(btm) Berlin celebrates winter in its own unique style: whether Christmas shopping on the festively lit Kurfürstendamm, or in the historical setting of the Gendarmenmarkt, or skiing on the grounds of former Tempelhof Airport. Those seeking relaxation will find it in the spa and wellness areas offered by many hotels, while numerous restaurants offer reinterpreted regional cuisine. Or for something completely different, snuggle under the covers of the Bettbike as you tour the city.
Christmas markets – traditional, modern, ecological
With around 100 Christmas markets, visitors to Berlin are spoilt for choice. Some are small, others are that large that a single afternoon would simply not suffice to explore everything. Particularly impressive: the Christmas Market at Gendarmenmarkt. The Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) and the French Cathedral are lit up in bright light with a small tent city built in between. Handicrafts of the noblest kind are sold here, including hand carved cribs, mouth-blown glassware or replicas of historical steam engines. You can see the craftspeople busy in their work whilst enjoying a glass of mulled wine.
At the Rotes Rathaus (Red Town Hall), visitors can experience the long tradition of Berlin’s Christmas markets up close, puppeteers, storytellers, children’s carousels – taking back Berliners and tourists to former times. Facades with original images of the old town houses show how everything used to be at one time in Berlin. Just a short walk ahead at Marienkirche, a life-sized Christmas crib awaits the visitors. In medieval bakeries people may peek over the shoulder of the bakers when preparing bread with their hands. You can drink steaming mead in a clay jug at the tavern next door.
For the 11th time, the area around Potsdamer Platz is turned into a white winter world. It is all about winter sports: whether hurtling down Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run, skating on the ice rink for free or joining a curling competition – fun times for young and old are guaranteed. Free iceskating lessons are available for children ages four to seven. Live music at the Schmankerl-Hüttn creates authentic après-ski atmoshphere, while visitors can indulge in Austrian delicacies. Those who like things a bit quieter should check out the Stiegl-Alm. The winter world will be complemented by the Christmas market on Alte Potsdamer Straße, featuring lovingly decorated market stalls with handicrafts and culinary treats while crafts market will help put visitors into a festive mood with some seasonal crafting.
Visitors can get a taste of Scandinavian hospitality at the Lucia Christmas market in the historic Kulturbrauerei building complex. The market is named after Lucia, the bringer of light, who is especially revered in Sweden. Even the sounds are Nordic: music from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden helps spread a festive cheer. Anyone who freezes at frosty temperatures can warm up around the Swedish torches or by jumping up and down on the bungee trampoline. To get another perspective on the festive bustle, take a ride on the nostalgic chairoplane.
Need a change of pace? At Holy.Shit.Shopping at Kraftwerk Berlin on December 6 and 7, 150 young Berlin designers gather and present their latest fashion, matching jewellery and fancy artistic works. Anyone looking for a special gift will surely find something adequate – astonished faces are guaranteed on Christmas Eve. Well-known DJs will once again be bringing the beats this year.
Beautiful and eco-friendly gifts. At the Eco Christmas market on Sophienstraße in Mitte, more than 50 traders offer their treats, textiles and art for sale. Unique gift ideas with an eye to sustainability and fair trade can also be found at the Grüne Liga Christmas market on Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg. The traders mostly come from the Berlin-Brandenburg region and offer a wide range of products from scarves knitted from ecologically dyed wool, to organic massage oils.
A Christmas market over the rooftops of Berlin? Yes, that’s also in the city. The Christmas market at the Klunkerkranich in Berlin’s Neukölln district is still a real insider tip, also offering a winter panorama over the city to all Christmas shoppers on advent weekends, in addition to the shopping opportunity.
Culture – Winter Wonderland and Enchanted Forest
Winter is a fairytale time, especially in Berlin. The Staatsoper Unter den Linden (State Opera) shows “Hans im Glück” (“Hans in luck”) by David Robert Coleman from December 5 onwards in the Schiller Theater (Schiller theatre). Separate afternoon and morning performances are offered to young children. From November 27 Staatsballett Berlin will be taking the stage at the Deutsche Oper for a month with Tschaikovsky’s legendary Nutcracker, choreographed by Vasily Medvedev and Yuri Burlaka.
Fairytales in a close up: This special experience is provided at Märchenhütte – an old Polish wooden hut located in Monbijou park. Seated on old ale benches, visitors listen to and experience old fairytales in a modern interpretation and enjoy hot mulled wine or soup to go with it. A new screening starts every hour and is therefore a good idea to warm up between sightseeing and shopping.
