A Long Tradition of Christmas Markets in Berlin
Christmas markets are an annual winter-season highlight in Germany, every bit as popular with tourists as they are with locals. In many places, the tradition goes back centuries – including Berlin, where the earliest Christmas market-type event recorded in the local annals took place around 1530 on the Fischerinsel. During the 19th century, the annual market spread first to the nearby Schlossplatz, and subsequently also to Arkonaplatz and the Lustgarten, where Christmas markets were held almost until the end of World War II. After Berlin was divided into four sectors by the Allied Powers, Christmas market traditions developed independently of each other in the Eastern and Western parts of the city. These markets were quite different in tone and atmosphere – winter wonderland in the West, fairground fun in the East.
Image courtesy of PixelAnarchy / pixabay
Raffles, Bumper Cars and Hand-Carved Christmas Decorations
Prior to reunification and the fall of the Wall, the Christmas market on Alexanderplatz was basically a funfair in the snow. Attractions included shooting galleries and Büchsenwerfen (stalls where punters throw balls at stacks of empty tins in the hope of winning prizes, the German version of the coconut shies popular at fairs in English-speaking countries), bumper cars, flying swings and other types of carousels. For travelling fairgrounds, the Christmas market was the finale to a long season that started at Easter. There were raffles and food stalls, while other stalls sold hand-carved Christmas decorations from the Ore Mountains next to artisan crafts from Hungary, Bulgaria and other communist brother countries. A popular destination for young visitors from the West who came to see their favourite characters from East German children’s television shows, the Christmas market in East Berlin had a reputation for being family-friendly.
Source: LianeM – Fotolia
Christmas Markets around Strausberger Platz Today
Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, where Strausberger Platz is situated, currently boasts a total of 12 Christmas markets, with another 18 in the adjacent Mitte district. These are some of the best:
1. ‘Berliner Weihnachtszeit’ Christmas Market at the Rote Rathaus, Rathausstraße 15, 10178 Berlin.
This Christmas market, which is among the largest in the German capital, means business. Between 27 November and 29 December, the Giant Wheel offers spectacular views across the city and the market itself. Almost as impressive is the huge ice rink, which offers a great opportunity to show off your skating skills before indulging in a mug of Glühwein. Designed as replicas of historic market rows, the stalls evoke bygone times. From a children’s train to Santa’s scheduled flights across the Neptune Fountain with his team of reindeers (daily at 4.30, 6.30 and 8.30), there is plenty to look forward to for young visitors as well. Entrance is free.
2. Nostalgic Christmas Market at the Opernpalais, Hinter der Katholischen Kirche 3,10117 Berlin.
Between 29 November and 30 December, traders and craftspeople gather around the distinctive dome of St Hedwig’s Cathedral to sell high-quality handmade gifts from all across the world. Traditional fairground rides add to the atmosphere of nostalgia in a historic location. The ‘Engelszungen’ series of events, which runs parallel to the Christmas market inside the cathedral itself, offers a varied programme of performances, light shows and readings accompanied by music. Entrance is free.
3. Christmas Market on Gendarmenmarkt, Gendarmenmarkt 1, 10117 Berlin.
This Christmas market on what may well be Berlin’s most beautiful square runs from 27 November to 31 December. With plenty of artisan gifts and mouth-watering delicacies on offer in large heated tents between the French and German Churches, this is a wonderful place to while away a few hours on a winter afternoon or evening. A large Christmas tree forms the centrepiece next to the stage where choirs, bands and musical ensembles provide acoustic treats. An extra splash of colour is provided by the angels, jugglers and other performers roaming through the crowds. Entrance costs 1 euro, children under 12 go free.
Christmas Market Gendarmenmarkt – Source: LaMiaFotografia – Shutterstock
4. KiezWeihnacht in Friedrichshain, Samariterstraße 14, 10247 Berlin.
On the first and second weekend in December, this Christmas market in and around the Samaritans’ Church brings together 70 local retailers to sell crafts, jewellery, photographic art, toys, advent decorations, Christmas gifts and much more. Attractions for younger visitors include crafts workshops and a chance to see Santa. In the afternoons and early evenings, the church hosts concerts, readings and events for children. Entrance is free.
5. Historic Christmas Market on the RAW Gelände, Revaler Straße 99 (entrance: Revaler Straße/Dirschauer Straße), 10245 Berlin-Friedrichshain.
Formerly the site of the Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk (Railway Maintenance and Repair Workshop), the RAW Gelände is now a popular location for techno parties. From 24 November to 22 December, it hosts a medieval-style Christmas fair where potters, blacksmiths and woodcarvers ply their trade among historic market stalls offering sweet and savoury snacks, hot mead, mulled wine and other treats. The programme also includes circus arts and screen-printing workshops for children and adults. Entrance is free from Mondays to Thursdays, adults pay 2 euros from Fridays to Sundays (concessions 1 euro).
Source: Annie Spratt – Unsplash
6. Heissa Holzmarkt, Holzmarktstraße 25, 10243 Berlin-Friedrichshain.
Every Friday to Sunday between 18 November and 23 December, the artistic community that has sprung up on the former Bar 25 site hosts an alternative Christmas market offering a wide range of gift ideas, tasty treats and alcoholic mood enhancers. Additional attractions include curling, readings of fairy tales and film screenings. Entrance is free.