A German Christmas is something special and Berlin rises to the occasion every year. Throughout December thousands of trees across the city are bedecked with sparkling white lights and the two grand avenues of East and West Berlin, Unter den Linden and Kurfürstendamm, compete for first prize in the illumination stakes. The iconic department store KaDeWe features dazzling decorations and smaller shops make a huge effort with their window displays. At a total of over 80 Christmas Markets the scent of mulled wine and spiced nuts lingers in the air. The only thing missing last weekend was the snow.
Father Christmas in fake snow at KaDeWe
One of the most impressive Berlin Christmas markets takes place right outside Schloss Charlottenburg (109 bus from Zoo Station). It would hard to beat the splendid backdrop of a baroque royal palace and this year the light show was truly spectacular, with dramatic colour changes illuminating the statue of the Great Elector in the forecourt and the golden wind-vane on the top of the dome.
Christmas drama at Charlottenburg
The enormous wooden Christmas Pyramid in front of the palace entrance is a visual highlight too and does a roaring trade in hot sausages and mulled wine. There are scores of other foodie stalls to tempt you, some even selling exotically-spiced spirits. This is also a good market for gourmet versions of regional German Christmas delicacies such as Stollen and cinnamon biscuits.
The giant wooden pyramid with brass band playing in foreground
If you are looking for gifts you can pick up a woollen hat or a pair of felt slippers and there is plenty of pretty jewellery to choose from. But the best thing to take home is a genuine German Christmas decoration. Light up all your future Christmases with a Herrenhuter Stern (‘Moravian Star’), one of the fabulous white, gold or red stars which hang in so many German doorways and windows to represent the Star of Bethlehem.
A Herrenhuter Stern – shining in London
In one corner of the market there are small fairground rides for children and the largest wooden nativity scene imaginable. Nearby a band of strolling musicians stopped beneath a tree and struck up to play a selection of German Christmas carols. This was the moment when the sights, sounds and smells all came together to ensure a warm winter glow.
The giant wooden nativity scene
Another atmospheric but less showy Christmas market is the Domäne Dahlem Adventsmarkt which takes place on each of the four weekends in Advent. Formerly a country estate dating back over 800 years, the Domäne Dahlem is now an open-air agricultural and food museum with an ecological accent. It is only a short walk from the Dahlem-Dorf U-Bahn station and is the perfect backdrop for a traditional, less commercialised market experience. Arts and crafts are the main focus of the market and there are hand-made products on sale which make unusual gifts. The workshops include the unique ‘Blaudruckerei’ (blue print) where cloths are still printed and dyed in the traditional way. Children can make their own Christmas decorations or candles from beeswax and there are carriage and pony rides, as well as a brass band playing all the seasonal favourites. After wandering round the market stalls and the various workshops we sat down to dine on leg of goose and a mug of Glühwein in a large open barn building. It all felt very medieval.
Dusk at Domäne Dahlem
Even more home-spun is the Alt-Rixdorfer Weihnachtsmarkt at Richardsplatz in Neukölln (nearest U-Bahn station is Karl-Marx Str.) It only takes place on the three days leading up the second Sunday in Advent and was open this year from 5th to 7th December. When I last went there a couple of years ago, the snow was falling heavily as we arrived, turning the former village of Rixdorf – now part of the trendy borough of Neukölln – into a fairy-tale. Many of the buildings surrounding the square date back to 1737 when King Frederick William I of Prussia invited 350 Moravian Protestants expelled from Bohemia to come and live along the street to Berlin (now Richardstraße).The old blacksmith’s workshop still stands at the centre of the square and the horse and carriage business across the street has been ferrying brides, grooms and funeral caskets for over a hundred years. And tucked away in the corner is the old village church. This is a magical setting for a Christmas market and most of the stalls are run by local people raising money for charities.
Rixdorf Market in the snow
For a complete list of Berlin Christmas markets follow this link at the Visit Berlin website. Some of them are even open until the end of December. Or you can plan ahead for 2015. Frohe Weihnachten!