Berlin Part 11: German Christmas Markets and Japanese Food

Friday 7 December – Monday 10 December 2018

For two years in a row, my Dad and I went to the Christmas markets in Berlin to do our Christmas shopping. This year, I thought we would have to break what could have become a tradition. I was going to be going away for a long weekend around Christmas but this year the plan was to go to Tromso with a friend from university. I’d booked the time off work but before I booked my flights, my friend announced he had to cancel due to work commitments. I debated going to Tromso alone but since my Dad was keen for another Berlin trip and, since it was Christmas, I decided to change my plan and booked flights for my fourth trip to Berlin this year.

Day One

I landed in Schönefeld Airport early Friday afternoon and made my way to Wilmersdorf to meet my Dad, who had arrived the night before. Our first stop was our usual first stop in Berlin – the nearby Kurfürstendamm. I had some presents to buy for myself on this shopping street. Here we would also be able to visit our first Christmas market – by the Gedächtniskirche at Breitscheidplatz. Here we found several stands selling various bits and pieces and lots selling food and drink. I managed to get some handmade earrings for my mother and – as we manage to do each year – my Dad and I found a liqueur stand to sample. After multiple tastings I left with some white chocolate and blueberry liqueurs for my housemate. And some for myself.

We had planned to go out and get dinner from an actual restaurant but it is impossible to visit a German Christmas and not get food so we ended up getting a dinner of raclette on toast (with spring onions which I didn’t want until one of the guys at the stall informed me that he had sliced these himself – he also kindly informed me that my bobble hat gave me away as a British girl – and gherkins), bratwurst and Nutella-covered trdelnik, which we had to eat cowering from the rain that hit as the heavens opened.

It was only early evening by the time we finished eating so we weren’t ready to turn in just yet. We decided to find somewhere inside and dry for a beer. We went for a wander in the hope we would stumble across something. My Dad suggested the Irish bar in the Europa Centre but I fancied something more German. We ended up inside a restaurant/bar called Radke’s Gasthaus Alt-Berlin. It wasn’t busy when we first arrived although there were a few tables filled – some with loud Brits talking at each other across the room, which was not appreciated by several. Thankfully as the evening went on and the place got busier, they got drowned out and eventually had to move to the same table to hear each other.

The guy running the bar wasn’t the friendliest (although he was alright to us, I think my Dad trying to speak German helped) but we both really liked the place. The inside was kinda old fashioned and it had character. I particularly enjoyed that the bar stools we were sitting on were decorated with Santa outfits. We spent a while here and eventually had to leave when the place shut surprisingly early, at around 10pm, which meant we could crash and get a decent night sleep ahead of our first proper Christmas market day in the morning.

Day Two

Our first stop in the morning was the Charlottenburg Palace Christmas market and I had one destination in mind when we arrived – the place selling suckling pig. I remembered this being amazing last year and my expectations were not disappointed this year.

Belly full-ish, it was time to shop. This market is the one I aim to get my Secret Santa presents from – as there’s some nice stuff that is not overly expensive – but I arrived realising that one of my Secret Santas hadn’t yet been organised. Thankfully now that EU roaming data is a thing, I was able to message the group and stick our names into an online Secret Santa generator so I got my name in time to buy. I walked away with a necklace and a picture of a sloth doing yoga for one Secret Santa and earrings and a little owl candle holder with some kind of spinning thing attached for another, along with a chopping board with the words “Grandma and Grandad are the best” written in German for my grandparents. My Dad also helpfully picked himself out a book of photos related to a TV show he likes so that was another present sorted.

I was tempted to get another suckling pig pork roll but instead we just got a hot chocolate and, once we had looked around all the stalls, we headed off to Christmas market number two at Gendarmenmarkt. We had originally planned to leave this as an activity for the following day but I’m impatient and was in a Christmas market mood.

We arrived to find a long queue to get in as this market involves paying €1 for entry (we later realised that there are several entrances around the market and the one we were at – near the U Bahn station – was the busiest). The market was absolutely packed and the weather was wet but helpfully a lot of the stalls here are inside.

Gendarmenmarkt is probably the main Christmas market in Berlin and, in my experience, the most expensive. Some of the stuff on sale is the same stuff you can find across Berlin’s Christmas markets but other stuff is a bit different. I usually get my more substantial Christmas presents here. There are a lot of craft stalls and you can see some of the vendors making their goods as you shop – from letterpress business cards to jewellery made out mammoth tusks. I came away with decorative ceramic tiles (one with a wreath, another with blue tits) for my grandparents and lavender scented soaps carved with floral decorations.

We spent a while here, snacking on more raclette on toast and watching ballet performances, before moving onto one of my favourite Berlin spots nearby – Rausch chocolatiers. Previously Fassbender & Rausch, this place had been closed for renovations on my last two Berlin trips but now it was finally open again. The chocolate cafe had really changed since my last visit – it has moved floors and now comes with a conveyor belt (like you see at YO! Sushi) pushing round sweet and savoury treats.

We had to queue for a little while but eventually got seats at the conveyor belt bar, right next to the open kitchen, where we made friends with one of the chefs. We had a table booked for later at another of my Berlin favourite places – Daitokai, a Japanese restaurant – so couldn’t go too crazy. so we just ordered a couple of iced chocolate drinks and split some kind of raspberry mousse thing from the conveyor belt, which our new chef friend recommended. I could easily have eaten several.

