Photo by Philipp Dubrau
Advent is upon us, and Christmas markets have begun sprouting like festive green-and-red mushrooms throughout Berlin. But not just any Christmas markets: green-bio-vegan ones, intercontinental ones, boutique-y designer ones… you can barely swing a candy cane in these parts without hitting a Christmas market with a ‘difference’. So in the spirit of traditional being the new alternative, and of reminding ourselves that yes, Berlin really is in Germany and that can be a good thing, here are five of the very finest good-old down-to-earth deutsche Weihnachtsmärkte in town.
1Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin
WeihnachtsZauber am Gendarmenmarkt is easily the most popular Christmas market in town. It’s huge and frequently on the overcrowded side, but those crowds are there for a reason. The setting is simply gorgeous: with the Konzerthaus, French and German Churches, and a festively-decorated 20m spruce pine providing the backdrop, the square takes on a Christmassy ambience that’s palpably old-European. Once past the one-euro gate, a small city of tents awaits with a wide array of handicrafts, food and drink – both expected and unexpected. It’s all a bit touristy, but if you’ve got friends or family visiting for Christmas, bring them here and you might be surprised at how much the atmosphere rubs off on you as well. And if Christmas comes and goes and you still haven’t shaken that Yuletide mood, it's open through New Year’s Eve!
2Voltairestraße 25, 10179 Berlin
If Gendarmenmarkt sounds a bit too sedate, perhaps Wintertraum am Alexa will be more up to your speed. Impossible to miss, and full of those least concerned with being hip, the real Berliners, Berlin’s neon-est Christmas market is perfect for those with kids. Just sit them down on the 60m ferris wheel or the “Höllenblitz” mine cart ride – the biggest portable indoor roller coaster in the world – and use the moment of freedom to grab a beer or Glühwein for the adults. And young and old alike might appreciate the "Chaos Airport" funhouse, in which everything that can go wrong at an airport, does (Berlin is quite familiar with this phenomenon). The city doesn’t have much going on in terms of amusement parks or funfairs, so if that’s your thing, this will be like… well, Christmas come early.
3Richardplatz, 12055 Berlin
The world is a village, they say, and at the Alt-Rixdorfer Weihnachtsmarkt, you’ll encounter a very literal interpretation of that aphorism. Located on the old Rixdorf village green in Neukölln, the market is flooded yearly by the expat and international community – and, since it’s only open one weekend (Dec 4-6), it’s hard to avoid the crush. Look past that, though, and you’ll find a charmingly old-fashioned market basked in the soft orange glow of hundreds of oil lamps. There’s a working historic smithy, home-made crafts galore and a veritable menagerie of livestock ranging from camels to ridable ponies.
Why is a "Nordic" market on this list? Since it's basically the only Christmas market in Prenzlauer Berg, the Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt is where you'll find the majority of that neighbourhood's Germans come Advent. Located in the Kulturbrauerei, an old 19th-century brewery, Lucia is nominally dedicated to the Nordic countries, although if you’re looking for strong Swedish or Norwegian flavour, the Swedish market in Wilmersdorf is a better bet. What Lucia does best – a vital-but-underrated component of the Weihnachtsmarkt experience – is provide a cozy, wintery, Christmassy place to stand around, chat and enjoy the contrast between the cold air and the warm cup of Glühwein in your hands. To that end, there’s even an open-air heater where frigid visitors can borrow a warmed fur coat to get the blood, and conversation, flowing again.
5Carl-Schurz-Straße, 13597 Berlin
Finally, if you want to get away from it all, head out to the Spandauer Weihnachtsmarkt in der Altstadt. Actually one of the biggest markets in Berlin, it engulfs much of Spandau’s old city, swelling to over 400 separate stands on the Advent weekends. There’s a medieval section for ren-faire fans, a nativity scene with live animals and an oversized Christmas tree shipped in from the Black Forest. Because Spandau is rarely on the itinerary of Berlin visitors (or Berlin residents, for that matter), the market feels almost like it’s in a separate city, despite being just a 20-minute S-Bahn ride away. It’s perhaps a little too large to quite earn the label of “insider tip”, but for a truly German Christmas market experience, it’s hard to beat.