Monday, January 04, 2010

Christmas Market Crawling in Berlin

Berlin is the fourth major German city I’ve travelled to after Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Munich and from my perspective, the most different from its counterparts. This was Lily’s second visit to Berlin, but my first. In my opinion it is not the most beautiful German city, but it was good to finally see it as its modern history is probably the most fascinating of these four. My initial perceptions upon arriving in Berlin was that it had more in common with eastern Europe than it did with western Europe or any other German city I’ve seen. This makes sense as most of what is now the single Berlin was part of the previously communist East Berlin. The vast majority of the buildings are recently constructed within the last twenty years and are therefore of a more contemporary design. Although it is clear that Berlin has moved beyond its troubled past of the twentieth century and is on a cultural and economic rebound there are of course physical remnants of its Cold War history with several non-descript, bleak Soviet-style concrete block structures still located throughout town.

Christmas Market #1: Alexanderplatz

Christmas Market #2: Operapalais

Christmas Market #3: Froheweihnachten

We stayed in the area of Mitte which was previously a large part of East Berlin and is now centrally located within the unified city and within close proximity to the major sights of the Berliner Dome, the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Tiergarten, Potsdam, Checkpoint Charlie, and Alexanderplatz. While the main sights of Berlin are historically significant due to the events of the last century, concerning World War II and the Cold War especially, the city itself doesn’t have the same elegance and grandeur of Munich and Hamburg. However, the drama and the intrigue imbedded within the landmarks of this city more than make up for what it lacks in comparable architectural beauty.

Christmas Market Stalls:

This is why I recommend that if you are going to be traveling through Europe and can only make one stop in Germany, consider what is most important to you. As I am very interested in history, Berlin was a must-see for me at some point. However, if you are more interested in visiting a quintessentially “German” city with classic baroque and gothic architecture, I would have to recommend Bavarian Munich, then perhaps a quick side trip via the train to Salzburg, Austria. If you plan to take your travels north towards Copenhagen, a stop in Hamburg is worth the effort. I wouldn’t bother with Frankfurt.

A Walking Tour of Berlin:

Alexanderplatz and the Tower:

The most enjoyable part of our visit to Berlin was roaming the Christmas markets. If I haven’t discussed German Christmas Markets in past posts then I must recommend them now. Starting from December all German cities put on these fantastic, elegant, festive and classy outdoor markets, usually in public squares, where the main purpose is to stroll up and down the arts and crafts stands while stopping frequently for traditional bratwursts, currywursts (red bratwurst in a curry ketchup, topped with curry powder), potato cakes, Glühwein (mulled wine), and of course beer. Most markets will have other attractions such as music stages and ice skating rinks. Spending time in these markets is a great way to celebrate the festive season and no one does the Christmas Market better than the Germans. Lily and I spent the majority of the late afternoon and evening wandering through the numerous Berlin Christmas markets, one of the best ways we could have spent our Boxing Day.

For us, this visit to the German capital was the most appropriate prelude to what would become our little “Cold War” trip that soon led us onto Russia.

Berliner Dome:

Brandenburg Gate:

Us in front of the Gate:

Reichstagg Building:

The Memorial of Murdered Jews:

Us in Berlin:

Checkpoint Charlie:



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