Spectacular scenery, exciting costumes and fascinating video installations — on October 23 we will celebrate the largest production in the history of Friedrichstadt Palast premieres. The concept for the cosmic love story, ‘The Wyld’, comes from the French artist Manfred Thierry Mugler: a total of 60 dancers will bring to the biggest stage in the world the love story between a BMX rider and a shy lady from the television tower, who is attracted to otherworldly rather than earthly inhabitants. Mugler’s futuristic piece takes the visitor into a parallel universe of the Berlin night — and at the same time is a declaration of love for the uniqueness of this city.
The Weihnachtszirkus Roncalli also sets the festive mood with its eleventh season at the Tempodrom from December 18 to January 4, 2015. The show enchants young and old with its mix of artistry, dressage and humorous clown skits.
The New Year’s Eve metropolis
New Year’s Eve – with almost one million people celebrating! Those who like to enjoy this night in a large gathering can take part at the largest New Year’s Eve Open Air Party of the world at Brandenburg Gate. The event takes place on an area with a dimension of two kilometres at the “Straße des 17. Juni” and includes a show programme, numerous party marquees and varied culinary offerings. And when the champagne bottles pop at twelve, huge fireworks illuminate the sky over Berlin. The start into the year is not only celebrated at Brandenburg Gate, rather the whole of Berlin turns into a large party zone. Till the late morning hours, numerous clubs and DJs invite people to dance.
Shopping – a piece of Berlin underneath the Christmas tree
Visitors searching for Christmas gifts should watch out: Berlin has some unbeatable offers in the pre-Christmas period. Anyone strolling between glittering lights and glazing showcases will definitely get into a shopping mood. Especially KaDeWe, Europe’s largest shopping mall, guaranties an unforgettable experience. In the Christmas period, all the floors turn into a nostalgic fair with a hall of mirrors.
Cannot get enough of shopping? Go down to the stores at Kurfürstendamm. Or visit the Galeries Lafayette at Friedrichstraße. Their high class design inspires fashion lovers and fans of France at the same time. The shopping centre Alexa at Alexanderplatz offers the largest range of stores under one roof.
Those who look around in the streets will discover some shops with creative gift ideas. A good address to visit is “Sieben Wünsche”. Besides top quality stationery, you will find the most unusual items for little kids such as rattles made of cloth – in the shape of the Television Tower, of course. Prospective Picassos will feel delighted about a colouring book of Berlin. Berlin Zoo, the Reichstag and Currywurst (curried sausage) – everything gets a new look. Those who expect to see a hobby architect or builder at home should visit “Berliner Luft”: Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag or Siegessäule (Victory Column), the different modelling sheets offer a piece of Berlin for your home.
Located right at Kurfürstendamm, Käthe Wohlfahrt is known as one of Berlin’s largest specialized Christmas stores. Throughout the whole year the Berlin branch is drawing Christmas lovers into its two-storeyed theme world. On 450m² the family business offers a range of traditional German Christmas decorations, handicrafts from the Erzgebirge mountains and individual, hand-painted goods straight out of their own design studios. No matter if classic, modern or unconventional – finding an original present, like an incense smoker shaped as a Berlin bear, is easy. The settings of handmade and -coloured houses and the little winter garden create a real homely atmosphere. Highlight: visitors can reach the first floor walking up a rotunda, which curves around a festively decorated Christmas tree
Extra tip: Christmas shopping on 7 as well as 21 December 2014. All shops in the city will remain open on both Sundays in Advent between 1:00 pm and 8:00 pm.
Winter sports – Sledging with a panoramic view
Ice skating, sledging or hockey: Winter sports at the centre of the large city? No problem in Berlin! As soon as temperature falls below freezing, skating sites will set up all by themselves. Once the “Engelbecken” is layered with ice, you can enjoy some rounds in a peaceful idyll free of charge. Centrally located in Kreuzberg, the pond provides adequate space for figure skaters and hockey players. When it’s time for a break, you can warm up with a hot drink at the Café at Engelbecken. Another free option for ice skating is the ice rink around the Neptunbrunnen by the Red Town Hall. Berlin’s ice rinks such as the Erika-Hess in Wedding provide opportunities for ice skating even in mild weather. Visitors can also get winter exercise on an outdoor track, for example by doing some cross-country skiing on the 5 kilometre track at the the former airport Flughafen Tempelhof.
