X-mas markets, mulled wine and the thumping club beat — take your celebration to Europe
As I walk through Gendarmenmarkt, my inner oenophile tries hard to resist the piping hot Glühwein (hot, spiced mulled wine), but a hundred metres into the festive Christmas market, I succumb. I wander around mesmerised, wine in one hand and a pretzel in the other—it takes me less than a weekend to yield to Berlin and her varied charms. By day the city is a cultural cornucopia: a museum lover’s paradise, the heart of the cold war, a city that (barely) stood through the testing times of the Third Reich. And yet, as the sun sets over the River Spree, the city springs into life. The snow and bone-chilling winds don’t stop Berliners from flocking to some of the most happening party-spots in all of Europe.
Arriving early on a Saturday morning, I can’t think of a single reason to not make the pilgrimage to the hedonistic Berghain. A former power-station, now said to be the world’s best techno night club, it is rumored to have the most capricious door policies in the city. As I check in, I ask the front desk for directions and remark that I plan to stop by later that night. He looks at me incredulously and says, “If you don’t go around 5 am, you won’t get in!” Despite being the crack of dawn, I’m confronted with a long queue of eager club-goers waiting their turn. While spiffy teens and 20-somethings with funky piercings and tattoos are turned away by the dozen, I am ushered into the ‘church’ of techno by the largest man I have ever seen. Long story short—Berghain is worth the pain, even for a clubbing-neophyte like me whose idea of good music is the ‘top 20’ on radio. Some of the world’s best known artistes and DJs are given a free rein and asked to experiment—the result is really something.
Exhausted from my night of partying, I sleep through the day and wake up just in time for sunset. By the banks of the Spree, I am treated to a spectacular view of the Berliner Dom; for 7 euros you can climb up on the dome of the cathedral for a spectacular view of the city. The quiet of the roof slowly calm my nerves and I am ready to start exploring the city’s famed X-mas markets.
Where to go
● Berlin has over 60 Christmas markets, so chances are you will stop at least a dozen while walking through the city. The markets are always bustling and serve up some serious wine, amaretto, beer and bratwurst. The market at Potsdamer Platz has Europe’s largest toboggan run—definitely worth your money. Not brave enough? Then buy plenty of liquid courage at the market—the specialty Glühwein with a side of amaretto.
● The Gendarmenmarkt is a scene out of the world’s most beautiful Christmas movie. The market itself is in downtown Berlin and nestled in between three important historical landmarks—The Deutsche Dom, the Konzerthaus and the Französische Friedrichs–tadtkirche. The market itself is impressive, but go there for the daily Christmas shows.
* Every market in Berlin has its own charm—the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church market is known for its hot cocoa, the Spandau market has a nativity scene with live animals, the Nordic-themed Lucia market, with its intimate setting, made me ache for my better half, but my favourite was the smaller Opernpalais market, which lets you take a ride around downtown Berlin on a horse-drawn carriage.
● The Berliner Weihnachtszeit is a must-visit, 50-metre Ferris wheel. For those who are steady on their feet (after the wine), the market has a beautiful ice-skating rink. If you have the patience to trek across town, then Schloss Charlottenburg Market is a good investment.
What to eat
● Bulette: A big fat pork meatball. Ask for a sprinkling of curry powder on top for an extra kick.
● Gulaschsuppe (goulash) and Berliner Kartoffelsuppe (Berlin potato soup): I’m not a fan, but in the cold, it does the trick.
● Schmalzkuchen: The German version of mini-doughnuts. Watch out for the icing sugar which can ruin a perfectly nice winter coat on a cold day.
● Christstollen: A tunnel-shaped cake, which is traditionally baked with raisins—though I prefer the versions stuffed with marzipan.
Night at the museum
Berlin has memorable museums that are well worth your time and money. For 24 euros, you can buy a pass that guarantees you entry to over 45 museums in the city. My personal favourites are the Pergamon Museum (the Pergamon Altar, after which it is named, is closed until 2016), Neues Museum (which houses Nefertiti’s bust) and the newly-opened DDR museum, which is highly interactive. Also visit the Bauhaus Museum.
Top 3 attractions
Brandenburger Tor: This neoclassical triumphal arch was featured prominently by the media around the breaking of the wall, in 1989. Now restored to pre-World War status, it is a sight to behold. Look closely at the arches and spot bullet holes left by the Soviet army.
East Side Gallery: The world’s most iconic wall serves as the canvas for the world’s largest open-air gallery. Spend a morning walking the 1.2 km stretch and admiring the 105-plus paintings on display.
Checkpoint Charlie: A former checkpoint between East and West Germany—now a fantastic photo-op and a museum. Others include the Reichstag Building (needs advance booking), the 368-metre Berlin TV Tower, and Wintertraum am Alexa (Alexanderplatz)—for the breakdance ride and the nutella-rum crepes.