Berlin is one of the best cities in the world and it’s particularly special at Christmas time. In the period leading up to Christmas Day it is filled with traditional German Christmas markets where you can wander around the fairy lit stalls and indulge in Gluhwein, bratwust, and Nutella-filled crepes to the soundtrack of Christmas music and the smell of gingerbread. Spending Christmas in Dresden in 2016 inspired us to head to Germany for a second year in a row so when we found a cheap hotel in the city’s hip Neukolln area and easyJet flights on days that suited us, we immediately booked up.
We had already been to Berlin twice and had visited most of the main sights, such as the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial and various museums of interest. So this trip was more about visiting the Christmas markets, soaking up the festive atmosphere and – I was going to say relaxing, but we speny most of our days walking around the city and, according to my pedometer, ended up totting up 40 miles!
Here’s what was did at Christmas in Berlin.
Tempelhof Airport Tour
As soon as we arrived in Berlin we headed straight to a tour Paul had booked of Tempelhof Airport. The airport was built by the Nazis in the 1930s and was intended to be the biggest and most impressive airport in the world. After World War II it was used by the US Military as a base until 1993, and then as a commercial airport until 2008. Now Tempelhof is no longer a working airport and is used for events like fashion shows and locations for films such as The Hunger Games, The Bourne Supremacy and Bridge Of Spies. In recent years the aircraft hangars have also acted as a refugee camp, housing thousands of refugees who arrived in Berlin. As the tour guide explained, there are few buildings in Berlin which tell the story of the city’s history so definitively. It was fascinating to wander around the empty airport, visit the bomb shelters underneath the building, see the names scratched into the walls by US soldiers, and stand on the roof of the building and look out on to the vast space behind the airport where Nazi rallies were held.
Lucia Christmas Market
After the tour we went to our first Christmas market, Lucia Christmas Market in Prenzlauer Berg. Paul had read online this market was supposed to be one of Berlin’s best and it was my personal favourite; set among the red brick buildings of a brewery, it was cheerful and festive. The market had a Scandinavian influence and had stalls selling traditional Scandinavian handicrafts and serving Finnish smoked fish. Undoubtedly my favourite experience was the discovery of a little yurt near the entrance which had a gluhwein bar in the centre and a circle of people huddled around it. We squeezed in to join them and sipped the warm mugs of gluhwein in the cosiest setting.
On our second day in Berlin as we wandered up to Potsdamer Platz, we came across the remains of Anhalter Banhof, a train station which took almost ten thousand Jewish people to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Most of the station was destroyed in World War 2 but the frontage remains. Anhalter Banhof is one of the many examples of the remnants of Berlin’s fascinating and horrifying history which are dotted around the city centre.
Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market
Potsdamer Platz Christmas market was the quietest Christmas market we visited in Berlin and by the time we got there on Christmas Eve some of the market was closed. However, there were still quite a few Gluhwein and Bratwurst stalls open, along with a big ski slope people were being pushed down in a rubber ring.
After we left Potzdamer Platz we wandered up Karl Marx Allee. Located in what was previously East Germany, Karl-Marx-Allee was designed as a grandiose socialist boulevard. The 2.3km street was used for military parades and the modern (at the time) flats which lined the boulevard housed the top dogs of the GDR. Now it’s a fascinating GDR relic lined with interesting Soviet era buildings.
Park Inn Hotel View
At the top of Karl-Marx-Allee is the Park Inn Hotel which, I had read online, offers one of the best views of Berlin from its top floor bar. I had visions of sitting at a window sipping a drink while snapping pictures of the view from a comfortable seat in the bar. This isn’t quite what happened. What the articles failed to mention is that the bar is closed during the winter so what we were lead to instead was an outdoor balcony on the top floor of the 37 storey building which, on the 24th December, was accompanied by freezing temperature and ferocious winds. It was sunset when we arrived so we had to wait a while to see Berlin all lit up at night and in the meantime shivered madly as the harsh winds hit our faces (there were safety nets in place to stop people being blown over the side to their deaths). Not quite the cosy experience I envisaged but we were rewarded with a panoramic view of Berlin within touching distance (it felt like) of the TV Tower.
Berlin On Christmas Eve
After we left the Park Inn we wandered around Mitte, Berlin’s central area. As it was Christmas Eve, when Germans have their big Christmas dinner, the streets were eerily quiet. We popped into a bar in a hostel for one drink and observed the hyper behaviour of the hostel dwellers which completely took us back to our backpacking days almost ten years earlier. We then walked down to Kreuzberg via the East Side Gallery. As it was so quiet, we were able to observe the murals on the Berlin Wall in peace.
Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market
On Christmas Day we headed over to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market. The market is held in Gendarmenmarkt square just south of the river between two beautiful cathedrals, Französischer Dom and Deutscher Dom. It had all the festivities associated with German Christmas markets; gluhwein, bratwust, and handicraft stalls where we bought a little wooden decoration to put on our Christmas tree back home. There was also a performance from a really cheesy jazz band singing Christmas songs.
Charlottenburg Christmas Market
After spending a few hours in Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market we headed over to Charlottenburg Christmas Market in the west of Berlin. The market’s setting in front of the lit up Charlottenburg Palace is gorgeous and the market itself is beautiful too, with stalls covered in fairy lights and a large German Christmas pyramid in the centre. We spent a few hours there wandering around drinking gluhwein from the market’s bespoke gluhwein mugs which were shaped like Santa’s boots. The concrete blocks and police van at the entrance to the market was a sombre reminder of the security in place following the terrorist attack on a different Christmas market in Berlin in 2016.
Drinks In Neukolln and Kreuzberg
Each of our three nights in Berlin ended with a drink in Neukolln or Kreuzberg near our hotel. The first night we went to Vin Aqua Vin in Neukolln, a really cool wine shop/bar which had tables amongst shelves crammed with wine, a relaxed atmosphere and delicious wine on the menu. The second evening we stopped off at Das Hotel in Kreuzberg, a small dive bar which was dark and dingy in that cool dive bar style with rickety mismatched chairs and scribbles on the walls. I initially balked at it for being ridiculously hipster (the barman was sporting a skimpy white vest – in December – and a long coffied sideswept hairdo) but I soon grew to like it when it filled up with people and felt quite cosy. On our third and final night we went to Yuma, a slick but unpretentious cocktail bar in Neukolln, where I enjoyed a delicious cocktail called a Basil Smash; it had fresh basil at the top of the drink and each time I took a sip the the smell of the basil leaf preceded the fresh taste of the cocktail. Yummy.
TOTAL COST OF BOOKING BERLIN TRIP (FOR TWO – ME AND PAUL)
Return flights from Glasgow to Berlin (easyJet)– £160
Accommodation for three nights in this hotel – £140
Total cost of our trip to Berlin – £300