Call me a pessimist, but I’d never really got on board with the Christmas markets before, even when I was living in Salzburg. I had them down as commercial, expensive and borderline tacky, and considered it ‘ticked off’ after only a couple of visits. This can’t be right though, I thought this time around, everyone else loves them! Quite seriously, try and hold a five minute conversation with a German this time of year without the topic cropping up, I dare you! Not only that, but they’re everywhere; you can’t escape them, neither could you possibly get around to all of the Berlin ones in just four short weeks! (I touch on this again further down the page.)
So with friends visiting from England and the temperature hovering somewhere around zero, perhaps ever so slightly hungover and in need of some hearty food, we decided to see what all the fuss was about and headed to the Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt at the Kulturbrauerei near Eberswalder Strasse in Prenzlauer Berg. As you probably guessed (given that this would be a really bland blog post otherwise), I thought it was fabulous!
As the name suggests, the Kulturbrauerei is an old brewery which houses a cinema, a concert venue, and hosts cultural events all year round. As it turns out, it’s the perfect setting for a Christmas market – the inner courtyard is protected from wind and cold (it’s very cold and very windy here in Berlin) and the imposing industrial backdrop gives it all a bit of a stepped-back-in-time feel. This reflects the old-fashioned essence of Christmas markets in general perfectly; spending time with friends and family, and having a reason to get outside and be happy with the seemingly endless run of cold months lying ahead.
This sense of Christmas markets as old-fashioned is reflected in the nature of the stalls and activities on offer, which evoke nostalgia for a simpler time. Handmade gifts alongside handmade mulled wine, classical fairground rides alongside meat fresh from the farm, cooked using traditional methods by a man in Lederhosen. It’s a far cry from the digital chaos of daily life, and perhaps that’s why it’s ever so popular.
With this, I’ve figured out why the Christmas markets in Salzburg has me distinctly underwhelmed; too commercial, too expensive, perhaps even too tacky. But even without the snow and with the Bavarian/Austrian-ness of it all being a little tongue-in-cheek, my Berlin Christmas market experience has got me back on track. Whether the rest of Berlin’s offerings will match up, I am yet to find out.
Speaking of which, there are a ton of them. Check out this fabulous infographic from anamea (you’ll find the Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt that I visited towards the northern end of the U2 line, in place of Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn station);
There are markets to suit everyone, be it the large-scale commercial ice-skating-and-beer-hall set ups at Alexanderplatz or Potsdamer Platz, or a higher end luxury market, such as the WeihnachtsZauber at Gendarmenmarkt which charges a small entrance fee (laugh your way through this promotional video). There’s even a vegan one, a Danish one, and one named Holy.Shit.Shopping., so have no doubt that you’ll find one that caters to your needs! The biggest problem for me is deciding which one to go to next (and figuring out how much Glühwein really is too much.)
As the countdown to the big day begins, and the summer couldn’t seem further away, there is nothing to get you in the festive spirit quite like a German Christmas market; and I, for one, am a huge fan.