Germany is widely recognised for its historic Christmas markets and festive fairs with Berlin, Cologne and Munich among the largest. Although we’re a little biased (my father-in-law was stationed in Germany and I also lived there), their markets are like no other. They have that traditionally festive feel, an abundance of charm and truly captivate the magic of Christmas. You can expect to see hand-made gifts aplenty coupled with smells like deliciously warming Glühwein and mouth watering bratwurst.
I recently returned from a superb Jet2CityBreak to Berlin with Jet2CityBreaks to celebrate their new Leeds Bradford to Berlin route (flights from Stansted to Berlin next year). We flew into Berlin Schönefeld Airport which has excellent road and public transport connections to the Berlin city centre and its surrounding region. Our accommodation was located just half an hour away from the airport. The NH Collection on Friedrichstrasse provided the perfect base to explore sights such as the Brandenberg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. It was situated less than 5 minutes walk away was the compact Friedrichstrasse Christmas Market which is on Dorothea-Schlegal-Platz right by the station. With its alpine feel, it has 10 or so stalls selling a range of wares from woollens to gifts and confectionery. This market will certainly be remembered for the delicious Glühwein on offer opposite the Almhütten-style hut at the far end. It was €5 for your first cup, which you get to keep, with each drink after that €2.50 or €3.50 with rum.
There are some 60 Christmas markets dotted around Berlin so there’s certainly something for everyone. The WeihnachtsZauber at Gendarmenmarkt, the only one that charges €1 admission, consists of Christmas goodies, arts and crafts. The Christmas market at Schloss Charlottenburg has stunning illuminations and the setting of the Charlottenburg Palace. Scandinavian traditions, products and food are on offer at the Lucia Christmas Market in Prenzlauer Berg plus there’s even an open air coat heater too. Berlin’s largest Christmas market is the traditional Spandau Christmas Market which includes a daily programme of stage acts which are all free. Meanwhile Karlshorst Medieval Christmas Market has an impressive collection of medieval crafts along with stage shows, a carousel, wood crafts and traditional baked goods.
The Domane Dahlem Advent Market has a range of stalls selling traditional arts and crafts plus children can make their own Christmas decorations too. More alpine fun can be found at the Winter World in Potsdamer Platz where there’s an ice rink, curling, Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run and an apres-ski party! The 1900’s style Berliner Weihnachtszeit is a quaint little market where you’ll find an ice rink and alley-ways lit with festive lights. It’s not far from the widely recognised Alexanderplatz Christmas Market which we visited a couple of times during our stay.
The huge Alexanderplatz Christmas market sits beneath the shadow of the iconic Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Our initial visit was on a Saturday evening when it was busier but not overly so and the amazing atmosphere certainly made up for it. The smell of spicy Glühwein, bratwurst cooked on an open flame and roasted chestnuts adding to the ambience of it all. The colours in the evening are quite something too – you can’t help but embrace the magic of Christmas while you’re here.
You can expect to find all kinds of traders at Christmas markets with those at Alexanderplatz including glassblowers, blacksmiths and potters not to mention umpteen hand-made gifts, decorations and wooden ornaments. I suspect had I had a larger suitcase, I would have come back with a lot more than I did!
There’s no shortage of places to stop to grab a bite to eat whether it be a delicious bratwurst in a crispy roll, home-made potato chips (hot crisps) or Kartoffelpuffer (shallow-fried pancakes). For those of you with a sweet tooth, you can also expect to find Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread), Schmalzkuchen (little doughnuts) and crepes among other things. With a variety of meats and cheeses on offer as well, you certainly won’t go hungry.
There are numerous places to obtain Glühwein too, this being the most popular drink at Christmas markets in Germany. As before you pay a deposit for your cup or glass and either return it to get your money back or keep it as a souvenir. Mulled wine is typically heated red wine with spices, lemon and sugar with cloves and cinnamon added. Sometimes vanilla or aniseed might be added. A variation of this is Feuerzangenbowle which is when rum-soaked sugarloaf is added for that extra kick. Fruit punches are often available as a non-alcoholic option.
As well as the handmade gifts, the food and the drinks on offer, you can also expect lots of entertainment at the German Christmas Markets too. At Alexanderplatz there was a giant ferris wheel for the thrill seekers with a train ride beneath it for the youngsters. Open to all is a skating rink lit with the most beautiful lights, providing a perfect place to stand while you keep warm with a glass of Glühwein. If you time it right, you might even catch Father Christmas in his sleigh.
Many of Berlin’s Christmas markets will remain open until the end of the year (do check here beforehand). Other events taking place in Berlin over the festive period include The Nutcracker, a traditional concert in the Schiller Theatre, Hansel & Gretel at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Roncalli Christmas Circus and a New Year’s Eve party at Brandenburg Gate.