When thinking of a Christmas destination, the first one that came to my mind was Germany – the German Christmas markets are world famous. As a history geek, Berlin also held attraction as the centre of some of the most explosive events of the 20th century. But there is more to Berlin than the history and the markets, as I soon found out. Here’s just what you can get up to with 36 hours in Berlin.
Make sure to arrive on a Thursday and immediately go to Markthalle IX, said to be Berlin’s favourite market. This weekly street food market is open only on Thursdays and is a must-see so plan accordingly. It allows you to sample a global variety of cuisines, however the Kantine Neun is meant to be one of the best things to eat there. This sugared bread, found at the bakery stall, should not be missed – it is sweet, slightly lemony and absolutely delicious.
Take time after having enjoyed this tasty treat to wander over the River Spree towards the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km decorated section of the Berlin Wall, admiring the graffiti on the way. 105 artists from across the world painted this particular section of the wall in 1990, creating a stunning canvas, in hope for the future. Keep your eyes peeled for the older bridge arches nearby. Grab some currywurst and a coffee to heat your hands for the walk, which will awe you with the remembrance of what the residents of Berlin went through during the period after the Second World War and the fall of the wall in 1989.
For dinner head to Café Einstein Stammhaus, known for its strudel and schnitzel, which must be sampled. This beautiful Viennese style coffee house will welcome you, and you will enjoy a delicious meal. The restaurant is located at Kurfürstenstraße 58 and could be confused with Café Einstein. Café Einstein Stammhaus is the original and further out from the centre. It is a delicious restaurant that attracts a varied clientele, from families to hipsters to professionals reading their morning paper. It is definitely worth the visit.
For night entertainment you should head to the world-famous Berghain, known especially for techno music. It was once a power plant and this history creates a vast setting for a nightclub. The doormen are notoriously selective over who gains entry, but once you get in you are faced with an insane explosion of lights, music and dancing in a giant industrial hall. There is no closing time, few arrive before 4am and some don’t leave for 24 hours. It is the experience of a lifetime and definitely worth a visit, whether you like techno music or not.
After your experience at Berghain the traditional meal of the clubber, the döner kebab, awaits you. This dish was originally invented by Kadir Nurman, a Turkish immigrant in Berlin, becoming an institution, popular amongst the Turkish population and late-night clubbers alike. Mustafas Gemüse Kabap always has a line, but it is worth it to experience one of the best in Berlin. After such an energetic day head back to your hotel for a much-needed rest.
Head to the Underground station Turmstr for a short walk to Konditorei und Café Buchwald. Baumkuchen is a traditional German cake, also known as a ‘tree-cake’ because it is made from layers and layers of cake batter painted onto a spit that is rotated over a fire. The cake is then often covered in an apricot glaze or dipped in chocolate. Sample this traditional delight with a coffee or two for breakfast.
Berlin was the centre of some of the most important events of the last century, the sites of which are necessary to visit. Checkpoint Charlie is one of the most famous symbols of the battle between West and East. Visit the museum next door to take it in the full rich history. Walk down the road to the photo booth to take some obligatory commemorative cheesy photos. On the way, note the cobbled line across the street and pavement that marks the location of the wall.
Round the corner is the best Christmas market in Berlin, the traditional and bustling Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt. Arrive in the late afternoon to see the setting sun over the huge buildings surrounding the square and the beautiful Christmas tree lit up with fairy lights. For lunch make sure to head straight to the wooden hut serving traditional flammkuchen, a German-style pizza covered in soft white Gruyere, house white sauce, sliced green onions and chopped pancetta. Don’t think twice about heading back to the stand when you’ve finished to order seconds. If you’re still peckish there is a stall selling goulash, where the pork is deliciously tender and perfect for a chilly winter night. Grab a mug of hot mulled wine and wander round the market admiring the handmade products it’s famous for – remember to keep the Christmas mug as a souvenir.
In your last few hours you can head to some famous landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, beautifully lit up, or the Reichstag. Close to the Brandenburg Gate is the Holocaust Memorial where you can pay your respects to those who died in the Second World War. It is a memorial that truly represents the scale of the atrocity, and it will leave you silenced. After this sombre experience, head to Burgermeister if you can, an amazing stall selling some of the best burgers I have ever tasted.
Communication was very easy, even with my extremely limited grasp of German (meaning: I know approximately 20 words, 12 of which are numbers). I occasionally resorted to gesturing, for example at the airport, but Berliners’ knowledge of English in is astonishing. Making an effort is always appreciated however!
Transport was insanely easy – and cheap! One person can travel for two hours for just €2,70. The most astonishing thing about this was that you could use the same ticket on buses, trains and tubes. From the airport I recommend getting the bus to the nearest tube station, then use the tube to get to wherever you’re staying. It is very easy to get the hang of the tube map and public transport, and by far the best way to get around.
Out of all modern European cities, Berlin is definitely my favourite. Modern, unique and thriving, it is unlike anywhere else. The street art, the history, the food are all incredible, and something new and exciting is always around the corner. There is more to take in than one visit will allow, but this guide will see you to some of my Christmastime favourites at least.