is what we decided upon – raclette on toast. Perfect. I also treated us to a hot chocolate. After all, it was cold and we were not gluhwein fans. This is the best market I have found for Christmas presents. Not just novelty secret santa presents but actual gifts. It’s not the cheapest market but we successfully made a decent dent in our shopping lists.
From Gendarmenmarkt, we went to another market we had enjoyed the year before: Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Roten Rathaus. I’d loved it before. We’d gone to the market on Alexanderplatz and been disappointed so wandered over to see what this one was like and it was considerably better. So again this year we passed through Alexanderplatz, had a brief detour into the Galeria Kaufhof department store to pop to the bathroom, and headed towards the red town hall. Sadly this time, however, we didn’t like it as much. The stalls were pretty much the same (although that could basically be said for all the markets we re-visited) and I came away with a stollen for my Nan but nothing else. We did however take the opportunity to have lunch. I was tempted by the tasty gammon I’d had last year but spotted goulash on the menu and figured I should try something new. It wasn’t bad but sadly wasn’t as good.
We figured it was time to head in the direction of home but since this would take us by the Weihnachtsmarkt an der Gedächtniskirche near Breitscheidplatz, we decided to add another Christmas market to our list and as this was the site of the terrorist attack the year before I thought it important to visit this market now. We arrived to find similar stalls to the other markets we had frequented so we didn’t buy any gifts, apart from a little nutcracker Christmas tree decoration which I got for myself. I think every Christmas tree needs a nutcracker. The market was quite busy but had a calm atmosphere as the sun set over the pretty stalls.
Once we’d finished wandering around, we headed back towards the flat. We ventured out later for a short walk to Egger’s Steakhouse. My Dad had been to this place before and reassured me that while it may not look like much, the food was excellent. We arrived to find a place that, to me, looked more like a takeaway from the outside than a restaurant. Inside it was like an old fashioned sports bar. However, my Dad had made an excellent point about the food. We had a buffet salad to start before moving onto our steak main course. I had been feeling full again from the day’s treats but this was worth pushing through for.
Day Three: Saturday
The next morning we went off to one of our other favourite Christmas markets: Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg. There is something about the atmosphere that means we just find it fun. Last year the tasters from a Berlin-brewed vodka stand and some gluhwein may have had something do with it. This year we loaded up on bottles of the vodka for gifts but not samples and we had learned the lesson of our feelings towards gluhwein before but we still had fun. The live band helped with that. We managed to find several presents (including a nice warm hat for myself that my Dad allowed me to wear until we headed home) but the real win here was the food. This was the market last year where the offerings on display taught us not to eat before going to a market. This time we found a suckling pig and we hungrily ordered pork rolls. I wish I’d had one the year before too but it was totally worth the wait. We also sampled trdelnik – a central/eastern European rolled dough cake (it reminded me of thin cinnamon swirl). It was a bit overpriced but tasted great.
Four Christmas markets down, we decided our next activity should be something different. We headed towards Hauptbahnhof to visit the Hamburger Bahnhof modern art gallery. Set in an old train station I thought it sounded like an interesting venue, however it was a bit too out there for either of us. There were times where we didn’t know if we’d stepped out of the gallery into a shop or a warehouse. There was part of the station/gallery which had been made to look like a station again for “art”. There was a creepy sun video that was very Mighty Boosh. But my absolute favourite thing was the exhibition that was a room full of crate boxes. This was a couple of rooms down from another room full of crate boxes. Although this one wasn’t an exhibition, this was just boxed up exhibition pieces and I got told off for taking a picture of them. At least we had a laugh here, although I’m not sure that was what we were meant to take away from this place.
We decided to swing by Gendarmenmarkt again en route home for somewhere to grab a coffee. Instead we ended up at the Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt for an early dinner. Here I got the goulash I really wanted.
Day Four: Sunday
For our final day, we decided to try a market we hadn’t been to before, the one in Spandau. This was quite a bit further away and a bit out of town but it was an easy ride on the U Bahn and we’d heard good things. We’d heard it was quite a big market but it was absolutely freezing and the goods on sale were the same/not as great as everywhere else. There were several fairground attractions, however, making it a good combination of rides and decent shopping (as opposed to markets like Potsdamer Platz which had rides but was not great for shopping) and so probably a good option for families. What saved it for us was the food.
I’d been in Germany for four days now but had not yet had bratwurst. Therefore despite the fact I had spotted another suckling pig, I figured I’d go for sausage in a roll. My Dad went for a Hungarian dish that was a combination of sausage and cabbage. We were both very happy with our choices but our happiness was increased further when we decided to get the suckling pig too. This suckling pig was served up quite differently to yesterday’s (sliced instead of shredded meat and with a different taste) but it was also great. The more reasonably priced trdelnik we found was just the icing on the cake.
Not having had enough, we went from here back to Gendarmenmarkt (again) to Fassbenders & Rausch chocolatiers. We went under the pretence of just going to see whether there was a queue for their cafe and if not we would just grab a hot drink. Then stayed under the pretence that we would just wait to see how long the inevitable queue that we found there would take to move. When we were seated after not too long at our favourite high table in the window looking over the cathedrals, we gave up the pretence. We wanted our hot chocolates and chocolate tortes. So that is what we ordered.
Afterwards, we decided to take another wander round Gendarmenmarkt. It was far more hectic this time which made shopping more stressful but – despite this – the extra people did make it more festive, for want of a better word. My Dad hung round the stage, hoping to see some of the performers, like we saw last year. Sadly we seemed to have missed them but I was at least able to pick up a couple more nicknacks.
We stopped off for a beer at Newton Bar before heading back to the flat. After all we’d eaten, and considering the fact I was still recovering from a bug I’d had a little while ago, I was not feeling hungry. So when I poured over the delicious sounding menu at a local Greek restaurant, Nea Knosso, I only ordered the aubergine and courgette fritters and a tuna salad (which turned out to be huge). They were both good but I did get food envy over my Dad’s lamb cutlets. This place seemed like the Greek equivalent of Franceso Forgione: a restaurant full of local regulars and friendly staff that want to make you feel like home. I’ll get the lamb next time.
Day Five: Monday
Since this was our last morning in Berlin and we had no more markets we wanted to visit, we headed to our favourite local breakfast haunt, Weyers, for bacon and eggs before it was time to sort out the flat and head to the airport and back to London.
Due to the snow that had fallen both in Germany and England, we were worried that our flight (like others) would be cancelled. We were delayed but it had nothing to do with the weather. Apparently there was a miscalculation of the number of children on board. No I don’t understand that either. To add insult to injury, we hadn’t bought food in the airport and it was announced there would be no hot food on the plane, only snacks, and we were both now starving. Thankfully the easyJet tapas snack box was actually pretty good, so every cloud apparently has a silver lining.