After visiting our first Christmas market in Europe in 2013, I feared this might happen. Then we went again in 2014 and I knew there was no escaping it.
My brain has permanently redefined the holiday season.
This is Christmas.
The lights, the jolly attitudes, the crowds, an evening standing in the freezing cold and actually enjoying it, and of course, the food and drink.
Now, nothing says Christmas to me like experiencing one of those markets.
After visiting Vienna’s markets two years ago, we knew we needed to make it to Germany’s. What is travel for if not to research the differences between destinations so that I can share that information here? And by research I mean stopping at every interesting food booth and setting goals to try every variation of glühwein and punsch available.
As you’ll probably notice, we don’t take the planning of our visits to Christmas markets lightly. We go prepared. I’ll warn you now, preparing for German Christmas markets in a city the size of Berlin will make your head hurt.
If you go to the Visit Berlin website you will find that there are about 33 markets in the city. Some have a few stalls, some hundreds, some are open a few days, others for several weeks. Some are open throughout the season, but closed on Christmas Eve and day. Keeping track of which market is open where and what dates can make you want to give up, but don’t! Yes, it can be enjoyable to walk around willy-nilly and explore what you stumble on, but so many things are easy to miss when taking this approach.
One would think that all the markets are similar and in many ways they are. But we are always surprised how we find a food or drink at one and then don’t see it at any of the other markets. It’s worth having some sort of plan, even if you don’t stick with it once there. I’m lucky that my husband went through and marked down all the markets that would be open during the time we were there. So we went with a great game plan.
All that being said, Berlin is an excellent city to travel to if you are going over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There were markets open on both days (and lots of locals attending them) so we weren’t left with nothing to do and nothing but a bag of chips to eat in the hotel room during the holiday.
Where We Stayed
We arrived in Berlin very late at night, a couple days before Christmas, and we were welcomed by a super sleepy central shopping area. As is usual for our trips to Europe we were simply seeking a good deal for our lodging and we found it at Hotel California Am Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin.
It’s located in a historic building on a main shopping street, but it was evident why we got such a good deal as soon as we arrived. Most of the stores were closed up for the holiday and few people were around except for other travelers. That was something that changed drastically the day after Christmas which was entertaining to see. So I’m not sure this is a place I would stay when visiting any other time of year, but at Christmas it was perfect.
The room was cozy and clean with a nice bar in the lobby. The hotel even had a little Christmas market stall outside where they were serving glühwein. A U-bahn station was right on the corner, close to the hotel, and one of the main Christmas markets, Weihnachtsmarkt an der Kaiser, was a few blocks up the street.
The Markets We Visited
We managed to squeeze in visits to 9 of the 33 markets with only one of those being closed because we misread the dates on our paper. Below are the 8 markets we were able to experience as well as a note about that market that has stuck in my head a year later as I write this. Any mentions of food or drink will be explained below. They are ordered by my favorites, although the first three or four were mostly a tie.
WeihnachtsZauber auf dem Gendarmenkt
You’ll need to pay to get in, but it is worth the nominal fee. The most unique food and baking technique I’ve found in all our travels was here. Baumkuchen. More on that later.
Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Alexanderplatz
This is a large market with lots of energy. It was the only place I found Nürnberger Früchtebrot, a traditional fruitcake. There is also a large indoor beer garden here where you can get your shot of Jägermeister with a stein of beer. Yes, just do it.
Another large market. We discovered Raclette here and never found it again. Therefore, it holds a special place in my cheese-loving heart.
Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg
Some of my favorite markets are those held at palaces and castles. I got my half loaf of traditional Stollen here. Also, there are bathroom trailers right upfront. A tip to save you from walking around the entire palace like we did. Although, it is a beautiful walk and I recommend it.
Weihnachtsmarkt an der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche
This was the market a few blocks from the hotel. One thing we always seek out in Germany and Austria are Doner Kebabs and a booth here had them.
WinterWelt Potsdamer Platz
The first market in Berlin that we visited! You must go here for the coolest cookie ball ever, the Schneeballen. I also had my one and only Eierpunsch here.
A small market in the Kreuzberg area of town. May not be worth the trip out unless you go to Kreuzberg. And by the way, you should go to Kruezberg.
Nostalgischer Weihnachtsmarkt am Opernpalais
We weren’t huge fans of this one, but we visited during the day and the weather was rather crappy. We had to duck inside a beer garden due to pouring rain. At night I’m sure things liven up a bit.
Foods and Drinks and Where to Get Them
Now I know you are dying to get run down of the foods and drinks that fueled our long walks through Berlin and the markets there. We discovered so many unique things this trip and I’m saving my two very favorites for a separate post. But from third place on, you’ll find it all below and along with the market where we discovered it.
Schneeballen and Eierpunsch
The Rothenburger Schneeballen is basically a ball that has been formed out of strips of cookies. Brillant. It has fillings and frostings and comes in more varieties than I can remember. It is a must for a holiday sweet tooth.
And if your sweet tooth is completely out of control, like mine, order a Eierpunsch to have with it. This translates to egg punch and it’s similar to eggnog. Warm, very thick and sweet, spiced and spiked with what resembles white lightening. I know I’m not convincing you to try it, but you must. Just one, because it’s unique to the markets. I enjoyed having the one glass. My husband enjoyed having one sip. Find both at Potsdammer.
We found flammkuchen at almost every market. It’s a flatbread or pizza baked in a woodfired oven. We found both thick crust and thin crust and most came topped with bacon, onions and chives. Many booths also had vegetarian versions available. We had it a lot, you know, to compare all the varieties.
I read about this lovely little drink before we left, but it took us a while to find it. I’m sure its available elsewhere, but we ended up enjoying it at Gendarmenmarkt, thanks to our lovely server pictured below ,and also at Kaiser (we got free cookies with it there). This is German Fire Punsch. It’s made by placing a large block of sugar in the compartment above the industrial-sized bowl. The kicker is the sugar block (or loaf) has been soaked in rum. It is then lit on fire and the rum-sugar drips into the mulled wine in the large bowl. Cheers!
Dumplings with bacon and sauerkraut
I forgot to photograph the local name, but this was the only place that we found dumplings like this so we jumped on the chance to have some. It was everything you expect in a German treat like this. Find it at Berliner.
Cheese and dumplings. Need I say more? This remains on my last meal list and it’s a must at any German or Austrian market. This one had crispy onions on top. Find it at Gendarmenkt.
Another treat I learned about before our trip. This cake originates from Nuremberg so I wasn’t sure if I’d find it in Berlin, but I got lucky and spotted it at one market. It is the most dense fruitcake I’ve had and they cut it in super thin slices. It’s absolutely loaded with figs, apricots and hazelnuts to name a few goodies. Find it at Alexandersplatz.
I know that warm beer is unfamiliar territory to those of us in the States, but prepare for that to change. This warm spiced cherry bier cannot be beat on a cold day. Find it at Gendarmenkt.
Yes, it’s basically sliced hot dogs in a curry ketchup served over French fries, but there is nothing like having it in Germany. Collect your inner child and enjoy! Find at Alexanderplatz.
In my next post, I’m going to share about our two favorite foods of the trip – raclette and baumkuchen. Until then, here are a few more pictures of punsch for good measure.
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