Teufelsberg, which is one of the highest peaks in Berlin (115 metres), is the right place for all enthusiastic mountaineers. Immediately after the first snowfall, sledges run down the slopes here. Before the downhill run, one can enjoy the panoramic view of the wintry capital city. The Kreuzberg in Victoriapark and the particularly steep “Knochenbahn” in Volkspark Friedrichshain are also some famous places. Those who do not want to buy additional sledges for their toboggan ride can simply rent them at Berliner Fahrradstation (bicycle station). Online booking is possible.
For your more romantic side, you might want to discover Berlin by carriage: tours of historic and modern Berlin, tours at night, or in special carriages for 10-16 people. Anything is possible. And to add some cheer for the cold weather, special rides with mulled wine and sweets and a visit to selected Christmas markets are also on offer.
Then for a completely different kind of sightseeing, try the Bettbike: a one-of-a-kind combination of rickshaw and bed lets you explore Berlin. Wrap yourselves up in thick blankets and let the tour get started! Who said you shouldn’t eat and drink in bed? How about some mulled wine and gingerbread in front of Brandenburg Gate? Souvenir photos included.
Culinary – from gingerbread to haute cuisine
In the cold season, sweet delicacies enjoy great demand in Berlin: Chocolates, gingerbread or candied almonds. All of these treats can be found at the 100 Christmas markets. Chocoholics will be in chocolate ecstasy at the Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt. If this is not considered enough, you can find a praline display with 200 types of small delicacies (ideal for gifts) at the Fassbender & Rausch chocolatiers. On the floors above it, visitors enjoy savoury dishes in addition to sweet tartlets in the café and restaurant – with high-quality chocolate as well, of course.
People are rediscovering the pleasure of eating fresh and local food and, as a result, Berlin’s historic covered markets are making a comeback. The 120 year old Markthalle Neun (market hall nine) in Kreuzberg hosts Street Food Thursday where food from around the world is put fresh and hot right into your hands: everything from Korean sandwiches, Allgäu Kasspatzen or even smoked barbecue from New York. The Arminiusmarkthalle in up-and-coming quarter Moabit has a wide range of foods on offer, from regional dishes to Italian delicacies. With numerous cultural events, the hall is becoming a meeting place for local residents and guests.
Dine in pitch-black surroundings for an extraordinary sensual experience at unsicht-bar and Nocti-Vagus. Your senses of taste and smell will reach new heights in complete darkness. Nocti-Vagus also offers shows in the dark, including murder mystery dinners and live music.
The thirteen Michelin-starred restaurants in Germany’s capital guarantee real haute cuisine. Chef Daniel Achilles offers a true gourmet experience with his creative and experimental avant-garde cooking at Reinstoff. Chef Tim Raue has now added a second gourmet restaurant, Sra Bua at the Hotel Adlon, joining his eponymous restaurant on Rudi-Dutschke-Straße. Both kitchens specialise in Asian-inspired cuisine and have been awarded Michelin stars and were honoured with the Gault Millau award. Matthias Dieter at Restaurant First Floor has just been named Berlin Master Chef. His lovingly prepared creations of modern European cuisine have already earned him a Michelin star and 17 Gault Millau points. For connoisseurs, the First Floor wine cellar is a treasure trove.
Wellness – Relaxation in the cold season
Strengthen your immune system for the cold season with a relaxing hot sauna, a refreshing salt water bath or by visiting a Turkish bath. The Liquidrom near Anhalter Bahnhof also offers the spa experience in the city. Drift along in the warm salt water pool, accompanied by the relaxing underwater music. Further revitalisation and deep relaxation are offered in the Himalayan salt sauna, the outdoor pool in the small courtyard and the Balinese herbal massage.
The Sultan Hammam in Schöneberg invites you on a journey to wellness with a touch of the Levant, offering a mix of Turkish bath with contemporary wellness culture. A true oasis for relaxation and restoring your balance. Guests can enjoy a healing bath with exfoliation, soaping and a massage.
For something a bit different, you might want to try a sauna session at the alternative wellness area Schnurrbad next to the Kater Holzig club: a disused circus caravan with a barrel shower and an adjoining massage wagon, conservatory and fireplace bar.
If you prefer a little more luxury, spoil yourself at Hotel de Rome near Unter den Linden. Located in what was once a gem vault for wealthy Berlin society, it is now home to its own spa with 800 m2. Gilding, marble and mosaics transport visitors to a glamorous world of another century. Relax while enjoying the view over Berlin: the stylish spa covering 600 m2 on the eleventh floor of the Hotel Mandala on Potsdamer Platz offers relaxing massages and saunas to make everyday stress melt away.