We still had a while before our dinner reservation but we left before we could eat anything more. We crashed out at home for a little while before emerging again to go to Daitokai in the Europa Centre. This is a really beautiful restaurant. The walls are lined with wood panels, the waitresses wear kimono and there is a little stream trickling through complete with real life fish. Patrons are seated at shared tables and the chefs prepare the meals at the table, so you get dinner and a show.

We ordered the five course set menu which included sliced duck breast, salmon, scallops and king prawns, sashimi (tuna and white fish) steak and Teppan ice cream. It was all delicious but I particularly enjoyed the steak and the ice cream which was set on fire but did not melt (the chef drew a fire heart around mine and then carved a little heart into my finished dish). We also ordered some sake, which I had to tap out of after a few sips and let my Dad finish. This was my third visit to Daitokai over the past 12 years or so, and my Dad first went about 20 years before that. I don’t think it has changed much in that time and I hope it never will.

Day Three

On Sunday we decided to mix things up with some non-Christmas market activities. Despite many, many visits to Berlin, my Dad had never been to the East Side Gallery and since there was an antiques market by the nearby Ostbahnhof that he wanted to go to (our activities weren’t diverging that much), we decided to kill two birds with one U Bahn journey.

Our ride took us through Kottbusser Tor (my old haunt during that language course I did one time), so I pulled my Dad off the U Bahn to get some Turkish-inspired brunch from 1001 Falafel on Oranienstraße. My Dad isn’t really a falafel fan but I used to love this place so was optimistic he’d be pleasantly surprised, and he was. Their falafel and halloumi wrap was just as good (and as reasonably priced) as I remembered.

After we’d eaten, we hopped back on the U Bahn to Warschauer Straße and from there walked to the East Side Gallery. This is a 1.3km stretch of the old Berlin Wall (making it the longest surviving continuous stretch of the wall), which is now covered in murals. Although I have visited this many, many times, I always spot something I have never spotted before. I think my Dad did enjoy it too, the only annoying thing is that dodging the many other tourists visiting the gallery does make it harder to enjoy and really pay attention to the murals.

Once at the other end, we walked up to – and through – Ostbahnhof to the antiques market out the back. Whether it was the weather or that we had arrived too late but the place was quiet and there were not a lot of stands open. We therefore didn’t stay long and instead caught the S Bahn to Alexanderplatz.

There is a Christmas market in Alexanderplatz but I don’t think it is a very good one. Instead we walked passed the TV Tower to the Rotes Rathaus Christmas market. The first time we went there, two years ago, we loved it. The second time we went there, last year, we didn’t like it so much. Thankfully this time it seemed to have improved again and I came away with some glass earrings for myself and we picked out a handmade ceramic mug for my Mum. We also picked up some bratwurst before leaving in the direction of another Christmas market.

En route we walked passed an alcohol shop where I was able to pick up some shot glasses to accompany the liqueurs I had bought my housemate and the Berlin vodka I planned to buy my brothers (at the airport so I could get around liquid restrictions). I thought shot glasses would be easy to buy in Germany Christmas markets but the only ones we’d found were fancy and expensive.

My Dad had heard that there was a small but very pretty Christmas market at Nikolaiviertel, by the Nikolaikirche. Neither of us, however, were prepared for just how small the market was. In fact, I think calling it a market was a stretch. There were no stands selling potential Christmas presents but there was somewhere selling hot drinks and some old black and white movies playing which was cute. Now, I hate mulled wine but I want to like it because it seems festive and the stuff on sale here was sold under a name other than gluhwein so I decided to try it. I disliked it marginally less than the gluhwein I’d had before but I’m pretty sure it was the same stuff.

Given there was nothing there (although it was a pretty “market” in a pretty part of the city that I hadn’t seen before) and it was freezing, we didn’t stay long before heading home. We spent the evening at a nearby Greek restaurant, Nea Knosso, which seems to be a very popular choice with the locals. Despite having been three times now, for one reason or another, I’ve never ordered the thing on the (quite extensive) menu that I’ve really wanted to – the lamb chops. This time, however, I was hungry and (unlike previous occasions) not feeling ill, so I ordered them and, let me tell you, they were worth the wait. They were also the perfect accompaniment to my first course – a feta salad that basically consisted of a whole block of feta.

Day Four

We didn’t really have time for many activities on our last day in Berlin. Weyers used to be the place we went for breakfast on a daily basis when we first started staying in Wilmersdorf on our Berlin trips – now it has become the place we go to for our farewell Berlin breakfasts. My Dad got his bacon and eggs, I got my pancakes, maple syrup and fruit. The only way it could have been better was if I had been able to add my Dad’s breakfast to mine.

This day turned out to be almost exactly like our last day on our last Berlin trip. We started at Weyers for breakfast and then Dad went back to clean the flat and I went back to Kurfürstendamm to return a purchase I’d bought on our first day (although unlike last time, I actually decided to keep the new jeans I’d bought as I couldn’t find the different size I had wanted to exchange them for). I then returned and we caught the U Bahn and then a bus to Tegal Airport and, once there, marvelled at how much quicker the journey was than the one to Schönefeld. Same old, same old.

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