Whenever I visit Germany it always seems to be in the winter months meaning the days are short and it tends to be cold. These things aren’t too much of a problem, it’s simply a case of organising your day so you see what you want to see during daylight hours and wrapping up warm against the elements. I personally would always choose to visit somewhere during the summer months wearing sandals and enjoying al fresco dining. So why always visit Germany during winter then, I hear you ask? The simple answer – German Christmas Markets! As soon as we booked our trip to Berlin for New Year I started researching Christmas Markets. As our hotel was situated near Checkpoint Charlie I started my search in that area. Lo and behold less than a 20 minute walk away was the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market. Therefore, as soon as the plane had landed, we’d dumped our bags and visited Checkpoint Charlie (of course) and then we headed that way. We handed over our €1 entry fee and eagerly entered (one time entry only, no readmission allowed).
The first thing that hit us was the smell! The gorgeous smell of sizzling sausages…mmmm! As it was now mid afternoon and we had not eaten since the airport in London that morning there was no way on earth we weren’t sampling the juicy delights and for €3 – bargain! So sausage in one hand and being a super fan of afternoon drinking, we headed to next stall – the booze stall. Drinks ordered we noticed that the price we paid was more than the price advertised. Basically, the stall charges you to use their glasses. The glasses are personalised with a christmas scene and the year printed on them for the Christmas market so you can choose to keep your glass and forego your €3 deposit or take them back and get your money back (50¢ back on bottles). I will be honest, we did ‘sample’ beer, hot chocolate with Baileys and eggnog 🙂 Sausages eaten and drinks finished we realised we had only actually walked 20 feet into the Christmas market and there was so much more to discover.
This Christmas market is not the biggest in Berlin and you will not find an ice rink or a big wheel here but you will find enough stands, stalls, restaurants, bars and entertainment to keep you occupied for hours. As we wandered through the throngs of people we found lots of wonderful stalls with something for everyone. I personally loved the jam stall I found where all the jams for sale were made from flowers. The lady who made the jams was insistent that I tried a lavender one, which was lovely, but unfortunately the jar was simply too big to bring back in my carry on, it would have been confiscated at airport security. Other stalls included handmade wood toys, christmas decorations and plenty of food stalls selling yummy caramelised nuts, cheeses, crepes and potato based meals (great for my throughly vegetarian best friend).
As the sun went down the twinkling lights came on and the Christmas market certainly came alive. Everything looked so Christmasy and magical. Gendarmenmarkt itself is a fantastic square with a number of gorgeous buildings around it including the Concert Hall (Konzerthaus), the French Church (Französischer Dom) and the German Church (Deutscher Dom). It’s a shame we didn’t see snow as it truly would have been a winter wonderland. That’s not to say it wasn’t cold, it was freezing so we migrated to the bar tent which was full to the rafters. We luckily found seats and enjoyed some more festive beverages even though they were slightly more expensive. Our rumbling tummies informed us that it was dinner time and we headed out to see what we could find. We decided we would like to have a sit down meal and headed towards the Steak and Fondue Restaurant.
As the name suggests it sells steak (great for Mr ESLT and Mr Friend) and fondue, great for Mrs Friend and I. We understood that we would pay a premium but at the end of our meal when we were presented with a bill for £120 for two of the tiniest steaks I had ever seen and four chips, a fondue of melted cheese and a few chunks of bread we were all gobsmacked. Oh well, lesson learnt! Time for a few more drinks whilst listening to the choir singing christmas songs and carols on the stage in front of the Concert Hall before we called it a night. Even before we left we vowed to return to the Christmas market the next day.
New Year’s Eve at Gendarmenmarkt
Having been to the Brandenburg Gate during the day of 31st December we realised that it would be ridiculously packed come New Year’s eve evening and the four of us made the decision that we would rather spend the turn of the year at Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market – which even now I think was the best idea. The tickets to get in were €12 as opposed to the regular €1 but we took it on the chin and entered at around 7.00pm with great expectations. We were warmly greeted by characters on stilts and led through to the square which had been decorated with fake snow (cute) to be faced with……only half a dozen people! It didn’t matter to us, when the four of us are together we can have a great time in an empty room let alone an almost empty Christmas market.
Needless to say as the night progressed the market filled up to capacity and everyone seemed to be in very high spirits, maybe because like us they had drank a lot of spirits? Even the rain did not put us off dancing in the centre of the market to the tribute ABBA band that was playing on the stage in front of us, with bottles of champagne in our hands. As we approached midnight everyone stopped what they were doing and gathered in the centre of the market. 3……2……1…..HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Corks popped, couples kissed and one of the most impressive firework displays I have ever seen was set off from the roof of the Concert Hall. What a fantastic evening. I highly recommend trying Berlin if you are looking for somewhere in Europe to celebrate the New Year.
Point to note – each visit to the toilet will set you back 50¢ so make sure you have a pocket full of change as you will need to spend pennies to spend a penny 🙂